DOW JONES/ITT STATION FACES HURDLES: BID FOR WBIS+ PARENT CREATES CLOUD OF UNCERTAINTY OVER VENTURE: PROSPECTS UNCERTAIN: ON THE HOT SEAT: SPORTS HELP FROM FOX

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When WBIS-TV bowed Jan. 21, New York's newest broadcast station aired a New York Knicks-Chicago Bulls basketball game, marking the first time in more than 12 years the city's fans saw a pro basketball game on free local TV.

But although the debut of the station, better known as WBIS+, was a hit, little else in the launch of this Dow Jones & Co./ITT Corp. joint venture has gone according to plan.

The $207 million purchase of what was public station WNYC-TV was delayed nearly a year before federal regulators agreed to transfer the license. The latest bombshell that could affect WBIS+ came last week with news that Hilton Corp. was mounting a hostile $6.5 billion bid for ITT, owner of Sheraton hotels and resorts.

People inside and outside WBIS+ are wondering how much attention ITT CEO Rand Araskog will focus on the TV station while fighting for ITT's corporate life. And if the Hilton bid is successful, nobody knows what will happen to the ITT media and entertainment properties, widely viewed as low priorities for Hilton.

"It's not clear what any of this is going to mean," said Phyllis Seifer, director of creative services for WBIS+. But she said the station is going ahead with its marketing and rollout plans. These marketing plans include communicating the station's programming focus, which has a cable-like feel.

WBIS+ plans to pool Dow Jones financial expertise, culled from its wire service, flagship The Wall Street Journal and other publications, such as Barron's, with the sports properties of ITT, which owns the Knicks, New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden and broadcast rights for those teams and others through its MSG Network and SportsChannel.

The plus sign in the station's name "means sports, stocks, style," said Ms. Seifer.

WBIS+ has plans to expand beyond New York but hasn't yet detailed them.

On the hot seat is President Carolyn Wall, 54. A veteran publisher of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and a general manager of WNYW-TV in the early '90s, she was hired away in May 1996 from Cowles Business Media, where she had been president.

To help raise the profile of the station, the first new one in the city since the debut of WOR-TV in 1949, WBIS+ hired Ryan Drossman & Partners for the outdoor, transit, radio, newspaper and cable TV ad campaign.

The ad blitz is built around the theme "S+, sports, money and, oh yeah, life," and is budgeted at $5 million to $7 million for the first three months.

Even before Hilton's bid, there were programming questions at WBIS+. While the financial news input is clear, the sports lineup is not. MSG Network and SportsChannel have been trying to figure out how they would merge and then how much of their local pro game schedule they would release to the new broadcast sister.

In the interim, Ms. Wall has secured help from Fox Sports Network, which will provide football and basketball in the evening slots as well as several 1-hour sports news desks throughout the day, a total of about 21 hours per week.

Ms. Wall negotiated for Fox to pay WBIS an undisclosed fee and for the two to split ad revenues.

She also has signed marquee anchorman Tony Guida, most recently with WCBS-TV. Most media observers take that as a sign the station is willing to spend money for top talent.

Still, in a market with many TV options, the trick for WBIS+ will be to quickly establish audience numbers that pull in advertisers.

"They'll have to do more than just offer programming spots," said Michael Drexler, president of BJK&E Media Group, who's looking at the station for several clients. "They'll have to offer to create sponsorship opportunities, and

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