With Fox looking to add stations in NFL markets, Miami is a prime candidate. And that means Ed Ansin’s WSVN there may be in danger of losing its Fox affiliation. If it does, it would be the third time Ansin has lost a major affiliation. ~~~ Also, I’ve been hearing rumors that Fox is once again pushing the idea that it should represent its affiliates in all retrans negotiation. Is it the second coming of network comp or another sign of the heavy hand of the networks?
In his many years as a station owner, Ed Ansin has twice had to cope with losing major network affiliations when the network decided to move into his markets.
It first happened in 1988 when NBC decided to enter Miami by buying WTVJ, and then again, just this past year, when NBC decided it must have an O&O in Boston.
Ansin made out OK in Miami — better than OK, actually. His WSVN lost its NBC affiliation at the same time that Rupert Murdoch was looking for affiliates anywhere he could find them for his upstart Fox network. So, WSVN simply made the leap from NBC to Fox and has prospered ever since.
It’s still too soon to say how things will shake out in Boston. Ansin’s now-independent WHDH remains a force in local news, while the NBC O&O, WBTS, struggles to find a news audience.
Now, it appears that Ansin may be thrown overboard for a third time — not again by NBC, but by Fox, the very same network that saved him three decades ago.
As you know, New Fox, the streamlined broadcasting and cable news company that will be left over from the Murdochs’ big Disney deal, is going all-in on the NFL, a strategy made evident to all in January when it won the bidding for the Thursday Night Football package.
To make the most of the rights, Fox is looking to acquire stations in more NFL markets. As I said here a couple of weeks ago, I would expect some of these stations to be included among those it will be buying from Sinclair as it reorders its station portfolio to win regulatory approval of its Tribune takeover.
Particularly attractive to Fox would be the bigger NFL markets in the Sinclair-Tribune portfolio — Seattle, Cleveland, Denver and Miami.
The stations in Seattle, Cleveland and Denver are Fox affiliates so their acquisition by Fox would not be disruptive to the market or cause anyone any pain.
Unfortunately, the station in Miami, WSFL, is a CW affiliate. So, if Fox enters the market, Ansin’s WSVN would again be the odd man out. And this time, there would be no upstart network waiting to embrace him.
Acquiring WSFL cannot be Fox’s first choice in Miami. It is not a news-producing station and starting up a news operation in Miami at this point would be daunting.
Fox’s first choice would be buying out Ansin. But NBC tried that in Boston, and got nowhere. Fox would likely meet the same stubborn resistance. Ansin is 81 years old and a billionaire. Those attributes combine to give him a great deal of FU authority.
I spoke with Ansin yesterday and he told me that he has heard nothing from Fox — no warning that it was moving into the market and no expression of interest in WSVN.
“That rumor has been afloat since NATPE [in January],” he said. “I don’t think that is going to happen.”
He said his current affiliation agreement with Fox still has a couple of years to run, but didn’t want to get into whether the contract has an out for Fox should it buy a station in the market
“We have been a key affiliate of theirs since their inception,” he said. In the early years, as Fox went about recruiting affiliates, WSVN became its model station, “which essentially meant a lot more news shows and less syndicated shows.”
I hope that bringing up old times is not Ansin’s only defense against Fox entering Miami. Broadcasting is a tough racket: one day you’re a model of how it should be done; the next, you’re just in the way.
N.B., Fox has one other obvious option in Miami. It could buy ABC affiliate WPLG. The news producer is the one and only station of Warren Buffett, an orphan among his vast holdings.
Like Ansin, he has sufficient age and wealth to brush off Fox’s entreaties, but why would he want to? In fact, looking in from the outside, this may be just the moment for Buffett to cash in.
Network Comp Redux
Listen up, broadcasters. Aren’t you tired of giving away half your hard-earned retrans cash to greedy networks hooked on overpriced sports rights?
Wouldn’t you like to go back to the days when the networks paid you “compensation” as a sign of their great respect for you?
I’ve been hearing rumors that Fox is once again pushing the idea that it should represent its affiliates in all retrans negotiation. It makes some sense.
If you have every affiliate in your pocket when you sit down at the table, you have quite a bit of leverage, even against the biggest and baddest MVPDs. It also relieves the affiliates of the costly administrative and legal burdens of retrans negotiations.
Nonetheless, affiliates have been rightly wary of the arrangement. It would put Fox and the other networks that have toyed with the idea in a more dominant position.
As the retrans agent, the network would negotiate the deal, collect the money and then cut checks to the affiliates with their shares. The setup gives the networks even more leverage in negotiating with the affiliates on what their share should be.
Talking this over with a broadcaster today, it occurred to me that if this idea takes hold, what it would be is reverse reverse compensation or, simply, compensation, just as in the good old days.
In exchange for their local broadcasters’ distribution and local news, the networks would send their affiliates a check each month — their negotiated share of the retrans loot.
So, what do you think? A return to compensation where the affiliate doesn’t have to do anything except deposit the check?
Seen in those terms, it doesn’t sound so bad. But something tells me that affiliates won’t quite see it like that.