WFFF-TV is a Fox affiliated television station licensed to Burlington, Vermont, United States, serving Northern Vermont's Champlain Valley and Upstate New York's North Country, including Plattsburgh. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 43 (or virtual channel 44 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Vermont's highest peak, Mount Mansfield. The station is owned by Nexstar Media Group, which also operates ABC affiliate WVNY (channel 22, also licensed to Burlington) through a local marketing agreement (LMA) with owner Mission Broadcasting; the two stations share studios on Mountain View Drive in Colchester, Vermont.
Like other network stations serving Burlington and Plattsburgh, WFFF-TV has a large audience in Southern Quebec, Canada. This includes Montreal, a city 10 times more populous than the station's entire U.S. viewing area. Most Vidéotron systems in Southern Quebec carry WFFF-TV as their Fox affiliate.
WFFF-TV signed on August 31, 1997. Prior to the station's launch, the Champlain Valley was the last top-100 television market without a primary Fox affiliate; CBS affiliate WCAX-TV aired Fox Sports and Fox Kids programming, while the network's full schedule was available on most Vermont cable systems through Foxnet. Cable systems in northeastern New York had imported network flagship WNYW from New York City, while Canadian cable systems carried WUTV from Buffalo or WUHF from Rochester. Between 1995 and 2001, Fox programming was available over-the-air in northern New Hampshire via WMUR-LP, a repeater of ABC affiliate WMUR-TV. WFFF-TV was originally owned by Champlain Valley Telecasting, but was operated by Heritage Media, owner of NBC affiliate WPTZ, through an LMA.
WFFF-TV originally planned to broadcast its analog channel 44 signal from Mount Mansfield; however, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted a construction permit, the station was unable to secure approval from the Mount Mansfield Collocation Association. As a result, after three years of attempts, it was forced to transmit from WPTZ's tower on Terry Mountain in Peru, New York under special temporary authority, resulting in less over-the-air coverage of the eastern portion of the market than anticipated. WFFF-TV, along with the other Burlington/Plattsburgh stations, were able to sign their digital signals on the air from Mount Mansfield in 2006, but its analog signal remained on Terry Mountain until 2009.
Shortly before WFFF-TV began broadcasting, Heritage Media announced the sale of its broadcasting properties, including WPTZ and the LMA with WFFF-TV, to Sinclair Broadcast Group; soon after taking over in early 1998, Sinclair sold WPTZ and the WFFF-TV LMA to Sunrise Television. Sunrise promptly swapped WPTZ to Hearst-Argyle Television, but transferred WFFF-TV's non-license assets to Smith Broadcasting (which, like Sunrise, was controlled by Robert Smith); soon afterward, the station began to operate independently of WPTZ. Smith bought WFFF-TV outright a year later.
In February 1999, WFFF-TV began airing thirty-second daily vignettes called Vermont's Most Wanted along with sister program Citizen's Patrol. The efforts were produced in cooperation with local law enforcement and the Champlain Valley branch of the national Crimestoppers non-profit organization.
The WB eraEdit
The station added a secondary affiliation with The WB in 1999, after WBVT-LP (now WGMU-LP) dropped that network in favor of UPN. For a time, the two hours of prime time programming from The WB aired in separate two hour-long blocks weeknights at 5 and 10. WFFF-TV eventually moved the entire two hours of programming to a delayed basis at 10 p.m. after Fox prime time in continuous block named "The WB Time". WFFF-TV also cleared the Kids' WB blocks (as well as the Daytime WB block that replaced the weekday block in early 2006), in addition to Fox's own children's programming. Despite the secondary affiliation, area cable systems continued to carry WPIX, New York City's WB affiliate.
The death of Bob Smith (head of family-owned Smith Broadcasting) in 2003 led to the family's decision in 2004 to sell its group of stations to an investment group called Smith Media, LLC. After researching markets where the company now had ownership in, it was discovered WVNY was up for sale. Finding a way to satisfy FCC ownership rules, Smith Media partnered with Lambert Broadcasting and became the senior partner in a local marketing agreement with WVNY. Smith Media shut down that station's longtime facilities in South Burlington (which housed a news department between August 1999 and September 2003), reduced redundant staff, and relocated its operations into WFFF-TV's Colchester facilities. This arrangement placed WFFF-TV in the unusual position of being the senior partner as a Fox-affiliated station in a virtual duopoly with an ABC affiliate (most virtual or legal duopolies involving a Fox affiliate and a Big Three-affiliated station result in the Fox affiliate serving as the junior partner).
When The WB and UPN were shut down to create The CW in September 2006, WFFF-TV became a secondary affiliate of the new network, airing its primetime programming in the same block that formerly housed WB programming. CW programming moved to a new subchannel of WFFF-TV on September 27, 2007; the subchannel immediately replaced WPIX on Comcast's Vermont systems, with Charter Communications in New York State following suit on December 31. The subchannel continued to carry CW programming until March 4, 2013, when WPTZ's subchannel assumed the CW affiliation for the Burlington/Plattsburgh market, leaving WFFF-TV's subchannel with only syndicated programming until October 1, 2013, when it shut down and was replaced over the air with a standard definition feed of the main channel.
