In this week’s issue… Tribune TVs head to new owners – Seven Mountains enters State College country battle – PA radio owner files bankruptcy – Remembering Bob Slade – Baseball on the Radio: The Major Leagues
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*If NEW YORK‘s CW affiliate WPIX (Channel 11) had been put up for sale in the early 2000s, at the height of the market, it could well have fetched close to a billion dollars all by itself. Even before the value of TV signals peaked, a far lesser New York facility, WNYC-TV (Channel 31), sold for $207 million and then $225 million in the late 1990s, without the kind of ratings and revenue that made WPIX an independent powerhouse for decades.
So when the news broke last week of Tribune’s spinoffs from its impending sale to Nexstar, the piece that grabbed our attention was the soberingly low price tag for WPIX in 2019: as part of Scripps’ acquisition of several stations Nexstar can’t keep, WPIX will go to its first new owner in 71 years for just $75 million.
That $75 million price tag is part of a much larger, $1.32 billion, set of deals that will also affect several other markets in NERW-land as Nexstar unloads the Tribune stations that would either put it over the national or local ownership caps.
In Hartford/New Haven, Tribune’s Fox affiliate WTIC-TV (Channel 61) and CW affiliate WCCT-TV (Channel 20) will go to TEGNA, while Nexstar keeps ABC affiliate WTNH (Channel 8) and My affiliate WCTX (Channel 59). In Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Tribune-operated ABC affiliate WNEP (Channel 16) will go to TEGNA, with Nexstar retaining its NBC/CBS pair, WBRE (Channel 28)/WYOU-TV (Channel 22). And in the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York market, Tribune’s Fox affiliate WPMT (Channel 43) will also become part of TEGNA, while Nexstar hangs on to ABC affiliate WHTM (Channel 27).
The TEGNA deal, which also includes stations in Memphis, Des Moines and three other markets, is valued at $580 million; Scripps is paying $505 million for seven other Tribune spinoffs in six markets including Norfolk, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
For TEGNA, the new Tribune pickups in the northeast significantly expand what had been a relatively small footprint for the former Gannett TV group, which until now had included only WGRZ in Buffalo and WCSH/WLBZ in Maine.
For Scripps, New York will be by far its largest television market and WPIX its first top-ten TV operation, as well as the only market where it doesn’t have a Big Four network affiliation. WPIX will also be only Scripps’ second TV operation in NERW-land, five years after it entered the region with the purchase of Buffalo ABC affiliate WKBW (Channel 7), a more compatible match to the company’s typical pattern of owning ABC stations in medium markets.
What will Scripps do with WPIX? It will have some company in other large markets – the other piece of the Scripps deal includes standalone CW affiliates in Miami (WSFL-TV) and Phoenix (KASW). Those stations don’t do news, though, unlike WPIX’s hefty lineup of local newscasts in the morning, from 5-6:30 PM and its hour of news at 10. Can Scripps help pull up the ratings for those shows, which have struggled against former independent competitor WNYW, the Fox O&O?
This, of course, assumes WPIX stays with Scripps for the long term, which is far from guaranteed. As part of the deal, Nexstar hedged its bets against the possibility that the FCC will relax the nationwide ownership caps in a way that would allow it to own in New York as well as in the big Tribune markets it’s keeping (WPHL in Philadelphia, WGN-TV in Chicago, KTLA in Los Angeles). If those caps are lifted between March 2020 and the end of 2021, Nexstar has an option to buy WPIX back.
One more tidbit for the historically-minded: WPIX’s sale makes it the last of New York’s original 1940s TV stations to change ownership, since Tribune Broadcasting traces directly back to WPIX’s founding owner, the New York Daily News. And among the News‘ competitors back in those days when the city had as many newspapers as TV stations was the World-Telegram, which was owned by none other than Scripps.