The History of the Holy War of NBC and Independent Owners

The WHDH saga that is now a major story after confirmation of both parties on Thursday; is not new at the execs at 30 Rock. NBC has had a long time zero-tolerance policy for affiliates preempting programming that they believe is not suitable. This zero-tolerance policy meant they would buyout competitors and actually have limited success using anger over reasonable negotiations. In fact some O&O deals resulted in sales like in Providence, Columbus, etc. This narrative is not about WHDH per se because including them would make it a long post.

In the spring of 1987, NBC bought WTVJ in Miami, that was the long time CBS affiliate. NBC would over the next year and a half (they allowed the affiliation to end as scheduled) would indirectly brand the station as an NBC owned station (i.e. “News 4 South Florida” or title the morning news as “News 4 Today”, etc.) despite running CBS programs. Speaking about CBS, they bought the Fox affiliate, because the Tiffany Network didn’t want to deal with Sunbeam ether.

In this time, it was perfect for Ansin because the Fox network only ran shows on weekends, which enabled him to launch the Channel 7 News, flash and trash newscasts which ran news about 7 or so hours a day – which for the late 80s standards was very loaded. And the way things happened, he got the Fox network.

On September 10th 1995, nearly 8 years after buying WTVJ, NBC would get screwed over in Miami. Channel 4 would move to Channel 6, and most of the northern suburbs of Miami wouldn’t be able to get NBC clear as a bell. The ratings showed. And if you liked the sucky Miami Dolphins, and had rabbit ears, you’re out of luck till CBS got AFC rights and moved to Channel 4 in the 1998 NFL season.

Technically speaking, they literally swapped channel positions (no change in ownership, studios, etc.) so CBS could exit out of Philadelphia as CBS would move as an affiliate to KYW. (and also avoid massive taxes selling a tiny property – like a flagship O&O as a writeoff.) KYW was also hated by NBC for constant preemptions; because of that they wanted to be in Philadelphia. Licenses in Denver and Miami were partially given to CBS and Group W while NBC would get Philadelphia.

To make things more confusing CBS would later be bought by Westinghouse themselves later that year. However CBS and their owned and operated stations were independent of the already 5 Group W stations that some became part of the CBS family. KYW would become a CBS owned station not to long later. It wasn’t till 1997 stations like KCNC, WFOR, WBZ, KYW and the others were acting as if they were owned by CBS in a corporate restructuring.

To confirm that NBC’s desperation of acquiring stations in the name of zero tolerance of preemptions was bad,  another incident occurred around 2000 with NBC in San Francisco. KRON (branded as an acronym call sign) was put up for sale by the family that owned both the station and The San Francisco Chronicle and actually walked out like bandits with the sale to the tune of $800 million dollars. Why? The station was in a bidding war between NBC and Young Broadcasting (would commit the same ol’.) At the same time KRON’s NBC affiliation was expiring and they put very convoluted demands, other than running the programming per to the West Coast schedule – but requiring the station to be branded as if they were owned by NBC. NBC Chairman Bob Wright (founder and head of Autism Speaks) spoke publicly almost as blackmail that if the new buyers wouldn’t meet NBC’s demands, they would standby their commitment to buyout a station. The Bay Area has plenty of stations in NBC’s mind they could buy. Young refused and as a punishment promised by Wright, they would loose affiliation. As a last ditched effort, they tried to sell KRON to NBC for $600 million (still a writeoff by $200m) but decided to go to Silicon Valley instead and buy once a neighborhood ABC affiliate for the average big market station of around $200 million. NBC’s San Francisco experiment hasn’t worked so well because the station still in Silicon Valley (which is in a comparable distance to Manchester to Boston) and has a reputation for not covering the North Bay. The One Billion Dollar Station resulted in a complete disaster for KRON which its parent company went bankrupt and was sold to Media General recently.

In the case of WTVJ, NBC even flirted the idea of selling WTVJ to the former holdings of the Washington Post/Newsweek group, which owned WPLG, the ABC affiliate. This would be one of the first “duopolies” of owning 2 “Big 3” affiliates not a “Big 3″+indie or CW/Fox. This could’ve been a disaster. The Financial Crisis of 2008 made NBCU go cold feet and stuck with WTVJ by 2012 started to be competitive again – nearly 25 years after buying the station in the first place.