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Nexstar quietly moves CW affiliation to Detroit’s WADL

The station is in the process of being acquired by Mission Broadcasting, which outsources its operations to Nexstar.

The station is in the process of being acquired by Mission Broadcasting, which outsources its operations to Nexstar.

An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)
An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)

Nexstar Media Group moved its CW Network affiliation in Detroit to a low-rated independent outlet that is in the process of being acquired by one of its business partners.

On Friday, WADL-TV (Channel 38) began transmitting CW Network programming in prime-time after the CW’s former co-parent Paramount Global decided to drop the affiliation from WKBD (Channel 50) and seven of its other TV stations across the country.

In May, Nexstar’s business partner, Mission Broadcasting, announced it was buying WADL from Adell Broadcasting, a family-run media enterprise whose sole asset is the Detroit television station. The purchase is being bankrolled by Nexstar, who operates all of Mission’s stations under shared services agreements.

The transaction still requires the approval of regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and several public interest groups have stepped in to oppose Mission’s bid. In informal objections filed with the FCC, the groups complain that Mission’s acquisition of WADL would allow Nexstar to demand higher fees for distribution on cable, satellite and some streaming services.

One such provider, DirecTV, explicitly told The Desk it opposed the deal because Nexstar’s operational control of Mission stations allows it to evade federal ownership caps, which limit one broadcaster’s reach to 38 percent of American households or less.

Attorneys representing Mission — who also count Nexstar as a client — do not dispute that Nexstar is financing the purchase, and acknowledge that Nexstar will operate WADL under a similar shared services agreement that is in place with all other Mission stations. But, it said the informal challenges filed with the FCC were impermissible because regulators considering the transaction are limited in what they may consider when evaluating whether to approve it, and that its shared services agreements are permissible under the law.

The Adell family is also hoping the deal goes through, with representatives telling the FCC that Mission is “well-suited to carry forward WADL and serve the station’s community and the broader Detroit area.”

“As the proposed transaction is consistent with longstanding rules and precedent, NTCA’s and ATVA’s filings are merely veiled attempts to circumvent the formal rule-making process and have the [FCC] adopt new rules and policies governing retransmission consent by placing unprecedented conditions on the transaction,” attorneys for Adell said. “The Commission should not allow NTCA and ATVA to use Adell Broadcasting and this transaction as a sounding board to try to advance their policy objectives…there are more appropriate forums if NTCA and ATVA desire to seek changes to the [FCC’s] rules and policies, including filing a petition for rule-making and engaging with Congress.”

Nexstar did not have time to wait for the deal to go through before moving the CW Network affiliation to WADL: Earlier this year, Paramount made it clear that its station in Detroit and seven other markets would drop CW Network shows on September 1.

Nexstar announced new homes for the CW Network in various press releases over the past few months: In June, the company said it would move CW Network shows to three of its own stations in San Francisco, Tampa and Philadelphia. Later, it affirmed new distribution deals with Hearst Television, Gray Television and Sinclair Broadcast Group for new CW Network affiliates in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Seattle, leaving Detroit the only market where it had yet to announce a new CW Network partner.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).