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CBS Switches Indianapolis Affiliation in Tribune Pact, Bumping CW to Digital Channel

CBS has struck a long-term affiliation pact with Tribune Media that calls for the Eye to move to the Tribune-owned station in Indianapolis.

CBS’ move to Tribune’s WTTV-TV Indianapolis as of Jan. 1 will displace the CW, which had been airing on the VHF station. CW, which is a joint venture of CBS Corp. and Warner Bros., will shift to WTTV’s digital multicast channel, WTTV 4.2.

Deal was driven by CBS’ push for reverse retransmission consent compensation from its affiliate stations. The Eye’s current Indianapolis affil, Lin Media’s WISH-TV, had been in negotiations with CBS to renew, but was said to be balking at CBS’ reverse-comp terms.

Meanwhile, Tribune was eager to land CBS’ NFL package, which includes the Indianapolis Colts (pictured), for WTTV, one of the strongest stations (with channel position 4) in the market overall. Indianapolis ranks as the nation’s 26th-largest TV market, per Nielsen.

CBS’ shuffle in Indianapolis sends a clear message to other affiliate stations that the network is willing to move if station owners don’t want to pay the Eye’s price. Networks were once loathe to move stations in a market for fear that the disruption in channel position would cost them viewers. But in the programming environment driven by digital listings and on-demand options, the Eye is clearly confident that viewers will find its shows no matter where it lands on the dial.

The same goes for CW in its likely shuffle to the digital channel. The net’s viewers are already adept at finding CW shows online and via on-demand platforms, which will help mitigate the loss of VHF distribution in the market. The Jan. 1 timing of the switchover means that CW would get through the fall launch on WTTV, and the station will have plenty of time to alert viewers he channel switch for CW.

At the same time, there might be an opening for CW on WISH now that the Lin station is about to lose its CBS affiliation. A rep for Austin, Texas-based Lin Media could not immediately be reached for comment.

As part of the Indianapolis pact, CBS and Tribune renewed existing affiliations in four other small markets: WREG-TV in Memphis, Tenn.; WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Ala; KFSM-TV in Ft. Smith, Ark., and WTVR-TV in Richmond, Va. CBS also re-upped with Dreamcatcher Broadcasting’s WTKR in Norfolk, Va., which is managed by Tribune under a shared-services agreement.

Tribune has 14 CW affiliates, including its outlets in New York, L.A. and Chicago, that are the core station group for the CW network. The affiliation deal between Tribune and CW is believed to expire in 2016.

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