Wells Fargo media analyst Marci Ryvicker

Analyst Figures That Affiliation Switches Don’t Pay Off

Swapping networks results in permanent viewer losses, Ryvicker says

With uncertainty surrounding whether Sinclair Broadcast Group and Fox will sign new affiliation agreements, analyst Marci Ryvicker of Wells Fargo looked at three recent examples of networks swapping stations in a market and found that it doesn’t work.

“In all cases, we found that the post-swap stations permanently lost a significant number of viewers in both morning and total day,” Ryvicker said in a research note Thursday (Nov. 30). She added that primetime was down significantly in two of the three cases.

The stations also fell in the rankings in their market.

“An interesting tidbit we also learned while analyzing the data is that Fox tends to be a distant fourth or fifth-rated network—further solidifying why any affiliation switch would be short of disastrous from that particular network,” Ryvicker said. “To us, this data shows why it’s in Fox’s best interest to ultimately sign a fair deal with Sinclair.”

The three switches Ryvicker looked at were:

  • CBS moving from LIN TV (now Nexstar) to Tribune Broadcasting in 2015;
  • CBS and NBC swapping affiliates in Raleigh in 2016, with NBC moving to Capital Broadcasting and CBS going to Media General, now Nexstar; and
  • NBC launching a new station and Sunbeam TV going independent in Boston in 2017.

In Indianapolis, Ryvicker found that CBS lost 30% of its audience in the morning and dropped to No. 5 from No. 1. It lost 17% of its total-day audience as well.

In Raliegh, CBS had been the No.1 station with Capital and NBC had been No.4 with Media General. After the swap, CBS lost 65% of its morning viewers, 44% in total day and 17% in prime—dropping to a distant No. 3 in all day parts, Ryvicker said. While NBC gained some standing with the move, it didn’t rise to the viewership the station had generated as a CBS affiliate.

In Boston, NBC lost half its viewers in the morning and total day and 30% of its audience in prime.