Building America’sNext Top CW Station

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

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.”