The station became digital-only effective February 17, 2009. As a result, some parts of the viewing area were left without a full-powered Fox affiliate including Enosburg in Franklin County, Vermont as well as parts of Franklin and Essex Counties in New York State.
Due to an ongoing retransmission dispute, Time Warner Cable replaced WFFF-TV with WNYF-CD from Watertown/Massena, New York on December 16, 2010. Its CW subchannel was also dropped, though the network remained available through WPIX. Sister station WVNY was simultaneously replaced with future sister station WUTR from Utica, New York. On the same date, sister station WKTV, the NBC affiliate in Utica, was replaced by another of WFFF-TV's future sister stations, WBRE-TV from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and its CW-affiliated subchannel with HBO Family for the same reason. WFFF-TV was restored on January 8, 2011, after a new deal (the terms of which both sides refused to reveal) was reached with Time Warner.
Smith Media agreed to sell WFFF-TV to Nexstar Broadcasting Group on November 5, 2012. Concurrently, Lambert Broadcasting sold WVNY to Mission Broadcasting, whose stations are all operated by Nexstar through shared services agreements. On February 5, 2013, The FCC approved the sale of WFFF-TV. The transaction was completed on March 1, leaving Utica NBC affiliate WKTV as Smith Media's only remaining television station property.
On January 27, 2016, it was announced that Nexstar would buy Media General for $4.6 billion. WFFF and WVNY became part of "Nexstar Media Group", joining a cluster of television stations Nexstar owns in New England, including ABC affiliate WTNH in New Haven, Connecticut, CBS affiliate WPRI-TV in Providence, Rhode Island, and NBC affiliate WWLP in Springfield, Massachusetts. In addition, WFFF and WVNY also became sisters with fellow Fox and ABC affiliates WXXA-TV and WTEN, respectively, in Albany, New York. These stations also serve Bennington County, Vermont, making Nexstar responsible for Fox and ABC programming in 13 of the 14 counties in Vermont. The lone exception, Windham County, is served by Boston's WFXT and WCVB-TV, respectively (ABC programming in Windham County is also available through Manchester, New Hampshire's WMUR-TV).
On June 15, 2016, Nexstar announced that it has entered into an affiliation agreement with Katz Broadcasting for the Escape, Laff, Grit, and Bounce TV networks (the last one of which is owned by Bounce Media LLC, whose COO Jonathan Katz is president/CEO of Katz Broadcasting), bringing one or more of the four networks to 81 stations owned and/or operated by Nexstar, including WFFF-TV and WVNY.
On December 3, 2018, Nexstar announced it would acquire the assets of Chicago-based Tribune Media for $6.4 billion in cash and debt. The deal—which would make Nexstar the largest television station operator by total number of stations upon its expected closure late in the third quarter of 2019—would give the WFFF/WVNY virtual duopoly a sister station in CW affiliate WPIX in New York City.
Simultaneous substitution problemsEdit
WFFF-TV has significant viewership in the much larger Montreal market because it is available over-the-air alongside other Vermont stations and used as the Fox station on Vidéotron's cable systems. As the youngest full-power station covering the entire market, it still relies heavily on Montreal for advertising revenue while the area's other stations have somewhat lessened their dependence on advertising. In 2003 and 2004, WFFF-TV was involved in a "commercial war" with Montreal's CJNT-TV. For some time, its commercials on non-network programs such as That '70s Show were blocked by simultaneous substitution (simsub) on Montreal cable systems. Under Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulations, simultaneous substitution demanded the cable companies in Canada replace WFFF-TV's signal with CJNT-TV's signal when the same program and episode was running at the same time. This is the same practice as the FCC's syndication exclusivity rule in the United States.
In response, WFFF-TV frequently shifted its schedule to keep its commercials from being blocked in Montreal. In response to this station's schedule shuffling, CJNT moved its schedule accordingly to retain simsub rights. This resulted in a cat-and-mouse game of changing programming schedules every few weeks leaving viewers confused. The changes usually occurred with little to no advance warning, sometimes making local schedules in TV Guide (both U.S. and Canadian versions) outdated by the time they were published. WFFF-TV eventually solved the problem by adding a second daily airing of That '70s Show, giving it access to a second strip of programming from the distributor which was available only to stations carrying a full hour of the program. It would then flip the two airings so the exclusive strip was shown in the shared time slot, meaning CJNT could no longer simsub the program since WFFF-TV was not airing the same episode.
|TV stations in New England|
| WTIC, Hartford/New Haven|
|TV stations in Northern and Central Vermont, Northeastern New York and Northwestern New Hampshire including Burlington and Plattsburgh|
| WCAX 3 (CBS) |
WPTZ 5 (NBC)
WVTB 20 (PBS)
WVNY 22 (ABC)
WNNE 31 (CW)
WETK 33 (PBS)
WYCI 40 (H&I/MNTV)
WVTA 41 (PBS)
WFFF 44 (Fox)
WLED 49 (PBS)
WCFE 57 (PBS)