Indianapolis to get new CBS affiliate

WTTV_LogoIn a surprise move, CBS announces its moving its affiliation to WTTV, ending a 58-year relationship with WISH-TV

The current battle over retransmission money has claimed another victim – and ended a longtime relationship.

Tribune Broadcasting and CBS Corporation announced a new affiliation deal which shifts CBS from LIN Broadcasting’s WISH-TV – which has been a CBS affiliate since 1956 – to WTTV beginning January 1, 2015. With this deal, WTTV affiliates with a Big Three Network for the first time in 57 years. WTTV was an NBC affiliate from 1949-56 and an ABC one from 1956-57, and was an independent from 1957-95.

Currently, WTTV is a CW affiliate, but the network will shift to a digital subchannel of the station beginning January 1. WTTV has been with CW since 2006, when UPN and The WB merged. WTTV has affiliated with both networks, first with UPN (1995-98) and then The WB (1998-2006).

Tribune purchased WTTV from Sinclair in 2002, to form a duopoly with Fox affiliate WXIN, which it bought in 1996. WTTV actually turned down an offer from Fox in 1986 to affiliate with the then-upstart network.

The reason CBS changed affiliations in the 26th-largest market was it could not reach a deal with LIN, which also owns ten other CBS affiliates. The shift also sent a message that CBS would risk endangering a longtime relationship with a station to get a better deal. In 2002, CBS ended a longtime partnership with WJXT in Jacksonville over the same scenario.

With the CBS affiliation, WTTV gets rights to primetime blockbusters NCIS, The Big Bang Theory, 60 Minutes, and Survivor – and more importantly, Indianapolis Colts football and NCAA Basketball, among other sports. WTTV also plans to launch newscasts, with different on-air personnel from sister station WXIN.

The deal also renews affiliations for Tribune’s existing CBS affiliates in Memphis (WREG);  Huntsville, Ala. (WHNT); Ft. Smith, Ark. (KFSM); and Richmond, Va. (WTVR) All stations were part of Local TV LLC, which Tribune purchased last year. Prior to the sale, the only CBS affiliate Tribune owned and operated was Atlanta’s WGNX (now WGCL) from 1994 to 1998.

WISHWith CBS leaving and the CW not even an option, the future of WISH in uncertain. Owner LIN Media reportedly balked at CBS’ “reverse compensation” demands, thus forcing a move. Up until a decade ago, the networks paid their affiliates to carry their programming. But the practice vanished due to skyrocketing programming costs (note the price tag of the NFL package and the recent raises the cast of Big Bang recently received.) Like WJXT, WISH could become a news-intensive independent.

WISH generally ranks second in news, behind NBC affiliate WTHR.

All CBS branding from WISH’s website vanished some time ago, even before Monday’s announcement. WISH and LIN Media officials declined comment, and WISH hadn’t even made mention of the news, on-air or on its website.

The last major network affiliation switch in Indianapolis (besides WTTV dropping UPN in 1998 for The WB) was in June 1979, when WRTV traded NBC to WTHR for ABC. Ironically, Indianapolis was not involved in the affiliation switch frenzy of the 1990’s, set off after Rupert Murdoch struck a deal with New World to flip its 12 Big Three network affiliates to his Fox network in 1994. Of those twelve, eight of them were CBS stations.