January 15, 2016

Once again, CBS has sent a strong message that it will be tough in negotiations to extract money from its local affiliates.

WRAL, which touts itself as “the No. 1 CBS affiliate sign on to sign off in the top 25 markets,” announced on Friday it will soon become the NBC station in Raleigh, North Carolina. CBS will change its affiliation to WNCN, the NBC affiliate in the same market.

The switch was prompted by a disagreement between WRAL and CBS about how much revenue paid to WRAL from from cable companies should go to the network. CBS has taken a hard stance with local stations recently; it dropped its CBS affiliate in Indianapolis in 2014, leaving it without an affiliation. WRAL said it will become the NBC affiliate on Feb. 29, which is when the February ratings period ends.

Local stations hoped that when cable companies began paying “retransmission fees” for the right to pass along their signals that the locals would keep most of the money. But networks are pressing for a bigger cut, and analysts say soon the local stations will be paying half of the “retrans fees” to the networks. A couple of decades ago, networks actually paid the local stations to carry network programming.

WRAL’s noted that making the switch “was not an easy decision” and was motivated by a long look at which network better positioned it for the future:

“This was not an easy decision. It came down to the question, ‘What network do we believe is best positioned for the future of local broadcasting?’ It is clear to us that NBC understands the value that local affiliates bring to the entire network relationship,” Jim Goodman, president and chief executive of Capitol Broadcasting Co., WRAL’s parent company, said in a statement. “We’re local broadcasters first. As the industry continues to change, we believe this switch to NBC positions us well for the future.”

Media General, which owns WNCN, endorsed the switch in a statement:

“CBS has been a longstanding and valued partner for many years, and we are pleased to build upon our relationship with a new affiliation in Raleigh,” said Vincent L. Sadusky, Media General’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “We are particularly excited about the opportunities this brings to our station and the high-quality network programming that complements our strong local news and unique local content.”

In one way, the affiliation change is a return to WRAL’s roots. While the station has been a CBS affiliate for 30 years, the station signed on the air in 1956 as an NBC affiliate then switched to carrying ABC programming.

Correction: Due to an editing error, this story originally misstated WNCN’s location.

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