In this week’s issue… Contraction at WFXT – Frequency change in VT – New format on Buffalo AM – More Auction 109 apps arrive
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been one of the most competitive TV news ,markets in America for years, but how much longer can Boston survive as a five-newsroom town?
The Cox-owned Fox affiliate, WFXT (Channel 25), cut more than a dozen newsroom staffers in recent weeks and has canceled several newscasts as it tries to find its niche in a marketplace that includes potent independent competitor WHDH (Channel 7), Hearst’s powerhouse ABC affiliate WCVB (Channel 5), CBS owned-and-operated WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and, since the start of 2017, NBC owned-and-operated WBTS (Channel 10) alongside its Comcast cable sister network, New England Cable News.
The addition of “NBC Boston” almost five years ago, after NBC pulled its affiliation from WHDH, took away a niche that WFXT had successfully filled for years – instead of having late-morning and 10 PM timeslots to itself, it found itself competing against WHDH’s expanded local news presence and often losing in the ratings, a problem compounded by the private equity buyout of the Cox TV stations and a perception of a lack of corporate support for the newsroom.
Cox isn’t saying much publicly about the cuts, but we know the weekday 4 PM newscast is now gone from WFXT, as are Saturday evening newcasts that had aired at 6 and 10. Sports director Tom Leyden was the most visible among the recent job losses, which also included an assignment editor, at least one videographer and several others behind the scenes.
Can a weakened WFXT survive in the cutthroat Boston media landscape? There’s only one other TV market in NERW-land that has five competitive English-language TV newsrooms, and that’s the much larger New York market, where all four networks own their outlets along with Nexstar’s WPIX.
If Cox can’t right the ship with its WFXT cutbacks (which apparently also include the departure of GM Joe Pomilla, there’s a big question that’s likely to resurface: how much patience will the Fox network (which once owned WFXT) have for an affiliate that’s struggling? (And with WHDH now in second-generation ownership after the death of Sunbeam founder Ed Ansin, will Ansin’s sons be more willing to talk about an affiliation deal if Fox were to come calling again?)
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