Channel 25 Is For Sale Again, Continuing A Tumultuous Period In Boston TV

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Another shakeup could be looming for TV news in Boston. Cox Media Group says it will consider selling all of its 14 stations nationwide, including the local Fox affiliate, Channel 25.

The station changed hands only four years ago, when Atlanta-based Cox acquired it in a swap with the Fox Television Stations Group. Since then, Boston viewers have seen Channel 7 go independent and watched NBC launch a new station, Channel 10.

"Gone are the days when people would just turn on the TV to see Liz and Jack or Chet and Nat," said Matt Ellis, a former news director at Channel 4.

"Liz and Jack" are, of course, Channel 4's former anchor team, Liz Walker and Jack Williams; "Chet and Nat" are Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson, the former faces of Channel 5.

Today, viewers can't always find the same people or even the same shows on the same channels. Ellis pointed to Cox's acquisition of Channel 25 as a prime example of disruption.

"All of a sudden, what had been a very familiar and very successful news operation started to falter because it felt very generic," he said. "It didn't have a real Boston feel to it. Losing Maria Stephanos as the main anchor, I think, precipitated a migration away from that station."

Stephanos is now at Channel 5, which declined to make her available for an interview. Eight other current and former employees of Channel 25 also declined to speak with WBUR, including general manager Joe Pomilla, who referred questions to Cox.

Cox says it will explore selling its station group or merging the group with a larger one. Either move would fit into a national pattern, according to Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a journalism education organization.

"There's a very strong consolidation trend going through the industry," Edmonds said.

The most visible attempt at consolidation is Sinclair Broadcast Group's proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. That deal would make the company that owns the most local TV stations in America even bigger.

Sinclair did not respond to a WBUR inquiry about its interest in Channel 25. It may be too preoccupied by FCC scrutiny of the Tribune purchase to consider buying anything else.

Another logical suitor for Channel 25 would be Sunbeam Television, which already owns Channel 7 in Boston. Sunbeam boss Ed Ansin took Channel 7 independent in 2016, after an acrimonious end to the station's affiliate relationship with NBC. NBC, in turn, launched Channel 10, creating a fifth over-the-air news station in Boston.

Buying Channel 25 would give Sunbeam a network affiliate in Boston once again. But Ansin said in an email that "Sunbeam does not plan to bid on the Cox stations."

The Fox Television Stations Group, which owned Channel 25 until 2014, did not respond to an inquiry about its interest in reacquiring the station.

Edmonds said potential buyers could include "any of the larger groups that have already been acquiring."

Whoever owns Channel 25 in the future will have work to do. The station's 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts rank fourth in total viewers this month, according to Nielsen ratings data. The last-place station is NBC's Channel 10.

The runaway leaders are Channels 5 and 4 — the ones that appear most stable. Stability is a premium quality, Ellis said, "especially in a market like Boston that is so attuned to local news people."

This segment aired on July 26, 2018.

Headshot of Callum Borchers

Callum Borchers Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.



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