July 16, 2008

The Miami Herald Joan Fleischman Column

By Joan Fleischman, The Miami Herald

Jul. 16--Major happening on the South Florida television front: The Washington Post's Post-Newsweek Stations, which owns WPLG-ABC 10, is expected to announce the purchase of WTVJ-NBC 6 from corporate parent NBC, industry sources say. The two stations will operate as a duopoly. The deal, of course, is subject to FCC approval.

Terms have not been disclosed. Previous reports said NBC 6 could fetch between $350 million and $400 million.

NBC Universal put WTVJ up for sale in March -- to raise cash for other ventures. NBC recently said it will partner with two private equity firms to buy The Weather Channel -- for a reported $3.5 billion. And last year, the network bought Oxygen Media for $925 million.

NBC, which also owns Telemundo, has said it plans to keep that network's flagship station, WSCV-Channel 51.

WPLG vice president Dave Boylan did a walk-through of NBC 6 in late May. WSVN-Fox 7's executive VP/general manager, Bob Leider, did a walk-through, too. WSVN is owned by Ed Ansin's Sunbeam Television. Other broadcast and private-equity groups did site inspections, sources say.

Assuming the deal goes through: NBC 6 remains an NBC affiliate. It will eventually move from its Miramar studio-headquarters into WPLG's new headquarters, under construction on six acres along Hallandale Beach Boulevard in Pembroke Park. That $30 million-plus facility should be ready by March or April.

(WPLG is now in a three-story building at 3900 Biscayne Blvd. Post-Newsweek sold the 1.6-acre property last year, although WPLG has a lease through June '09.) No word yet on how Post-Newsweek will run the two newsrooms. Up in the air is what happens to NBC 6's on-air talent. Morning anchor Bob Mayer has 39 years on the job. Other long-timers: Patricia Andreu, Nick Bogert, Kelly Craig, Pam Giganti, Diana Gonzalez, Jackie Nespral, Ari Odzer, Trina Robinson, Joe Rose, Tony Segreto, Willard Shepard, Hank Tester and Julia Yarbough.

"Every duopoly means some form of staff consolidation," says one local TV executive. "Stations are looking for ways to gain efficiency of operation." Cost savings may also come through elimination of duplicated jobs, from producers and photographers to technical and sales staff.

In a duopoly, there is usually one general manager. WPLG's is Boylan. NBC 6's president/GM is Ardyth "Ardy" Diercks.

There are three TV duopolies in South Florida: NBC 6 and WSCV-Telemundo 51; WLTV-Univision 23 and WAMI-69; and WFOR-CBS 4 and WBFS-33.

The FCC rule is that a single entity may own two stations in the same market, as long as at least one is not ranked in the top four in audience share, says FCC spokeswoman Edie Herman. And, after the proposed ownership combo, at least eight independent commercial or noncommercial, full-power broadcast stations must remain in that market, Herman says.

According to the most recent Nielsen ratings for South Florida's 11-station race, WPLG ranks first for Monday-to-Sunday/9 a.m.-to-midnight audience share. WSVN is second, WLTV third, WFOR fourth, WSCV fifth and WTVJ sixth.

Post-Newsweek owns five other TV stations: WDIV in Detroit and KPRC in Houston, both NBC affiliates; WKMG in Orlando, a CBS affiliate; KSAT in San Antonio, an ABC affiliate; and WJXT in Jacksonville, an independent.

Communications attorney Matthew Leibowitz, who is not involved in the negotiations, says FCC approval could take months. Buyer and seller must jointly file an application, he says. Then, the FCC gives a 30-day window for objections to be filed. Says Leibowitz: "It may not fly through. This is not a simple deal. The commission, and I'm sure the community, will be taking a close look at it."

Boylan would not comment. Ditto for Diercks.


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