Affiliation realignments rock Peoria, South Bend

Downtown South Bend.
Downtown South Bend.

Quincy and Sinclair do some wheeling and dealing, moving networks onto digital subchannels

In what may become commonplace in small markets across the country, major broadcast networks are winding up on digital subchannels of other stations.

In a huge television realignment just 80 miles east of Chicago, Sinclair Broadcasting’s WSBT snagged the Fox affiliation from Quincy Media-owned WSJV, which dropped the network after 21 years.

In addition, WSJV is also closing its news department, leaving the station with just two employees – and is now affiliating with Weigel Broadcasting’s Heroes & Icons network, which recently picked up all of the Star Trek series (excluding the animated version from 1973.)

As first reported by the South Bend Tribune, WSBT is installing Fox on its over-the-air 22.2 digital subchannel. While the paper didn’t specify the network would transmit in HD, WSBT is dropping a weather channel of 22.3 to make room. Sinclair has struck deals with Comcast and Dish to carry the new channel, but no other deals were made.

Sinclair is also launching a second news operation for the channel, similar to what Tribune did for its Indianapolis duopoly, launching a separate news operation for WTTV when it became a CBS affiliate on January 1, 2015.

WSBT remains a primary CBS affiliate on channel 22.1. All the changes take place on Monday.

Fox’s move to WSBT carries huge implications as the South Bend/Elkhart market – which includes north central Indiana and southwest Michigan (commonly referred to as “Michiana”), is home to a huge Chicago Bears fan base. It was one of the reasons WSJV ended its 40-year relationship with ABC in 1995 to affiliate with Fox at a time when affiliation switches took place in light of the Fox-New World deal, sending several CBS affiliates to Fox.

WSBT carried NFL games – including those of the Chicago Bears – in 1994 and 1995 as Fox was affiliated with a low-powered station at the time – the current ABC affiliate, WBND.

Quincy, Ill.-based Quincy Media decided to throw in the towel, figuring it no longer could compete with WSBT and Gray-owned NBC affiliate WNDU, a station once owned by South Bend-located Notre Dame University.

This latest change continues the upheaval of media in the nation’s 85th-largest market. Last year, Schurz Communications split up its longtime radio-TV-newspaper combo, selling some of its TV stations to Sinclair and its radio stations to other companies while retaining the South Bend Tribune.

Meanwhile, Quincy and Sinclair were involved in another transaction, this time in the downstate Peoria-Bloomington market. Quincy’s WEEK “purchased” the affiliations of CW and ABC from Sinclair’s WHOI. WEEK was already operating WHOI under a shared services agreement.

Starting Monday, ABC programming will now be on WEEK’s 25.2 subchannel (branded as WHOI), while CW programming lands on 25.3. No word if programming would be transmitted in HD or on the fate of WHOI’s channel 19 signal.

NBC programming remains on WEEK’s 25.1 main channel. Cable and satellite viewers will see no change in channel position.

The decision to abandon WSJV and WHOI comes at a time when station groups are continuing to consolidate. The moves also come as the FCC is auctioning off TV stations’ spectrum to wireless companies, likely leaving behind fewer competitors, especially in smaller markets like South Bend and Peoria. Less competition will likely mean higher prices for advertisers – and also consumers.

For Illinois markets outside of Chicago, the state’s shaky financial picture doesn’t help either.

Chicago TV viewers will have their own realignment coming September 1, when The CW shifts from WGN-TV to WPWR-TV, the first affiliation move in this city in 21 years. With WGN becoming independent again, the station announced it was filling its primetime hours vacated by CW programming with off-network reruns of Two And A Half Men (two hours a night!) and Last Man Standing.