Surprisingly, I haven’t seen this reported at all by South Florida media. Yes, they’re still consumed and reeling from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, but this involves THEM, darnit, and they know it.
It’s the possibility WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale may lose its Fox affiliation.
I told you here, here, here and here, if the Sinclair-Tribune merger goes through — and the new company has to spin off stations to stay under the limit in order to get Federal Communications Commission approval — then the plan is that Fox itself will buy several Tribune stations — all Fox affiliates already — but also WSFL-Channel 39, which is South Florida’s CW affiliate. Then, what would happen to programming on both stations?
Fox doesn’t own too many stations compared to other groups — even if you find 28 in 17 cities, covering more than 37 percent of American homes astounding. (But the Fox Television Stations Group’s website STILL doesn’t list them, as I’ve written time and time again.)
Of course, putting WSFL on the block goes against Sinclair trying to buy up stations in every city around the country — or just make a deal with the owners to operate them, to get around the rules. That’s because neither Sinclair nor Tribune have any other stations in Miami.
WSVN’s owner is Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam Television Corporation. He inherited it. In case you didn’t know, I started my TV news career there.
Fox has been trying to buy TV stations in NFL football cities, and Miami is one of them, but would it give up WSVN’s good ratings and help from its large news department, just to have a station of its own?
From the sixth borough, in a New York minute: YES. There is no more partnership in television. Everything is just to make a buck. Don’t forget that. It’ll repeat over and over as you read.
Look at what happened on a Saturday in January, 1987. I remember returning from the synagogue, going to my grandparents’ condo, and reading in the Miami Herald business section that NBC was buying WTVJ-Channel 4 even though WTVJ was the CBS affiliate, and WSVN was the NBC affiliate. Both networks wanted to own stations in Miami, which was growing and close to Cuba for coverage when Fidel Castro’s government collapsed. (Now, 31 years later, Fidel is dead and we’re still waiting. Typical!)
Of course, NBC didn’t want to own a CBS affiliate and CBS didn’t want its affiliate owned by NBC, but there was a two-year affiliation agreement that had just started at the beginning of the year between NBC and WSVN.
Owner Ansin fought like hell and sued to keep his NBC affiliation since he had stayed with the network during the extremely lean years before The Cosby Show put the network back on the map in 1984.
Of course, he hadn’t put so much emphasis on his news department since he didn’t have to. Remember, I mentioned at one point owning a TV station was a license to print money, so it wasn’t necessary.
Anyway, you would think CBS would end up affiliated with WSVN, but that’s not what happened. CBS owner Larry Tisch thought that if NBC bought WTVJ for $240 million and he can buy independent WCIX-Channel 6 for a quarter of that — just $60 million — then he got a bargain!
WCIX had its own 10pm news program but Tisch didn’t realize the importance that WCIX’s signal was 30 miles to the south of the other stations, and could not be seen in northern Dade (Miami-Dade came in the mid-1990s) or Broward counties.
In 1995, CBS lost a lot of stations to Fox. It really wanted stations. Westinghouse formed a joint venture before buying CBS, which left them with two stations in Philadelphia. The partnership kept Westinghouse’s KYW-TV, so in exchange for CBS’ WCAU, NBC gave CBS KCNC-Denver, KUTV-Salt Lake City, and also exchanged frequencies in Miami so its station would cover the entire market.
Ratings sucked for years until the two stations, WTVJ and WCIX, switched dial positions (4 to 6, and 6 to 4), and WCIX became WFOR.
Watching Channel 4 that night:
Watching Channel 6 that night:
Before then, affiliation agreements tended to be two years. I mean, how could you sign an affiliation agreement that’s longer than an FCC license to broadcast? That would be chutzpah! And if the station got in trouble and had its license revoked, then there wouldn’t even be a station affiliate partner.
Ansin held out and ended up with the new Fox network. He also had his news director Joel Cheatwood throw everything at crime-heavy local news — in which he could keep all advertising money — with younger, cheaper workers, and surprisingly it stuck, so everyone involved became a hero, the station’s style was copied everywhere and many working there departed for new, higher-paying jobs. And WSVN was temporarily taken off some hotel cable systems, so not to scare tourists!
