Comcast is now the sole owner of New England Cable News, the 24-hour regional cable network.
Hearst Corp., which co-owned NECN, had been in discussions with Comcast for the past few months and sold its half to the cable giant at midnight. Comcast officials have been visiting NECN's Newton studios in recent weeks to finalize the deal. Comcast would not disclose details of the acquisition.
Comcast also announced that Charles J. Kravetz, the station's general manager and president, will be replaced by Bill Bridgen, the executive vice president and general manager of Comcast SportsNet New England, based in Burlington. Bridgen, who has been at Comcast for 12 years, will oversee the management and reponsibilities of both networks, Comcast officials said today.
Kravetz, who was the founding news director for NECN since its inception, scheduled two staff meetings in the station's newsroom to break the news with employees today.
"NECN is one of the leading sources for New England news and one of the most recognized cable networks in the nation, which makes it an attractive business operation,'' said Jon Litner, who leads Comcast's local programming businesses as president of Comcast Sports Group, in a release. "We value NECN's strong connection with New England viewers, and in combination with Comcast SportsNet New England, NECN will strengthen Comcast's position as the leading source for news, sports, and entertainment in New England."
NECN, which is partially supported by Comcast cable subscriptions, reaches 3.7 million viewers throughout New England. The station, which has more than 150 employees, had a general manager and news director, but its corporate decisions were made by a six-member board - three from Hearst and three from Comcast.
With today's announcement, NECN will be folded into Comcast's programming division and be operated under Comcast Sports group, which operates 13 regional sports, entertainment, and news networks around the country.
Comcast has been downsizing its operations in New England in the past year. In January, it laid off 50 employees in New England, and shuttered its Brookline-based operations of the CN8 Network so it cound consolidate operations in Washington DC. and in Philadelphia, where Comcast is based.
But in the past year, the cable company has also been expanding its programming options in New England. In February, the company introduced a new Hispanic programming package which gives customers 50 additional Spanish-language channels from the Caribbean and Latin America. On Wednesday, Comcast rolled out a new channel, Red Sox On Demand, which provides Sox game recaps, team highlights, player profiles and other team behind-the-scenes footage.
Philip S. Balboni, a former news director at WCVB-TV who launched the weeknight magazine show "Chronicle,'' created NECN in 1992 as a joint venture between Hearst and Continental Cablevision, formerly based in Boston. When Continental was aquired by MediaOne Group in 1996, the company maintained Continental's role in NECN. Two years later, Comcast bought Media One. Hearst and Comcast have owned NECN until today. NECN's affiliation with Hearst allowed it use footage and reports from ABC and other stations.
NECN is recognized nationally for its documentary division, which produces long-form journalism on regional issues such as Governor Deval Patrick's first 100 days and examining the effects of the Iraq War on returning New England soliders. The network's most popular show is "TV Diner,'' hosted by WKXS-FM (107.9) "Matty in the Morning,'' co-host Billy Costa. This past year, the station also recently introduced a new promo billing itself as "Real news. Right now." (By Johnny Diaz, Globe staff)