In market’s fourth affiliation change, NBCUniversal to move affiliation to WNEU-TV
WHDH owner Ed Ansin promises fight
Politicians question move
In a bold move, Comcast Corp. announced Thursday it is launching a new NBC-owned and-operated station in Boston, the nation’s eighth-largest market approximately a year from now.
NBC plans to move its affiliation to Telemundo affiliate WNEU-TV (Channel 60), a station based in Merrimack, New Hampshire but serves the Boston market. The station launched in 1987 as WGOT-TV and in the past carried programming from the now-defunct PAX network.
Though NBC declined to mention WNEU in its announcement, it is believed to be the likely destination. Telemundo would slide to a dot two (60.2) channel.
NBC is expected to launch WNEU’s news operation from Comcast-owned New England Cable News (NECN) headquarters, and has already acquired talent from WHDH to launch the station on New Years Day, 2017.
Mike St. Clair already GM of NECN,and Telemundo, is also assuming those same duties for “NBC Boston”, the station’s branding name. NBC, Telemundo, and NECN are corporate siblings of Comcast Corp.
In a memo, NBC Owned Stations president Valeri Staab plans to use NECN’s existing facilities and staff to produce a newscast for NBC Boston. She touted improvements at NECN and WNEU, including new “state of the art facilities”, making it ideal to launch an NBC-owned station in Boston.
On Thursday, NECN announced some new hires, including former Good Day Chicago anchor Melody Mendez.
With this move, NBC would own stations in all top eight markets in the U.S. Boston ranks eighth, below Washington, D.C., where NBC owns WRC-TV. Per Staab’s memo, this would be NBC’s twelfth-owned station.
On the entertainment side, NBC Boston/WNEU has already acquired the rights to Harry Connick Jr.’s new daytime show for early fringe and syndicated shows Access: Hollywood for access and its spinoff, Access Hollywood Live. All three are from NBC Universal Television Distribution.
With NBC’s decision to launch an O&O, it parts ways with WHDH, who has been the NBC affiliate serving Boston for the last 22 years. WHDH’s contract with NBC expires on December 31.
WHDH is owned Sunbeam Communications, who also owns WLVI in Boston and Fox affiliate WSVN in Miami – a former NBC affiliate whose ties to the network were cut on January 1, 1989 after the network bought former CBS affiliate WTVJ two years earlier. In turn, CBS bought WCIX-Channel 6 in 1988, a station plagued with signal problems (as part of a deal to buy CBS’ WCAU in Philadelphia in 1995, NBC agreed to move WTVJ to Channel 6, relinquishing the comfy Channel 4 position to CBS, now WFOR-TV. The WCIX calls are now used for a Champaign, Ill. TV station.)
Sunbeam president Ed Ansin vows to fight the move, saying the station did not get a fair chance to negotiate. He also said the move to a New Hampshire station in the outer fringes in the market does not serve in the public interest, pointing out the station’s over-the -air signal does not adequately cover the Boston market – a concern also shared by Boston mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts rep. Ed Markey.
However, NBC is counting on cable and satellite coverage to reach viewers. Comcast is the dominant MSO in Boston and expected to get a cushy (2-13) channel position. According to television trade association TVB, over-the-air-only TV homes account for 3.9 percent of the Boston area as of November 2015, the smallest of any top-ten market.
Even though they were more common in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and in the mid-1990’s when a dozen New World-owned stations flipped to Fox, affiliation switches are rare. NBC did strip its longtime San Francisco affiliate KRON in 2001 to affiliate with nearby San Jose ABC affiliate KNTV, which it would eventually own. CBS parted ways with former Jacksonville affiliate WJXT in 2002. Fox switched its San Diego affiliation in 2008 from Tijuana-based XETV to Tribune’s KSWB over foreign ownership concerns (XETV also lost its ABC affiliation in 1972 for this same reason.) In 2013, Fox bought WJZY in Charlotte, ending a long-term relationship with WCCB. And recently, CBS ended a 49-year relationship with WISH-TV to affiliate with Tribune’s WTTV in Indianapolis.
Boston has had a rather complicated history when it came to network affiliation switches. WHDH became the NBC affiliate on Jan. 2, 1995, when the peacock’s longtime affiliation with WBZ-TV ended after 46 years when then-owner Group W signed an affiliation deal with CBS, stripping WHDH of the title after 23 years. CBS moved to WNAC-Channel 7 in 1972 after deciding not to affiliate with the new WCVB-Channel 5 after the FCC stripped the former occupant (the original WHDH) of the channel of its license (WCVB signed with ABC.) Ironically, WNAC also lost its license in 1980 and was taken over by new management in 1982 as WNEV, but retained its CBS affiliation, returning the WHDH calls to Channel 7 in 1990. Boston is the only market in the country where TV licenses were revoked by the FCC twice.
Prior, the original WHDH and WNAC were involved in a straight CBS for ABC swap in 1961.