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WADL pulls CW Network programming, blames delay in selling station

The family that owns the station has been trying to sell it to Nexstar-controlled Mission Broadcasting for months, but protests brought to the FCC have held up the transaction.

The family that owns the station has been trying to sell it to Nexstar-controlled Mission Broadcasting for months, but protests brought to the FCC have held up the transaction.

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)

The Detroit family who owns independent station WADL has pulled CW Network programming from the outlet after less than two months.

WADL (Channel 38) became the new home of the CW Network in September, picking up shows like “Son of a Critch” and “FBoy Island” after Paramount Global-owned WKBD (Channel 50) ended its multi-year affiliation deal.

Nexstar Media Group, the largest owner of network affiliated stations in the country, owns 75 percent of the CW Network after acquiring a majority stake from Paramount and Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) last year. Shortly after that deal went through, Paramount said it was dropping the CW Network from eight of its owned-and-operated TV stations, including its outlet in Detroit.

The move meant Nexstar had to quickly find new homes for its CW Network programming within a window of just a few short months. The company preferred putting the network on stations it owns or controls outright — and WADL was considered to be one of several stations that could host CW Network programming in the Detroit market.

Nexstar currently owns around 160 television stations across the country, and it long ago hit a cap that limits how many households one TV station owner can reach in any given period of time. To get around this, Nexstar controls two shell companies — Mission Broadcasting and White Knight Broadcasting — who acquire TV stations using Nexstar’s money, then cedes operational control to Nexstar after those deals close.

WADL was expected to be one of those sales: Long owned by the Adell family, the station reached a deal to be sold to Mission Broadcasting for around $75 million in May. At the time, The Desk reported the sale was almost certainly intended to provide a new home for CW Network programming — and in September, that exact thing happened when Nexstar quietly moved its CW Network affiliation to WADL while the sale to Mission was still pending.

Typically, broadcast asset sales take just a few months to complete, barring any objection by federal regulators or outside parties. Almost immediately after the sale was proposed, several public interest groups filed objections with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), arguing that Nexstar was exploiting a loophole to control more broadcast stations than it was legally allowed to own, and claiming Nexstar’s control of WADL would lead to demands that cable and satellite operators providing services to Detroit and nearby areas pay higher fees in exchange for the right to retransmit the channel.

The sale has been held up ever since, and this week, the Adell family said it was pulling all CW Network programming from WADL over business-related issues between the station and Nexstar.

Specifically, the Adell family is seeking payment from Nexstar in exchange for offering its CW Network programming in Detroit. Such arrangements were common in the past, with broadcast networks paying station owners a fee for carrying their prime-time and sports programming. But since the 1990s, the opposite has generally held true: Station owners now pay affiliate fees to broadcast networks for programming rights, a practice known in the industry as “reverse compensation.”

In a press release issued last week, the Adell family said it tried to contact Nexstar and its CEO, Perry Sook, several times over the past few weeks in order to arrange payment for the continued carriage of the CW Network. Nexstar didn’t return those requests, the Adell family complained, and with WADL’s sale to Mission held up at the FCC, the owners decided to drop CW Network programming until the situation is resolved.

Nexstar is now considering a number of alternative ways to deliver its shows and live sports to viewers in Detroit, including the possibility of moving the affiliation to a digital broadcast subchannel of another station in the market. Doing so could complicate whether WADL could serve as the CW Network affiliate should the deal between the Adell family and Mission Broadcasting close in the future. In September, Mission amended its purchase agreement to extend the closing deadline from September 30 of this year to March 31, 2024.

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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).