BY Art Thiel 10:16AM 10/17/2014

Fox backs off, agrees to keep NFL on Ch. 13

Apparently, FOX blinked Friday in its dispute with Seattle’s KCPQ Channel 13, ending for now the network’s attempt to buy the station from its owner, Tribune Media Co. In exchange for more revenue from annual operations, FOX agreed to extend its affiliation, which includes nine Seahawks games this season, through July 2018.

In an attempt to force a deal, 21st Century Fox recently purchased for $10 million a small station in Bellingham, KBCB-TV, and threatened to switch its affiliation there if Tribune did not sell. While cable and satellite TV consumers would not have been impacted, the increasing number of over-the-air consumers of the free broadcast signal would have been out of luck if they lived anywhere south of central Seattle, beyond the range of of KBCB.

Besides angering some customers, FOX would have had to invest millions in creating a full-service station, which now carries only a syndicated, 24-hour shopping network, to become the fifth major commercial channel in a crowded market of dwindling users of commercial TV.

Apparently, FOX figured that it wasn’t such a good idea, and withdrew its termination notice issued to Tribune and KCPQ last week.

But FOX’s ambition to be an owner in the Seattle market may not have ended. The new July 2018 end date for affiliation coincides with the expiration of seven other Tribune-owned stations with FOX affiliations. Depending on market conditions and company needs, Tribune could sell some or all of its FOX-affiliated stations at one time.

FOX’s national ambitions are clear: It owns and operates stations in 12 of the 16 National Football Conference markets, for which it has exclusive broadcast rights. For years, it has been pursuing a station in Seattle, one of four NFC cities where it lacks an “O-and-O” station, which is considered a more lucrative business option.

Shut out of Seattle, FOX tried an end-around via Bellingham. Instead, it settled on Tribune paying additional programming fees to FOX for the prime time and sports content provided by the network. A press release said, “Tribune expects that, for the term of the agreement, KCPQ will deliver profitability in excess of its previously disclosed 2013 annual (return) of $13 million” in revenues.

“We are pleased to have secured a multi-year agreement with FOX to extend our affiliation with KCPQ-TV in Seattle through July 2018,” Peter Liguori, president and chief executive officer of Tribune Media, said in the release  “Tribune is not only FOX’s largest local affiliate group, but also has a far-reaching business partnership with FOX on nearly 20 syndicated programs as well as Salem, a WGN America original series.”

Besides football Sundays and four preseason Seahawks games, KCPQ carries FOX prime-time programming from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as other NFL games, the World Series and some Pac-12 football and NASCAR races.