NBC and Young Broadcasting are still battling in San Francisco—four years after Young outbid NBC for KRON-TV and NBC retaliated by buying a station in nearby San Jose and yanking KRON-TV's affiliation.
Now NBC is trying to move the transmitter for KNTV(TV) San Jose closer to San Francisco in an attempt to recapture the more than 400,000 viewers lost when it canceled KRON-TV's affiliation contract. Young is demanding that federal regulators scotch the move as a bad deal for viewers in San Jose.
"The move will restore service to hundreds of thousands of viewers who lost NBC service during the switch" of affiliations," KNTV General Manager Linda Sullivan told BROADCASTING CABLE last week. The transfer requires FCC approval, which has been pending since September. NBC has requested waivers of FCC rules limiting changes to a stations' coverage area and of channel-spacing requirements.
Young argues that the move would eliminate over-the-air NBC service to two-thirds of the San Jose area and 647,000 viewers. "KNTV's principal focus must be to serve its community of licenses," Young's lawyers wrote in an "informal objection" filed with the FCC Nov. 21. "NBC's applications can be granted only on the basis of showing a compelling public interest—not NBC's own self-interest."
Also, Young contends, the switch from KNTV's current transmitter site at Loma Prieta Mountain to an antenna farm on San Bruno Mountain roughly 40 miles to the north would be a channel-separation violation with KXRI(TV), the Fox affiliate in Reno, Nev. Also, Young contends that NBC has failed to certify that the new transmitter will not expose the members of the public to excess radio-frequency energy.
NBC denies any substantial loss of service to San Jose or from the proposed change or overlap with KXRI. All changes are "consistent with FCC precedent," said NBC Washington attorney William LeBeau.
The latest dust-up continues the bad blood between Young and NBC that started in 1999 when Chronicle Broadcasting put KRON-TV on the market after running the station for 41 years. In a move widely seen as an attempt to scare away other buyers, NBC President Robert Wright warned that any new owner would lose traditional compensation from the network and instead would have to pay $10 million per year for affiliation rights.
Despite NBC's threat, Young offered $824 million in cash and stock for the station. As its affiliation contract neared its December 2001 expiration, Young tried unsuccessfully to sell the station to NBC.
Instead, NBC signed up KNTV as an affiliate when owner Granite Broadcasting offered to pay more than $30 million per year in reverse compensation for the privilege. Before the affiliate switch occurred, however, NBC forced Granite to sell it the station for $230 million.
Young's lawyers are saying that NBC should be forced to live with a situation it brought on itself by threats designed to buy KRON-TV "on the cheap."
Since the affiliation switch, KRON-TV has lost its long-time spot atop the San Francisco ratings, although its ability to continue in the thick of the ratings hunt has surprised many.
NBC's ratings have clearly suffered. According to Nielsen, local ratings for Today
have dropped from 4.4 rating/18 share in November 2001, its last with KRON-TV, to 2.8/11 with KNTV in May this year. Similar slides were experienced by NBC Nightly News—6.8/14 to 3.2/7—and ER—15.4/28 to 11.5/19.