New NBC Boston station launches amid challenges

NBC is now airing its programming on a new station in Boston instead of former affiliate WHDH.

The New Year is here and with it a new NBC station in Boston, a Comcast/NBCUniversal-owned and -operated system taking the Peacock’s programming from former affiliate WHDH.

NBC Boston kicked off its launch with a marketing blitz that stretched across multiple platforms and employed a host of NBC stars like Matt Lauer and Jimmy Fallon.

The new station, with the call letters WBTS, will have NBC programming like "Thursday Night Football" and "The Voice" to help attract viewers, but it will still have to compete with WHDH, which is ramping up its news coverage in the wake of losing NBC programming.

Comcast did try to acquire WHDH’s facilities in order to help with that coverage, but Ed Ansin, chief executive of WHDH-TV owner Sunbeam Television, said that shortly after NBCU executives informed him the affiliate agreement with his station would not be renewed, he declined NBCU’s $200 million for WHDH’s broadcast facilities.

As for WHDH, Ansin said the station will continue to serve the Boston DMA as an independent broadcaster.

“We’ve developed a lot of new ideas. New thoughts. New things we want to do. We find it exciting, we think our viewers will as well,” said Ansin, according to a WHDH report.

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With WHDH refusing to sell its station and pressure from lawmakers like Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to ensure that the new NBC Boston could match the reach of WHDH, NBCU and Comcast were forced to cobble together a signal strong enough to serve the entire Boston market area.

“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 response to Markey. The move, according to Cohen, boosted NBC Boston’s free over-the-air reach by another 275,000 viewers.

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But, as Variety points out, that hodgepodge of TV signal sources could make it difficult for NBC Boston to market itself and for local viewers to find the channel. Although NBC Boston will show up as one channel with pay-TV systems operating in the market, the different stations mean NBC Boston will appear at different channels in different areas of the Boston market.