WKPT's affiliation with ABC coming to an end

Hank Hayes • Jan 4, 2016 at 3:01 PM

KINGSPORT — WKPT-TV announced Monday it will become an independent TV station — no longer affiliated with ABC or a major network — effective Feb. 1.

The Kingsport-based station will also go back out of the local news business, the station said.

WKPT had revived its news operation in 2013 after last producing its own newscasts in 2008.

George DeVault, president of Holston Valley Broadcasting, said in a prepared release the ABC Television Network affiliation for the Tri-Cities market is being moved from WKPT-TV.1 in Kingsport to WJHL.2 in Johnson City on Feb. 1.

Concerning the move DeVault explained: “ABC presented to us a proposal that would have had us paying the network at least $15 million dollars over the next five years. Although we ultimately agreed to meet the network’s terms, ABC told us a few days ago that it had decided to explore other options in the market. WKPT-TV had been negotiating in good faith with ABC since October of last year.”

DeVault further noted: “A large source of revenue for network-affiliated TV stations has become fees paid by cable and satellite carriers in return for consent for them to carry the local affiliate’s signal. A large portion of those fees ultimately goes to the network, however. If the cable or satellite carrier refuses to meet the affiliate’s fees demand, the affiliate can pull its signal from the system ... The big systems operate in all or a great many TV markets. We operate in one.”

In comparison, DeVault also pointed out, Johnson City-based WJHL is owned by Media General, which operates in almost 50 markets and owns or effectively controls more than 70 stations.

“If it threatens to pull its network affiliate signals in every market where both it and the cable or satellite carrier operate, it has immensely more bargaining power than one independently-owned, family-owned station like WKPT-TV operating only in (national) market number 97,” DeVault continued. “That is why small operators like us are disappearing or being bought up by big group owners, and that is why networks like ABC prefer to be affiliated with the powerful group owners.”.

Moving forward, DeVault said becoming an independent TV station not affiliated with a major network will be a tough financial challenge.

“It all boils down to power and money,” DeVault concluded. “Our friends at WJHL did not precipitate this. It was all negotiated at the corporate level by ABC, of which we have been a loyal affiliate for over 46 years, and Media General’s corporate headquarters. The networks and their affiliates used to be loyal partners. We have been loyal to ABC to the end.”

In a release, Media General confirmed ABC Tri-Cities based in Johnson City will deliver news, programming and sports, including Good Morning America, World News Tonight and 20/20; primetime shows such as Castle, Scandal and The Bachelor; and sports and special event programming, including the NBA and the 88th annual Academy Awards.

“ABC has been a great partner over the years and we are pleased to expand our portfolio with the launch of ABC Tri-Cities, which adds to our already strong line-up in that market,” said Vincent L. Sadusky, Media General’s president and CEO.

DeVault stressed digital TV allows stations to multicast more than one stream of programming.

“WJHL will put ABC on their (WJHL.2) and keep CBS on their (WJHL.1),” DeVault explained

DeVault said the station doesn’t have a final answer as to the content it will use to replace ABC programming.

The tentative plan, he added, is to move MyNetworkTV content from secondary station WAPK over to WKPT.

“We’ll fill in with other content from WAPK,” DeVault said. “We’ll probably sign up with one of these new networks similar to Cozi or whatever and put that on WAPK.”

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