Amid NBC’s takeover of a Boston affiliate and looming challenges to the FCC’s station ownership rules, NBCUniversal doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to further expand its broadcast reach.
During Comcast’s fourth-quarter earnings call today, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke seemed comfortable with NBC’s current position in the broadcast television market.
“We like the broadcast business. We think we’re doing well in it,” said Burke, adding that while there’s not a necessity to increase NBC’s broadcast footprint, if the FCC’s ownership caps get changed, his company would definitely take a look at it.
Last year, the FCC changed the UHF discount governing ownership rules for broadcast stations so that UHF stations would now have to count 100% of their reach toward the cap, instead of the previous 50%.
Since that time, broadcasters like CBS have urged the FCC to reinstate the UHF discount before making any further reforms on the ownership rules that currently cap a broadcast station group’s national audience reach at 39%.
As part of the recently approved $4.6 billion merger between station groups Nexstar and Media General (now collectively known as Nexstar Media), the companies had to divest a number of broadcast stations to adhere to the 39% rule. To adhere to the cap, Nexstar and Media General will have to sell:
- KREG in Denver
- WCWJ in Jacksonville, Florida
- KIMT in Rochester, Minnesota
- WLFI in Lafayette, Indiana
- KQTV in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Those station divestitures and others brought the merger in line with the FCC’s ownership rules.
“We have reviewed the proposed merger and related pleadings and conclude that grant of the applications as requested will comply with the Commission’s rules,” the FCC wrote in its approval (PDF).
While NBC may be in no rush to expand its broadcast empire, the broadcaster is just coming off a takeover of a Boston affiliate.
Burke said there was “essentially no cost” to take back the Boston affiliate, which is now using a patchwork of transmitters to cover the Boston market after it was unable to acquire the facilities of former NBC affiliate WHDH.
Amid concerns from viewers and legislators that the new NBC-owned and operated station wouldn’t match the reach of WHDH, NBC has responded by boosting the signal through further agreements
“We have just entered into an agreement with another full-power Boston station (WFMP) to rebroadcast the NBC Boston signal on its available digital channel until we can acquire another full-power station in the market,” said David Cohen, senior EVP of Comcast, in a letter.
Cohen said NBC Boston will offer free over-the-air service to about 275,000 more viewers and interference-free indoor coverage to at least 231,645 more viewers in the Boston DMA than WHDH.