NBC, affils send up digital trial balloon

Pact a TV biz first as partners to 'build,' 'run' venture

NEW YORK — In an unprecedented venture, NBC affiliates agreed Wednesday to partner with the network and launch a digital weather and alert channel, which is expected to bow in the next year.

Channel’s debut would mark the first time in the history of broadcast TV that a network and its affiliates co-own a channel. Then again, it’s the first time a broadcast network will have ancillary channels to work with, thanks to the digital age.

“The partnership means we will build it together and run it together,” said Hearst-Argyle Television exec VP Terry Mackin, who was named the new chairman of the NBC affiliate board at Thursday’s session in Gotham.

It is anyone’s guess how many television households would actually be able to see the new weather channel, since few are able to receive a digital broadcast signal.

NBC Television Group prexy Randy Falco said the Peacock and its affils are continuing a major offensive to require cable operators to carry ancillary digital channels in addition to the primary broadcast signal.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote soon on the contentious issue. NBC said it is releasing a white paper on the topic this week.

“We need digital must-carry. We need it to protect our investments in digital. We need it to move forward with the digital transition. And our viewers need it to reap the benefits of digital TV,” NBC chairman-CEO Bob Wright said.

During the affiliate session, which was preceded by an affil board meeting Tuesday, Wright also assured station execs that even with the impending NBC-Universal merger, the network-affil system remains the “engine that drives our entire enterprise.”

NBC affils and the network also announced that a joint Summer Olympics Web site will be up and running in June.

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