Overlapping stations in Phoenix and St. Louis will continue to battle it out for ratings and revenue as the “ability of local broadcasters to compete and thrive” is key to their viability, says Gannett's head of broadcasting David Lougee. “We will operate those stations and hold them to the same standards and accountability that we do today."
Lougee: Belo Duops Will Keep Independence
While station group mergers often mean newsroom consolidations, Dave Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting, said Monday that overlapping Gannett and Belo stations will continue to operate as separate and competing entities, even after the companies’ merger becomes final.
“They are going to stay basically completely independent from a news and operations standpoint,” Lougee said.
That means that the Gannett and Belo stations in Phoenix and St. Louis will continue to battle it out for ratings and revenue as the “ability of local broadcasters to compete and thrive” is key to their viability, he said.
However, Gannett may provide “very, very limited” support, such as Web infrastructure, to the Belo stations, he said.
Gannett announced last Thursday plans to absorb Belo in a deal valued at $2.2 billion. Upon closing, Gannett will have 43 stations and reach about a third of U.S. TV homes. It will rank No. 3 behind Fox and CBS on the TVNewsCheck-BIA/Kelsey Top 30 Station Groups, which are ranked by 2012 spot revenue.
To comply with FCC local ownership limits, Gannett and Belo are setting a company that will be headed by former top Belo broadcasting executive Jack Sander.
The Sander group will own and operate the Belo stations in Phoenix (independent KTVK and CW affiliate KASW), where Gannett owns NBC affiliates KNAZ and KPNX as well as The Arizona Republic; in St. Louis (CBS affiliate KMOV), where Gannett owns NBC affiliate KDSK; and in Louisville, Ky., Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz., where Gannett owns newspapers. Gannett is guaranteeing loans that will enable Sander to buy the stations.
FCC rules prohibit common ownership of more than one top four-rated station (usually two Big Four network affiliates) and common ownership of TV stations and newspapers except where they were grandfathered or exist by waiver.
However, broadcasters have learned to circumvent the rules by setting up third-party “sidecar” companies to own stations that would conflict with the rules. The sidecars have varying degrees of autonomy.
Lougee said Sander’s group will have free reign over its stations, meaning it will have the power to negotiate everything from programming and retransmission consent agreements to staffing. Sander’s and Gannett’s stations will have little to do with each other, he said.
Lougee saidGannett is committed to preserving the stations’ local editorial autonomy, which is “key to serving the community,” and bolstering their ability to succeed.
“We will operate those stations and hold them to the same standards and accountability that we do today,” he said. “Most of them exceed those expectations and are strong in their markets, and they will continue to be.”