If you want to watch the new NBC Boston station on Jan. 1, pay close attention.
Over-the-air viewers will find the station on Channel 8, while many cable and satellite subscribers (Comcast, Dish, and DirecTV) will need to tune to Channel 10. As for Verizon Fios or RCN customers, NBC is still negotiating the number with those providers. That means everyone check your local listings.
Confused? It’s one downside of the network’s decision to drop its longtime affiliation with WHDH-TV (Channel 7). The shakeup — the biggest in the local TV market in two decades — will also affect some cable subscribers who watch New England Cable News. The high-definition version of NBC Boston will appear on channel 810, which currently broadcasts the HD version of NECN. That version of NECN will move to channel 840 starting on Dec. 1. Cable giant Comcast Corp. owns both NBC and NECN.
NBC will announce the arrangements on Tuesday, along with new local programming and newscast lineups. The station will feature seven local newscasts starting weekdays at 4:30 a.m. through 11:30 p.m., as well as the debut of a daily lifestyle program called “The Hub Today” and Sunday public affairs show “This is New England.” The new station will also have consumer and investigative units.
NBC Boston will also carry the network’s signature programs such as “The Today Show,” “NBC Nightly News,” “Sunday Night Football,” and “The Voice.”
The multiple-channel plan reflects how difficult it has been for NBC to replace WHDH, the largest affiliate not owned and operated by the network. Cable and satellite subscribers will have no trouble tuning in, but what has been trickier is figuring out how many who rely on antennas would continue to get the NBC signal.
WHDH’s broadcast signal reaches 7.1 million viewers over the air. To try to match WHDH’s coverage, NBC will broadcast from two locations: WNEU (Channel 60) out of Merrimack, N.H., and WBTS (Channel 8) out of Needham. NBC Boston will share a signal with WNEU, which is owned by Comcast and currently broadcasts Spanish-language network Telemundo Boston. NBC Boston recently acquired a Needham transmitter to establish WBTS.
Mike St. Peter, president and general manager of NBC Boston, NECN, and Telemundo Boston, acknowledged that NBC Boston’s coverage area “does not match” WHDH’s, but plenty of people will be able to watch the network. He pointed out that 97 percent of households in the Boston market subscribe to cable or satellite, the highest in the country.
“We’re in good shape right now,” St. Peter said in an interview.
Ed Ansin, the billionaire owner of Channel 7, tried to make a federal case out of Comcast’s plan to rely on WNEU, alleging in a lawsuit that many viewers would lose free over-the-air access to NBC and potentially violating an agreement the cable company struck with the Federal Communications Commission in winning approval to acquire a controlling stake in NBC in 2011. A federal judge in Boston dismissed Ansin’s case in May.
Still, St. Peter said the network remains on the hunt for more options to boost free coverage.
“We have come a long way. We continue to look for how we can improve over-the-air service,” he said. “When the spectrum auction finishes, there will be more options available to our company for that.”
The FCC has been conducting an auction this year to buy back local TV signals from stations. During this period, stations that put themselves in the auction faced restrictions on outside bids. St. Peter said once the spectrum auction is done, NBC could look at buying a station or reviewing additional channel-sharing options. Ansin asserted that NBC wanted to buy his station but he turned down the low-ball offer; he will relaunch Channel 7 next year as an independent station that will feature syndicated programming and expanded local news coverage.
To prepare over-the-air viewers for the switch from Channel 7, NBC on Nov. 10 will broadcast “Countdown NBC Boston” on Channel 8. During that time, viewers will need to rescan their television or set-top boxes to add Channel 8 or 8.2 to their lineup. Instructions can be found on NBCBoston.com, which will also launch on Nov. 10.
The countdown channel will not feature network prime-time programming — just simulcasts of NECN newscasts.
St. Peter has already hired dozens of staff members for the new station. Many of them have already been appearing on NECN. For example, Shannon Mulaire, Joy Lim Nakrin, and Phil Lipof will anchor newscasts on NBC Boston, while meteorologist Pete Bouchard will be a fixture on the new station. Some NECN talent will also appear on NBC Boston, including anchor Latoyia Edwards and chief meteorologist Matt Noyes.
NBC Boston will air from studio space in Newton, where NECN and Telemundo newscasts are produced. Although all three stations will share resources, they will remain distinct brands.
NECN, for example, will continue to serve a broader New England audience and maintain bureaus in other states. NBC Boston will focus on Greater Boston, Southern New Hampshire, and Cape Cod.
Said St. Peter: “The missions will be different.”
Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the type of newscast NBC Boston will broadcast starting Nov. 10 in advance of the launch of the new station on Jan. 1.