While issues around the Fox affiliation switch in Charlotte this summer are yet to be worked out, lessons can be drawn from a similar situation.
In 2008, Fox moved its shows from one San Diego station to another, replacing the CW network’s prime-time lineup with Fox programming. Late local newscast viewers moved with the network. A year after the switch, the new Fox affiliate was drawing a 4.1 percent share of 10 p.m. news viewers, the same percentage that the former affiliate was drawing.
But the other station, which switched from Fox to the CW network, saw a decline of 10 p.m. viewers. It went from a 4.1 percent share of viewers at 10 p.m. to 3.4 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.
That meant that the former CW affiliate that switched to Fox saw a 193 percent jump in late news ratings. At the new CW affiliate, the 10 p.m. share dropped 17 percent.
In San Diego, viewers followed the Fox network to its new home. If the same trend occurs here, it signals trouble for WCCB.
Fox Television is buying Charlotte’s WJZY (Channel 46) and WMYT (Channel 55) from Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting for $18 million. Fox has already told WCCB (Channel 18) it will move its programming to one of its new stations on July 1.
That leaves WCCB to decide whether it will pick up the CW network from Channel 46 or fill its evening prime time some other way. Of the five broadcast networks, the CW network – whose best-known shows include “America’s Next Top Model” and “Arrow” – draws the lowest ratings. Nationally, its numbers run behind some popular cable shows.
WCCB also loses its lucrative lineup of Fox sports, including NASCAR races and Panthers games.
While stations do not make public their ad rates, they do report campaign advertising to the FCC. Looking at the ad sales reported to the FCC from last fall’s election season provides some insight into how much money local newscasts command from advertisers.
Capitol’s WMYT was billing candidates $300 per 30-second spot during its 10 p.m. weekday newscasts. WMYT was third in ratings among the three 10 p.m. newscasts.
WCCB was billing candidates $450 per 30-second spot in the same time period, or 50 percent more. WCCB was No. 1 in the 10 p.m. news ratings. (By comparison, WSOC (Channel 9) was getting $1,200 for 30-second commercials in its 11 p.m. newscast, which has far more viewers than any of the 10 p.m. news shows.)
Local news is a big profit center for stations, because all the ads sold go directly to the stations, rather than being shared with the networks or syndicators.
One strategy that WCCB could pursue is adding local news shows, like at noon or 6 p.m., to make up for losses in ratings from Fox programming. But when Fox buys the Capitol stations, it is almost certain to build a news department of its own, entering the 10 p.m. newscast field and possibly other time slots.
A reasonable expectation is that a new Fox news department would be ready to go by January, if not sooner. Until then, it has the option of continuing to pay for a 10 p.m. newscast produced by WBTV (Channel 3), like the one now on WMYT.
Fox could squeeze a news department in the WJZY/WMYT studios in south Mecklenburg, but a more likely scenario would have it move the stations to its Speed channel operation at Harris Boulevard and I-85. That modern facility has 75,000 square feet of space, which is only two-thirds built out.
Things should begin to snap into focus on June 1, when Fox takes over the Capitol stations. Even if the purchase has not yet received regulatory approval, a provision in the sales contract allows Fox to take over and begin managing the stations on June 1 by paying Capitol $8.2 million of the purchase price, and then the balance when the FCC approves the sale.
At Fox Charlotte, (WCCB, Channel 18), Angela Robbins moves up from No. 2 in the newsroom to news director. Robbins, a Charlotte native and UNC Chapel Hill graduate, joined WCCB from WBTV (Channel 3) in 2004. Earlier in her career, Robbins produced the evening newscast for the CBS station in Philadelphia. She follows Ken White, who was told last weekend that he was being replaced. “This was a bit of a punch, but they’ve been good to me over the years and it’s been a fun place to work,” White said. “They said they decided to go in a different direction.”
White launched the Fox Charlotte news department in 2000 and was the longest-serving news director in town, a title that now goes to Channel 3’s Dennis Milligan. …
At News 14 Carolina, Claudine Chalfant takes over as weekday evening anchor, replacing Heather Walliga, who went to WTVD in Durham. In the News 14 sports, Jason Brown replaces Tim Baier, who went to the Charlotte marketing firm Spiracle. Both Chalfant and Brown had worked for News 14 before in other roles. …
News 14 reporter Caroline Vandergriff remains hospitalized at Carolinas Medical Center after she was hit by a car in Dilworth while covering a Jan. 30 storm. Vandergriff was shooting video at Kenilworth Avenue and East Morehead Street, where the traffic signal was knocked out. Two cars collided, and one spun into Vandergriff, 25, knocking her about 25 feet from the roadway. …
At WSOC (Channel 9), meteorologist Steve Udelson’s annual “Coats for Kids” drive netted 12,200 coats this year for the Crisis Assistance Ministry. … Mike Redding, who left WCNC (Channel 36) in 2009 when his “Carolina Traveler” series was canceled, moves to Maine to become news director of the NBC affiliates in Portland and Bangor. Redding most recently has been executive producer at WFMY (Channel 2) in Greensboro. …
Next up in WFAE-FM’s (90.7) Public Conversation Series, 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at Booth Playhouse, will be a discussion of gun control. Panelists include Larry Hyatt, owner of Charlotte’s Hyatt Gun Shop, and U.S. Rep. Mel Watt. WFAE’s Ben Bradford will moderate. …
Calvin Brown Jr., 1980 graduate of West Charlotte High School who went to Hollywood and did well, is now writing for the BET reality-show spoof series “Real Husbands of Hollywood.” Two episodes he wrote will run back-to-back beginning at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on BET. … Travis Smith, a Winston-Salem native and graduate of the N.C. School of the Arts, appears in “Necessary Roughness” (10 p.m. Wednesdays, USA) as a quarterback who announces he’s gay. …
WSOC (Channel 9) airs the “Katie” show a day late because it goes on the air here before that day’s show is sent from the network. On Monday, Katie Couric is interviewing Sue Paterno in her first appearance since the sex abuse scandal at Penn State. Because it’s a newsworthy show, it will air at 8 p.m. Monday on sister station WAXN (Channel 64), pre-empting “Dr. Oz,” and again at 10 a.m. Tuesday on Channel 9.