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Originally published October 10, 2014 at 11:30 AM | Page modified October 12, 2014 at 4:09 PM

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Fox hunts KCPQ-13, its local TV partner

The Fox network, in a power play, tells Q13 owner Tribune Media it will drop the Seattle station in January; Also, Quadrant abandons Columbia City project; Jimmy John’s urged to OK tattoos.


Seattle Times business staff

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Sunday Buzz is a weekly collection of insightful, entertaining and sometimes irreverent tidbits from the Puget Sound business community. Send tips or comments to business@seattletimes.com.

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Seahawks football has been drawing plenty of eyeballs to local Fox affiliate KCPQ-13, but unfolding off-camera is a game of television hardball.

The Fox network late last month notified Q13 owner Tribune Media that the Seattle station’s affiliate agreement will be terminated Jan.17.

Meanwhile, Fox has agreed to pay $10 million for KBCB-TV, a Bellingham station that currently runs home-shopping programs. That could be an alternative for reaching Puget Sound-area viewers with the Seahawks and “The Simpsons” — though it would undoubtedly bring howls from the estimated 6.3 percent of area households that don’t have cable or satellite service, most of whom can’t get KBCB’s over-the-air signal.

The combination play is designed to push Tribune into selling Q13 to Fox. Such a deal would position Fox, part of Rupert Murdoch’s 21 Century Fox empire, to reap more local revenue from its roughly $1 billion-per-year contract to televise National Football Conference games.

KCPQ is one of Fox’s oldest affiliates, dating back to the network’s startup days in 1986.

But both Fox and CBS have raised eyebrows in the past year for stiff-arming even longtime local partners, says industry veteran Al Tompkins, a former TV news director who teaches journalism at the Poynter Institute in Florida.

“It is just unprecedented for networks to be so tough in their conversations with locals,” he says. “Now it’s my way or the highway.”

Last year Fox dumped its Charlotte affiliate and bought another station that it installed as the local Fox channel, carrying broadcasts of the Carolina Panthers.

Jack Abernathy, president of Fox’s company-owned television stations, told industry publication TVNewsCheck at the time that “the company spends an enormous amount of money on rights with the NFL, so we need to monetize that.

A TV station in a market with an NFL franchise has tremendous opportunities,” particularly “when and if the team gets into playoffs.”

Not to mention a team that’s the current Super Bowl champion.

CBS pulled a similar switcheroo in Indianapolis this summer, dropping affiliate WISH-TV in favor of another station that previously had been with The CW network.

“Overnight,” says Tompkins, WISH “was worth tens of millions of dollars less.”

Tribune, whose stock fell sharply after Fox’s January deadline went public, said in a Sept. 24 statement that it’s continuing talks with the network but has “prepared for all operational and economic possibilities for our Seattle Fox station.”

KCPQ in fiscal 2013 contributed $13 million in earnings before interest, taxes and certain accounting costs, Tribune said. The Chicago-based company operates 13 other Fox affiliates in its stable of 42 owned and operated stations.

Ten of the 16 regular-season Seahawks games this year are broadcast by Fox, which also provides Q13 two hours of prime-time network programming nightly.

KCPQ general manager Pam Pearson will say only that “we are focused on bringing 10 hours a day of quality news as well as sports, including the Seattle Seahawks, to Seattle and Tacoma and all of Western Washington.”

What’s turned local stations into significant moneymakers is the fees that cable systems must pay for the right to transmit their signals, says Tompkins. “The higher your ratings, the higher your negotiation power,” he adds.

That suggests KCPQ — with the Seahawks telecasts that its Fox affiliation brings — would be an increasingly valuable property. Tribune may yet be able to negotiate a deal to keep its affiliate status by giving Fox a bigger share of those cable fees.

But without Fox, the station would have some unappealing options, says Tompkins.

The Indianapolis station dumped by CBS now “does a lot more local news” to fill its schedule, he says, “but that’s a pretty tough proposition in Seattle, which already has a lot of big players” in TV news.

A network affiliation brings both branding and a full slate of programming, he says, and “there’s nothing like a comparable alternative” in Seattle that could replace Fox for Q13.

So while Tribune could resist Fox’s blitz and become an independent station, it “would be a very tough go,” Tompkins says.