Then look at San Francisco. NBC wanted to buy its longtime affiliate, KRON. The network really, really wanted to buy it. In 1999, the deYoung family decided to sell and NBC threatened to take away the station’s 50+ year affiliation and make the station worth hundreds of millions of dollars less, if it didn’t get to buy the station. (Can you say steal, extortion, or shakedown?) Still, KRON’s owners sold to a higher bidder, Young Broadcasting. NBC ended up making several more demands, which Young turned down, so KRON turned independent after all those years, at the end of 2001. (Young was bought by Media General, which was bought by Nexstar.)
KNTV in San Jose was an ABC affiliate that network didn’t want competing with its own San Francisco station, KGO-TV, in San Jose anymore. It agreed to take money from the Alphabet network and go out on its own — but it offered to pay NBC to affiliate with it. (Just like at the end of 2014, NBC got rid of WMGM in Atlantic City so it wouldn’t compete with its own WCAU in Philadelphia, but that station’s owners got nothing. Unfortunately, times changed.)
NBC had to get a new station and reverse compensation was a new, tempting concept. The FCC reclassified KNTV from a Monterey-area station able to be seen in San Jose, to an actual San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland station.
But the affiliation only lasted long enough for permissions given and the ink to dry. Weeks before the start of 2002, NBC bought KNTV for a fraction of KRON’s price. Finally, in 2005 and against KRON’s objections, NBC moved KNTV’s signal 52 miles closer to San Francisco, so people there could actually watch Peacock programming over the air again. (NBC apparently didn’t care about those people too much!) Now, it can’t be seen over the air in San Jose, but reread the words I just put in italics in the parenthesis.
See what I mean? Watch KNTV news opens through the years, from city changes to affiliate changes to branding changes.
And Miami people, you’ll remember my former co-worker.
Now, take Boston from just last year. NBC wanted to own a station there. It insisted our old friend Ed Ansin sell his NBC affiliate WHDH-Channel 7 to them, just like it would’ve preferred back in Miami in the late 1980s. Anson refused yet again, saying NBC offered half what it was worth and trying to steal it.
(Yes, Ansin got back into business with NBC in Boston, rather than Fox, after CBS dropped WHDH, even after NBC dropped him in Miami. Why? To make money, of course!)
So in early 2016, NBC announced it would drop Ansin’s WHDH and start a new station called NBC Boston on New Year’s Day?
Where would that station be found? Nobody else was selling their station. NBC had ended up with New England Cable News, which was owned by Hearst and NBC parent company Comcast’s predecessor, until Hearst sold its share. Over the air, it already owned a weak Telemundo channel in the northern part of the market, WNEU-Channel 60 in New Hampshire. Its signal definitely wasn’t going to cover the entire Boston TV market over the public airwaves.
Ansin sued NBC again, claiming the poor people of Boston wouldn’t be able to watch NBC anymore, which kind of made him look like a monopolist. Lawmakers were also concerned, especially because if people had to buy cable to watch NBC, they would have to use Comcast which of course owns NBC! Regulations for fairness were put in place back when Comcast bought NBC Universal in 2011. For example, Comcast’s cable service couldn’t benefit from the ability of viewers to receive the network over the air, and NBC Universal programming had to be made available to any competing cable operators in town.
This is what the network did in 2016:
- NBC bumped the Telemundo signal to a WNEU sub-channel, and put NBC on the main channel.
- It bought WBTS-LD (low-powered) Channel 8 (which it couldn’t make more powerful without interfering with channel 8s in New Haven, Conn. and Portland, Maine.
- It leased a subchannel of WMFP (virtual channel 60.5) in Lawrence, Mass.
So, by expanding NECN’s news department, it invented its own station out of nowhere!
That station, called WBTS-NBC Boston, went on the air Jan. 1, 2017. WHDH became an independent, added more news and lost some prominent people to the more prestigious NBC.
In 2018, NBC added a channel-sharing agreement with digital Channel 44, under the license of Channel 15, a CD station meaning low power analog often with a digital companion.
It also changed the branding to NBC10, which is like repeating the San Francisco-Sacramento issue, because Providence NBC affiliate WJAR — seen on cable in Boston’s southern suburbs — is powerful on Channel 10. We’ll see how long that lasts!
So Boston got an extra station and most lost viewers since the pie had an extra piece. Was it worth it for NBC, or should it have just kept its affiliation with WHDH?
So Anton got shot down by NBC again, this time in Boston, and that could lead to several other, minor network affiliation changes. For example, in 2006, Ansin bought a second Boston station, CW affiliate WLVI, coincidentally from Tribune. (Just the signal, but not the building or workers. Everyone was laid off, maybe even the producer who beat me for an Emmy Award back in 1997!) Warner Bros. and CBS own the CW Network, and the Tribune stations were a big part of the affiliates. Since Tribune doesn’t own WLVI anymore and CBS owns former UPN independent WSBK, the CW affiliation could move there. (More on this later!)
