Concord-based NH1 to shutter television operations

  • Jonathan Van Fleet—

  • A WBINTV truck outside the Binnie Media building in what was the old Walker school in Concord. (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • NH 1News Director Robb Atkinson, left, and Bill Binnie, owner of company, in the state-of-the- art television studio in the old Walker school building. (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Friday, February 17, 2017

One of New Hampshire’s newest television stations is shutting down, just a few years after it opened.

Concord-based NH1 News will cease its television broadcasting operations to focus on radio and digital news, according to a press release issued Friday morning.

Parent company WBIN-TV was recently sold to the Federal Communications Commission for nearly $100 million. The sale is part of a process called the “Spectrum Auction,” where the FCC buys local TV stations and resells their over-the-air rights to cell phone companies to create high-speed wireless internet.

The news came as a surprise to many employees and other broadcasters in New Hampshire.

“It’s a kick in the pants for broadcasters in New Hampshire,” said New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters President Tracy Caruso. “It’s a sad day for us.”

NH1 emerged on the scene in fall of 2014, setting up shop in the old Walker School on Concord’s North Main Street. The station staffed up with 35 journalists coming from in and out of state, including Political Director Paul Steinhauser, formerly of CNN, who soon became a familiar face at political events.

“He was the quintessential go-getter,” said New England College political science professor Wayne Lesperance. “He was always out and about in a very aggressive way chasing stories. I appreciate that hustle that was there.”

Caruso said the presence of another station in a market long dominated by Manchester based-WMUR was a sign of healthy competition.

“Competition’s always good, it doesn’t matter what the industry is,” she said. “People typically want options.”

But even with an aggressive political presence, the station could not compete with WMUR, a station affiliated with ABC.

In its first 11 month on air, Nielsen ratings showed NH1’s evening broadcast reached about 1,600 households, compared to 50,000 households watching WMUR, according to a New Hampshire Public Radio report. WBIN never affiliated with a larger network.

Dean Spiliotes, a civics scholar at Southern New Hampshire University, said the station’s overall goal was never clear to him.

“I think it was a challenge for them all along,” he said. “MUR is so well established and so large. It’s a tough thing to do.”

Starting its news operations in September 2014, shortly before the New Hampshire primary cycle kicked into gear, NH1 was poised to scoop up plenty of money from political campaign and super PAC advertisements.

But reporting by NHPR in December 2015 showed WMUR was dwarfing NH1 in the race for ad sales.

“MUR isn’t just a television station, they’re a primary institution,” Lesperance said. “They’re bigger than just the work that they do.”

A couple months before the primary, campaigns and super PACs had spent over $21 million on ads airing on WMUR, compared to less than a million at NH1, the NHPR report showed.

And while WMUR dominated about 47 percent of the overall market for primary ads (Boston-based stations accounted for another sizeable chunk), NH1 made up about eight percent.

“Even when they had wins, the splash they had wasn’t as big as it could have been or should have been because the viewership wasn’t there,” Lesperance said.

WBIN sold its rights to use the airwaves for $68.1 million and has also “entered into a channel-sharing sale” for the remainder of its television license rights to a “major television group” for an undisclosed amount of money, between $10-30 million, the press release stated.

The company’s press release said the proceeds of the sale will be used to buy other digital, radio and outdoor media assets. The company also owns 19 radio stations and its website.

“The sale of our television business makes strategic and financial sense,” said Bill Binnie, president of Binnie Media. “The deal makes WBIN-TV one of the most valuable media properties in the history of our New Hampshire media.”

The press release said Binnie bought the station for $9 million.

Binnie has been purchasing more property lately; the businessman recently bought three Millyard buildings in Manchester for $11.2 million. He bought the Citizens Bank building in Manchester in July 2015 for over $8 million.

The WBIN release did not specify how many employees will be impacted by NH1 News closing its TV broadcast operations, but said “many” employees would be transferred to other media businesses.

Caruso has been in New Hampshire broadcasting for 20 years and said she knows a lot of the people who work at NH1 impacted by the sale.

“We’re a small state and we’re a small circle,” she said. “Many of us, at one point in our lives or careers, we’ve worked together. It’s a tough day when you know people have lost their jobs.”

As for the overall impact to the New Hampshire media scene, Spiliotes and Lesperance both say they doubt people will take too much notice.

Spiliotes added he’s keeping an eye on the growing influence of Boston-based stations over the next few campaign cycles.

“It will very quickly settle back to where we were,” he said.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)