Stealing A March On The Networks

Affiliates are exploiting digital technology to deliver more than just TV programming

Jeffrey H. Smulyan knows hardball when he sees it. The 53-year-old chairman of Emmis Communications Corp. (EMMSP) used to own the Seattle Mariners baseball team. And these days, Smulyan, whose company owns 15 television stations, is seeing plenty of hardball from the networks that deliver the sitcoms, sports events, and other programs for Emmis-owned stations. Lately, he and a growing number of network affiliates have been chafing as ABC, CBS, and the other networks have cut the compensation they have traditionally paid the stations to air their programs, have put some of their primetime shows on sister cable or broadcast channels, and have otherwise made their 200-odd affiliates feel less than appreciated. "I don't think we've been on the same page as those guys for years," says Smulyan.

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