The long-contentious marriage between NBCUniversal and WHDH, the NBC affiliate in Boston, appears to be ending.
NBC will not renew its affiliation at the end of the current contract, Dec. 31, 2016, according to reports in the Boston market, and instead move all programming, including Today, Dateline, Sunday Night Football (with its handful of Patriots games), late night and primetime series, to a new station called NBC Boston and air on WNEU, currently its Telemundo owned-and-operated station in Boston. Telemundo programming will then drop to a digital channel. Well equipped to have an O&O in the prized DMA No. 8, NBC also owns and operates New England Cable News (NECN), a regional 24-hour cable news network located just outside Boston in Newton, Mass.
Two sources with insider knowledge of the Boston dealings confirmed the development, on background, to B&C.
NBC declined to comment. Sunbeam had not responded at press time.
WHDH’s chief meteorologist Pete Bouchard recently resigned and speculation is he will move to NBC. Maria Stephanos, the market’s top anchor, left Fox affiliate WFXT in September, and the speculation is the same for her.
WHDH is No. 2 to Hearst-owned ABC affiliate WCVB in most ratings.
Sunbeam could enter WHDH into the upcoming spectrum auction. The opening bid price for WHDH is $454 million; its sister station CW affiliate WLVI is at $452 million. It’s possible Sunbeam could enter the latter and make WHDH the CW affiliate. For comparison, WNEU’s opening price is $303 million. While Sunbeam’s WHDH has a better broadcast signal than WNEU—WNEU’s transmitter is in Goffstown, N.H., WHDH’s is in nearby Newton—most viewers have cable anyway, and NBC is owned by cable provider Comcast.
There had long been speculation about a change for NBC in market, especially with the affiliation deal ending at the close of 2016. WHDH, the market leader in revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, ran into trouble with NBC recently in 2009, when Ed Ansin, the billionaire cofounder of Sunbeam, said WHDH would not run the new primetime Jay Leno Show and air news instead. After a strong statement and threat to pull its affiliation from NBC’s network president and a meeting between Ansin and NBC, Ansin acquiesced. Going back even further, NBC pulled its affiliation from Sunbeam's flagship station, WSVN in Miami, in 1989; the station in turn struck an affiliation deal with a nascent Fox.