Fox, however, also would face challenges if it gets the Federal Communications Commission’s OK to buy the Bellingham station and makes that its Western Washington affiliate.

While it would boast the Seahawks and Fox’s popular prime-time lineup, it would be starting from scratch in local news — a significant profit center for most network stations.

— Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

Quadrant drops in-city project

In early 2014, Quadrant Homes announced plans to build dozens of town homes and sell them to Gen Y buyers in Seattle’s hot Columbia City neighborhood.

Priced from the mid-$300s to low-$500s, the New Urban Innovations brand was an effort by one of the Puget Sound region’s biggest homebuilders to meet strong demand for in-city homes at a time when large, undeveloped suburban tracts were becoming hard to find.

“For this company to grow, we’re going to take advantage of several different buying demographics,” said Quadrant Homes President Ken Krivanec in an interview last spring. “Gen Y is the focal point for New Urban.”

Now, in a reversal, the Bellevue-based homebuilder is selling off all its Columbia City parcels — 91 lots — by the first quarter of next year, Krivanec said last week.

He said he made the decision after Tri Pointe Homes acquired Quadrant and four other brand-name homebuilders in Weyerhaeuser’s real-estate unit in a transaction valued at about $2.8 billion.

Quadrant will focus on its core business of building single-family homes in the suburbs, where it has more experience.

“This decision was mine to bring to them and they were supportive of it,” he said.

Coming out of the Great Recession, the traditional suburban homebuilder had decided to launch a brand of urban homes to expand.

Quadrant’s production peaked at 1,391 deliveries in 2005; after the 2008 crash, its production hit a low of 340 homes in 2011. Last year it delivered 363 homes, according to Quadrant.

Always on the lookout for buildable land, Quadrant snatched up foreclosed real estate in Columbia City cheaply from banks during the downturn.

In 2011, Quadrant bought a half-acre from Sterling Savings Bank for $100,000, later obtaining permits for 16 town homes on the site, records show.

The next year it bought 24 undeveloped parcels for $800,000 from Union Bank.

Near the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and 42nd Avenue South, the company officials said it was planning another 52 town homes.

From March through August this year, Quadrant spent almost $2.7 million buying parcels from individual property owners for its Rainier Avenue South development, records show.

Quadrant drove piles into the ground earlier this year, but never started building.

With home prices in the Seattle area back to pre-crash levels and buildable land in urban areas scarce, Quadrant saw it could cash in on its lots in Columbia City without the homes.

“Land value in Seattle continues to grow,” Krivanec said. “The lots are worth a lot.”

— Sanjay Bhatt: sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Tattooed staffers needle Jimmy John’s

Tattooed workers of the world, unite.

A Starbucks barista’s rebellion against the company’s no-visible-tattoo policy has inspired a Jimmy John’s employee in Seattle to start his own crusade.

The Illinois-based franchiser of sandwich shops purports to have an edgy attitude. Its Craigslist posting for jobs in Kent and Auburn seeks to lure away “rock star” shift supervisors from other fast-food chains and extols the company’s “kick-*ss fun work environment.”

But the fine print could turn off some actual rock stars: It includes a “very strict tattoo policy: you should have no visible tattoos or portions of tattoos which cannot be covered.”

So after seeing Starbucks workers clamor for tattoo freedom on the petition website Coworker.org, and reading that the coffee giant is actually mulling a change, Frederick Gautier launched a campaign to tell Jimmy John’s that “we want visible tattoos, too.”

Covering up is not the solution, his petition argues: “Long sleeves make the small work space hotter, and they also get mayo on them from just doing our jobs, which I can’t imagine is very cleanly.”

Gautier says he was inspired by Kristie Williams, who started the Starbucks pro-tattoo drive. “I said, ‘Hey, somebody has to do this about Jimmy John’s.’ ”

The 26-year-old works at the Jimmy John’s in South Lake Union and says he has only one tattoo.

His petition declares that in 2014, “No one really cares when they go into a quick-service restaurant and the people working behind the counter have some ink — plus it will make our work a lot more comfortable, efficient and pleasant.”

As of Thursday, the post, which went live last week, had collected 7,164 signatures toward its 8,000 goal. A spokeswoman for Jimmy John’s declined to comment.

— Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com



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