By the way, Ansin sold WLVI’s broadcast frequency in the FCC’s recent spectrum auction for an undisclosed amount that he told the Boston Globe was “a lot of money” (definitely hundreds of millions of dollars) and now that station shares WHDH’s channel.
There are several other examples:
In the mid-1990s, NBC decided to replace its Raleigh-Durham affiliate, WRDC-Channel 28, because it did poorly and didn’t carry all of NBC’s programs. That’s when The Outlet Company bought Channel 17, increased its power and changed its call letters to WNCN. Plus, there was already a relationship. Outlet owned powerful NBC affiliates in Providence (mentioned just above) and also Columbus, Ohio.
After a year, Outlet sold all three stations to NBC but that only lasted a decade. Repeat after me: It’s the money, and not what’s best for the viewer or community. In 2006, NBC sold all three stations plus its station in Birmingham to Media General. (Yes, that was NBC selling stations, the opposite of what this post is about!) The Media General time also lasted just a decade. NBC decided to affiliate with the more powerful WRAL, and WNCN soon became a CBS affiliate owned by Nexstar, after that company bought Media General.
Around the same time, NBC planned to sell its Miami station, WTVJ â€“ weaker on Channel 6 after the dial swap â€“ to Post-Newsweek, then the owner of ABC affiliate WPLG. That never panned out, despite both stations saying it would.
WPLG said it was going to happen:
WTVJ said it was going to happen:
Remember the rule about a company owning two of the four most powerful stations in a city.
And Fox played hardball to get a station in Charlotte, home of the NFL’s Panthers which started playing in 1995. One-time ABC affiliate WCCB-Channel 18 was one of Fox’s strongest affiliates and it had (and still has) its own news department.
Despite that, in 2013, Fox announced it was going to buy CW affiliate WJZY-Channel 46. The switch happened less than six months later. WCCB turned to the CW after 27 years with Fox. It’s now one of just three CW affiliates in the eastern time zone with its own newscasts, the others being New York and Indianapolis’ former CBS affiliate.
On the other hand, Fox’s WJZY carried 10pm newscasts from competing stations until starting its own newscasts in mid-December. The station tried experimenting but things didn’t go well, its news was ranked fifth in the time period and there was staff turnover from the top, down. Eventually, it became more traditional and a friend from Philadelphia became its news director.
So networks can create stations out of practically nothing, as we just saw Fox do.
Consider Los Angeles. The CW in there is KTLA, which is owned by Tribune and would be owned by Sinclair. There’s no reason Warner Bros. and CBS would keep the CW affiliation there when CBS has an independent station, KCAL, that could use it.
In Miami, if Fox buys WSFL, the CW affiliate now owned by Tribune could become a Fox affiliate if the network decides to drop WSVN. Then, WSFL’s CW affiliation would likely NOT go to WSVN but to WBFS, which is owned by CBS and a My Network TV affiliate, for what that’s worth. (Not much.) And that syndication service is owned by Fox!
Would WSVN, dropped by Fox, become an affiliate of My Network TV, which is owned by Fox? Highly unlikely, I think. My Network TV doesn’t do well, Ansin would be angry, and even though he went back to NBC in Boston, My Network TV isn’t NBC.
Keep in mind, there are also examples where networks own stations but don’t put their own programs on those stations, because affiliating with competing stations makes more sense.
CBS owns Channel 44 in Tampa, but affiliates with Tegna’s Channel 10. It owns Channel 69 in Atlanta but affiliates with Meredith’s Channel 46. It owns Channel 11 in Seattle but affiliates with Cox’s Channel 7 (but it did air CBS on 11 for a few years.) It used to own Channel 34 near West Palm Beach but affiliates with Sinclair’s Channel 12.
Even in 1958, when CBS owned Channel 18 in Hartford, Conn., some viewers could watch CBS better on Boston and Providence stations, so it affiliated with Channel 3 (then WTIC-TV; now WFSB, where I went after leaving WSVN) and sold its Channel 18.
You get the picture. So who brings more to the table? WSVN can use CNN for news and not depend on Fox. Anything can happen, but you know what my money is on.
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Something on my drive home from New York, Tuesday night, told me to write this post.