Boston's WHDH and NBC Could be Headed for Showdown

It could be 1988 all over again for TV station owner Ed Ansin.

in 1998, NBC pulled their affiliation from Ansin's owned WSVN in Miami. The station reinvented itself and has become one of the most profitable station's in country.

Now, NBC is making quiet threats to yanks the affiliation from Ansin's other TV station, WHDH in Boston.

With 14 months left on a decade-long deal between NBC and WHDH-TV, the next round of negotiations on a new deal, could become uncommonly tense and possibly lead to the first shakeup on the Boston TV in 20 years.

One potential result — moving NBC programs to NECN — could even upend the traditional, over-the-air broadcast model employed by national networks since their inception. 

NBC, which owns its affiliates in other large markets, like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, would rather purchase WHDH than sign a contract extension. Ansin appears to have no interest in selling the station. 

If talks on an acquisition or affiliate extension were to go poorly (and that’s a big if), NBC could yank its programs off WHDH and shift them to NECN, the regional cable channel owned by Comcast Inc., the parent of NBCUniversal Inc.

“They can do it, but it’s very aggressive,” said Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who is now chief executive of the Coalition for Green Capital in Washington. “If they did that, it would be big news because it would be regarded as NBC phasing the ‘B’ [for broadcasting] out of its name.”

An NBC spokeswoman said the company does not comment on discussions with affiliate partners.

Chris Wayland, executive vice president of Sunbeam, said, “We fully expect to be the NBC affiliate in Boston beyond 2016.” 

Wayland will probably be right in the end, said Mark Fratrik, chief economist at the media research firm BIA/Kelsey. Networks like NBC have maintained the affiliate system, even in markets where they don’t own a local broadcaster, to ensure maximum distribution.

But he said that for many years, they also have kicked around the idea of cutting out stations like WHDH, anticipating a time when virtually everyone watches television on cable, satellite, or the Internet, making the advantage of over-the-air broadcasting negligible.

Just aix percent of US households still rely on antennas, according to a study last year by the Consumer Electronics Association.

“In the strategic planning departments of these networks, it’s a constant topic,” Fratrik said. “It’s just that no one’s done it yet.”

You might see the future of TV first happen in Boston in a little over a year.

Stay tuned....

H/T Boston Globe