'Trek' spinoff: an edge to Paramount?


Who will successfully launch TV's fifth network: Warner Bros. or Paramount?

Conventional wisdom among broadcasters is that there's enough potential national advertising revenue to support a fifth network, but not a sixth. Experts also doubt if there are enough non-aligned TV stations to give both proposed networks the nationwide coverage they need to create a network.

Both Paramount and Warner Bros. claim they'll need to sign up enough affiliates to cover a minimum of 70 percent of the nation's TV markets to give national advertisers the audience guarantees they'll demand.

Both plan to use cable channels to fill in the "white areas" on the map -- smaller communities where there just aren't five or six stations available.

At this point, Warner Bros. has announced the signing of more affiliates than Paramount, covering what the studio claims is 73 percent of the country. Among them: Chicago's WGN, the cable "superstation" that's widely seen all over the United States.

But some experts think Paramount now has the momentum -- and the hottest proposed show, "Star Trek: Voyager," the latest "Trek" spinoff. In fact, some affiliates recently have dropped Warners and signed with Paramount.

Warners' main drawback: It wants stations to pay to be on the network, a reversal of the traditional relationship, because it doesn't own any TV stations and won't have that source of income to defray heavy start-up costs.

Main Paramount drawback: its uncertain future. QVC seems to have won a bidding war with Viacom and is expected to take over Paramount. QVC Chairman Barry Diller has proposed selling Paramount's TV stations and says he isn't interested in a fifth network. However, Paramount is named with the Chris-Craft station group in the network proposal and each is committed to the network plan even if the other drops out.

Both networks propose to launch in January 1995, probably starting with just a single night of programs.

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