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NBC's confusing new station buy

NBC last week agreed to pay Paxson Communications $26 million to purchase WPXB(TV), licensed in Merrimack, N.H., but officially part of the Boston DMA. The deal gives the NBC group owned stations in each of the top six markets, but this is a little different—and evidence that duopolies and industry consolidation can create a confusing family of properties.

That's because NBC eventually (but not immediately) plans to air Telemundo, which it owns, over WPXB, instead of continuing to run ShopNBC, a home shopping network partly owned by NBC.

And the sale itself has its ironies, considering that NBC's purchase of Telemundo put Paxson into a snit. NBC already owned a 32% stake in Paxson, and the Telemundo purchase meant that NBC's efforts to buy all of Paxson would be slowed or stopped dead.

NBC programming is provided in the market by Sunbeam-owned market leader WHDH-TV, which recently re-signed with NBC in a 10-year deal. Paxson airs its Pax network on WBPX(TV) in Boston.

As part of an earlier deal with Paxson, NBC has right of first refusal for Paxson's stations in major markets. Paxson paid just over $3 million for WPXB in 1995. The sale is subject to FCC approval and will likely close by year's end. Telemundo programming has been provided by WWDP(TV) and low-power WTMJ.

The move is clearly a recognition of the growing Hispanic market in the Boston area—more than 100,000 households strong—particularly in cities like Lawrence and Lowell, north of Boston, Worcester to the west, and Attleboro and Brockton to the south. Although the DMA's overall Hispanic population is given by BIA Financial at just under 6%, in some cities, it's several times that. Moreover, NBC adds to Telemundo's national numbers when it expands that network's coverage area in the large market. NBC will likely work to improve its cable carriage when it takes over the station.

The entire Spanish-language market in the DMA is estimated in the mid seven figures, dominated by Entravision-owned Univision affiliate WUNI(TV), a full-power station based in Needham, Mass., which has been there for 10 years. WUNI General Manager Gary Marder says the market is developing but has been difficult.

The deal is the second recent station sale for Paxson, which says it's trying to raise $100 million. In July, it sold KPXF(TV) Fresno, Calif., to Spanish-language broadcaster Univision for $35 million.