WRAL, the top-rated station Raleigh, N.C. (DMA No. 25), has decided not to renew its affiliation with CBS and will instead become an NBC affiliate, effective Feb. 29.
"The fact of the matter is, I'm sorry we needed to inform CBS of our decision," said Steve Hammel, WRAL VP and general manager. "Our business models were not compatible with one another for long-term success for our station. As a result, we felt we needed to make this decision. It was not an easy decision. (It came down to) what network we feel is best positioned for the future of local broadcasting."
WRAL, locally owned by Capitol Broadcasting Company, started out as an NBC affiliate 60 years ago but has been a CBS affiliate for over 30 years. CBS, meanwhile, is moving its affiliation from WRAL to Media General's WNCN, currently the NBC affiliate.
WRAL had been negotiating with CBS for several months, but Hammel said it had become clear their business models were not the right fit.
"The business model that CBS has with its local affiliated stations and certainly with us is not compatible with our business goals," Hammel said. "NBC's model is much more compatible to us."
Hammel was recently honored as B&C’s 2015 GM of the Year (Markets 1-25).
Between WRAL and WRAZ, CBS’s Fox affiliate, the two stations produce 9.5 hours of news a day. Bucking industry trends, ratings for WRAL’s weekday newscast have actually increased over the last three years. For instance, WRAL, the dominant station in the market and one of the strongest in the country, has a 9 rating for its lead-in to the network evening news compared to WNCN's 1.4. "Some of those numbers are just incredible," said Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting chairman. “The Fletcher/Goodmon family’s WRAL is widely recognized as one of the best stations in the nation. All of us at NBC are thrilled to combine our decades of dedication to network and local broadcasting in order to proudly serve the thriving Raleigh-Durham market.”
WRAL is also the rare station to have a documentary unit, producing about seven each year. The station won a prestigious 2016 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for “Journey Alone,” its documentary that explored the proliferation of illegal immigration of unaccompanied minors and their effect on the state. Among the many other honors WRAL has received, it has won Outstanding News Operation at the North Carolina Associated Press Awards eight times in last 10 years.
“This difficult decision came down to the question, 'Who is best positioned to preserve the future of local broadcasting?' It’s clear to us that NBC understands the value local stations bring to the network/affiliate partnership," said Jim Goodmon, Capitol Broadcasting president and CEO. “The broadcasting business has changed and is continuing to change rapidly. These challenges can be daunting but can also offer extraordinary opportunities. This new partnership for WRAL ensures our success well into the future. I am extremely excited about our station being the newest and proudest member of the Peacock Network.”
Harbert reiterated that WRAL's decision was not about how much they had to pay CBS, because NBC's rates are competitive.
"You try to avoid affiliate switches. It's not easy on anyone. But you don't pass up the chance to be in business with WRAL," Harbert said. "This is about what Jimmy Goodmon said, it's about who really believe in the future of local broadcast and is making investments in all dayparts. Anyone who knows the Fletchers and Goodmons knows they're a pure broadcasting family. And when you look at it, we have the best story."
Hartbert said WRAL approached NBC as soon as they were able to talk to other parties, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, and the deal was completed quickly. NBC had been negotiating with Media General about newewing with WNCN, but changed course when the WRAL opportunity came about.
"We couldn’t be happier to welcome them back to our family of outstanding affiliate stations,” said Jean Dietze, president, affiliate relations. “We are pleased that Capitol Broadcasting Company recognized the value that NBC’s content brings to our local partners just as we recognize the value that such an innovative and powerful locally owned station brings to us.”
This news comes amid a wave of consolidation in the industry as two other stations owned by small groups are seeing their affiliations vanishing. WKPT, Holston Valley Broadcasting’s station in Kingsport, Tenn. (DMA No. 97), is losing its ABC affiliation at the end of the month to Media General, which already owns and operates the CBS affiliation in the market. As a result, WKPT is leaving the local TV news business. And in Boston, NBC is not renewing its affiliation with Sunbeam Television-owned WHDH and will instead launch an O&O next year, a move that Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin is contesting.
Unlike WKPT and WHDH, however, WRAL carried the upper hand in its affiliation negotiations.
Jon Lafayette contributed to this report.