Network-affiliate standoff in Boston


WHDH-TV is opting for an hour of local news, rather than Jay Leno, at 10:00 pm, which isn’t sitting well with NBC. Will this go so far as a battle over the NBC affiliation in the Boston market?

“Starting in September, you will be able to watch 7NEWS at 10 p.m. on 7NBC,” WHDH announced on its website. The move by Sunbeam Television Corporation would position its Boston news operation to better take on the successful 10:00 pm newscast of Fox O&O WFXT-TV, which soundly defeats the current competitor on Sunbeam’s WLVI-TV, the market’s CW station.

Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin told the Boston Globe he doesn’t expect the new Jay Leno show that NBC is launching in September to do well in primetime, so he sees a better opportunity airing a local newscast. Ansin did not return a call from RBR/TVBR seeking comment.

NBC, however, is threatening to take away WHDH’s affiliation if it refuses to air five hours of network primetime programming every week. As it happens, the Peacock Network does have other options.

Boston, DMA #7, is the largest market where NBC does not have an O&O – and one of only three in the top 10. But parent NBC Universal does own a Boston station, WNEU-TV, a Telemundo O&O. With digital multicasting, WNEU could easily become an O&O for both networks. Or, NBC could seek to switch to another affiliate in the market.

That’s assuming NBC could get out of its affiliation contract with WHDH. No doubt lawyers are already going over the contract terms very carefully for both sides.

RBR/TVBR observation: This still has a few months to play out. Clearly, though, a lot is at stake on both sides.