Building America’sNext Top CW Station

It may have lost its Fox affiliation, but WCCB Charlotte is looking ahead, not back

mmalone@nbmedia.com | @BCMikeMalone

Jim White, VP and general manager of WCCB Charlotte (N.C.), has some new characters in his life — Carrie, Nikita and the toothsome starlets from The Vampire Diaries, for starters. The CW’s primetime is not what White and WCCB were used to as a Fox affiliate since 1986, but they are gamely playing the hand they’ve now been dealt.

 WHY THIS MATTERS
All stations must keep reinvention in mind since network affiliations aren't necessarily permanent in this era of acquisition and retrans clashes.

The Bahakel-owned station got word last January that Fox was cutting ties, with the net’s new Charlotte acquisition, WJZY, becoming a Fox O&O July 1. Staffers “mourned” for about six hours, White says, as they envisioned life without American Idol, NASCAR and, perhaps most frightening, Carolina Panthers games. They then set out reimagining, and executing, WCCB’s next iteration. “We didn’t hang our heads and say, ‘Remember when we were a Fox affiliate?’” he says. “We’re a CW affiliate now, and proud to be.”

“Fox Charlotte” is now WCCB Charlotte — a locally owned local content provider. The station grabbed a package of seven U. of North Carolina-Charlotte football games, satisfying some of viewers’ jones for football. WCCB on Nov. 2 added 6 p.m. weekend news, led by news director Angela Robbins.

WCCB placed No. 3 in revenue in DMA No. 25 last year, BIA/Kelsey reported. While WCCB without Fox will not produce the same revenue, WCCB notably did not lay off staffers.

With an intense promotional campaign and a major assist from the CW affiliate team, WCCB is off to a promising start, with primetime ratings up in the double-digits over its predecessor for adults 18-34. “We’re optimistic,” says Jim Babb, executive VP/COO of Bahakel. “And so far our optimism is justified by the results.”

Missing That ‘X Factor’

WCCB will be challenged to sustain the momentum. Its late-news ratings are down 25% compared to last year. Having a local NFL franchise on your air is akin to 16 mini Super Bowls (WCCB does have Panthers preseason games and coaches’ shows), while the Fox branding is attractive to advertisers
— and provides clout in retrans negotiations. “There are huge brand issues and huge advertising issues,” Bill Hague, senior VP at Frank N. Magid Associates, says of the affiliation switch. “It comes down to relevance — to viewers, advertisers, consumers.”

WCCB’s affiliation change came to be when Fox acquired WJZY-WMYT for $18 million from Capitol Broadcasting. The Fox O&O will debut news early next year.

WCCB is not the first station to be dealt divorce papers from Fox. WTVW Evansville (Ind.), KSFX Springfield (Mo.) and KTRV Boise (Idaho) were among those to lose Fox affiliations over retrans clashes in recent years.

Neither White nor Babb would offer revenue projections for life as a CW affiliate, but both are bullish on the station’s future. “It’s been refreshing and invigorating,” says White.

John Maatta, executive VP of The CW, says he’s “thrilled” with the network’s new partner in Charlotte, and gives the Bahakel bunch high marks for the “intense preparation” that preceded the launch. “They have said they want to be the No. 1 CW affiliate in the country,” he says. “They’ve got the horsepower to achieve that.”