An affiliate shake-up pushing American Idol and other popular shows to another channel can be expected soon, as the Fox television network has agreed to purchase two Charlotte stations from Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting.
Capitol announced Monday that it intends to sell WJZY (Channel 46) and WMYT (Channel 55) to Fox, which is controlled by New York-based News Corp.
If the Federal Communications Commission agrees such transactions are routinely approved by regulators the Fox lineup of network programs is likely to move from WCCB (Fox Charlotte, Channel 18), probably in July when current contracts expire.
Fox shows are likely to land on Channel 46, which now carries the CW network. Channel 55 would likely continue carrying MyTV, a Fox-owned programming service that airs reruns of shows like Law & Order and House.
It is a common industry practice for networks to move their programming when they buy a channel outright.
WCCB is the flagship station for privately held Bahakel Communications, based in Charlotte. John Hutchinson, Bahakels senior vice president, said the company was reviewing its options in the face of losing the Fox affiliation, but said he could not comment beyond that.
Losing the Fox affiliation would be a financial blow to WCCB and Bahakel Communications.
Bahakel has vigorously traded on its affiliation with Fox over the past few years, promoting the station as Fox Charlotte and extending the brand to its lineup of local news shows like Fox News at 10.
One option Bahakel is likely to consider is picking up the affiliation of the CW network, which is carried by WJZY.
But the CW, whose best-known shows include Americas Next Top Model, Arrow and 90210, runs a distant fifth in ratings among the five broadcast networks and doesnt provide prime-time programming on Saturdays or Sundays.
Additionally, the CW has no sports programming, while Fox has long-term contracts with the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
Games boost ad revenue
While stations do not make advertising rates public, ads on NFL games are among the highest-priced on television and boost stations revenues. For example, according to political spending information on file with the FCC, last fall Fox Charlotte was commanding $18,000 per 30-second spot during Panther games vs. $2,000 for placing the same ad on its 10 p.m. newscast.
Losing the affiliation significantly reduces the value of the station. A lot, said Jim Hefner, who has managed television stations, including WRAL in Raleigh, and now teaches communications at UNC Chapel Hill. I wouldnt be surprised if it cut it 40 to 50 percent.
Hefner said stations elsewhere that lost their network affiliations have suffered in ratings and revenue.
One thing that would help WCCB would be to continue its profitable local newscasts. Fox News at 10 is No. 1 among the local newscasts in the 10 p.m. time slot.
Another strategy for Bahakel might be to take a network affiliation from another Charlotte station, but such alignments are usually covered under long-term contracts.
Capitol bows out
Capitol Broadcasting, also privately held, operates WRAL (Channel 5) in Raleigh and other stations, as well as the Durham Bulls baseball team.
We have enjoyed being a part of the dynamic Charlotte market for 25 years, Jim Goodmon, Capitols president, said in a statement Monday. We are sorry to leave but excited about the future of the stations under the ownership of Fox Television Stations.
Goodmon announced the deal to employees at the Charlotte stations during a noon meeting Monday. He told them it was a hard day for Capitol Broadcasting, because the company did not want to part with the stations it had built here, but he had to do what was best for Capitol.
I used the word bittersweet because Capitol Broadcasting is an incredible owner, said Shawn Harris, general manager of WJZY and WMYT. But at the same time, the opportunity to be not just a Fox affiliate, but for one of these stations to have the Panthers in the home of the Panthers, NASCAR in the home of NASCAR, to have American Idol in the state that has arguably produced the most contestants to go late into the competitions is a great thing.
Fox directly operates 27 TV stations across the country, largely in major urban markets. Nationally, it has more than 175 affiliate stations. Charlotte is the nations 25th largest television market with an estimated 1.1 million households.
Fox ownership returns
Mondays announcement signals a return to North Carolina broadcasting by Fox, which in 2007 sold its owned-and-operated station in Greensboro, WGHP (Channel 8), as part of a $1.1 billion package of eight stations. Proceeds helped News Corp. finance its acquisition of The Wall Street Journal.
We are delighted to expand our portfolio of stations and return to North Carolina, Jack Abernethy, CEO of Fox Television Stations, said in a statement. WJZY and WMYT are both well-run stations that provide us with a unique opportunity in a growing top-25 market.
Spokesmen for Fox said nothing more would be said about the deal, pending regulatory approval. No purchase price was immediately released.
In Charlotte, Fox also owns Speed channel, the motorsports cable network that is expected to become Fox Sports 1 later this year as it broadens its portfolio to include other sports.
WJZY was launched in 1987 and acquired by Capitol the same year.
WMYT was launched in 1994 as an independent station and was bought by Capitol in 2000.