Business

Shirley Leung

TV affiliate talks still up in the airwaves

Rumors circulated that former WFXTTV anchor Maria Stephanos (left) would resurface with meteorologist Pete Bouchard at a newly formed station, NBC Boston.
Rumors circulated that former WFXTTV anchor Maria Stephanos (left) would resurface with meteorologist Pete Bouchard at a newly formed station, NBC Boston.

With all the ink spilled on the tense negotiations between NBC and WHDH-TV (Channel 7), I just want to know this: Where can I watch “The Voice”?

The answer: We still don’t know yet.

WHDH’s affiliate agreement with NBC is set to expire at the end of 2016, but the two sides have been locked in discussions on whether to re-up. The scuttlebutt is that NBC has had enough of Miami billionaire Ed Ansin, whose Sunbeam Television Corp. owns WHDH, and will take its network elsewhere. Their relationship has been contentious, to say the least.

Advertisement

The brass at WHDH insist that the station expects to extend its NBC agreement. It’s too soon to count Ansin out. I sense there is a lot of posturing going on.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“If this were a chess match, NBC has just moved into the check position against Ansin,” one veteran TV insider told me, but “Ansin still has some moves he can make.”

So this is one scenario: NBC moves its network programming to WNEU-TV, which it owns and currently broadcasts the Spanish-television network Telemundo on Channel 60. NBC also owns Telemundo.

Since TV broadcasters switched from analog to digital signal in 2009, their transmitters can now carry more than one channel over the air. So NBC could broadcast both its NBC Boston affiliate and Telemundo from the same transmitter, though I wonder what the quality would be like. Typically, the transmitter can only broadcast one channel in high definition, and the other channels would have to be shown in standard definition.

NBC already runs New England Cable News, and both are owned by cable giant Comcast. Some thought that the network would move its programming to NECN. Not the case. In fact, NECN staff have recently been told that if NBC goes off the air on Channel 7, NECN would not go away and remain its own station.

Advertisement

NBC has been renovating and expanding NECN’s studios in Newton, and long ago secured the domain name NBCBoston.com . (Full disclosure: I am a paid contributor to NECN.) The rumor mill went wild this week with the sudden departure of WHDH’s chief meteorologist, Pete Bouchard. That set tongues wagging that the popular Maria Stephanos , the former WFXT-TV (Channel 25) news anchor, would resurface in the market at a newly formed station, NBC Boston, along with Bouchard.

I don’t know for sure that’s where Bouchard is heading, but various stations have expressed interest in Stephanos and she has not figured out where she might land. I’m not worried about Stephanos. She’s so in demand it’s like Christmas has come early for her. It may be a couple more months before we know for sure because TV contracts in this town typically bar talent from jumping to a rival station right away.

In a perfect world, NBC would probably like to buy Ansin’s WHDH so that it can own and operate a station in Boston. The signal would be stronger than relying on WNEU-TV’s transmitter which is in Merrimack, N.H.

Ansin could ask for a hefty price. The Federal Communications Commission recently valued the station as high as $454 million if WHDH agreed to go off the air. The FCC is conducting a broadcast spectrum buyback program and looking to purchase local TV signals from stations willing to go dark. Whether WHDH would sell at that price depends on various factors, but it’s a number Ansin could push for.

But NBC may have soured on Ansin, given all the leaks about negotiations gone bad. No doubt what’s also fresh in the network’s mind is what the media mogul pulled in 2009 when Jay Leno was rolling out a new 10 p.m. show.

Advertisement

Ansin, in a very public fashion, refused to air the comedian’s program thinking the station would make more money if it launched a local newscast in that time slot. NBC threatened to strip WHDH of its affiliation, and after a two-week standoff, Ansin agreed to air the Leno show, which didn’t last long.

NBC seems eager to part ways with Ansin — perhaps announcing a decision as soon as January — but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets delayed. Ansin, who doesn’t seem to shy away from a fight, could find a reason to sue NBC to keep the affiliation, and the network may not want to poke a bear. In other words, this soap opera is still playing out.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.