WEEK, WHOI merge operations

Playing in Peoria is hard these days…

The owners of NBC affiliate WEEK-TV and ABC affiliate WHOI-TV in Peoria have decided to merge their operations, effective immediately.

WEEK’s owner (Granite Broadcasting) took over the operations of Barrington Broadcasting-owned WHOI in a local marketing agreement, leaving just Nextstar’s CBS affiliate (WMBD-TV) as their sole local competitor.

A similar scenario has played out in Syracuse, where Granite’s WTVH (CBS) had its operations taken over by Barrington’s WSTM-TV (NBC).

The moves mean the news operations at WHOI and WTVH have practically shut down, with employees thrown out of work. 40 employees were dismissed at WTVH; 30 were canned at WHOI.

WHOI had dropped to last place in the ratings race in Peoria, as did WTVH in Syracuse.

Both Barrington and Granite have struggled financially over the years, with Granite filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy just a few years ago.

Despite the merging of operations, both stations are expected to keep their on-air personas and newscasts separate. However, behind the scenes work and camera crews have merged, and the newscasts are being produced out of one facility, instead of two.

The news comes as another station here in the Midwest (Fox affiliate WITI-TV in Milwaukee) announced they were “suspending” their early-fringe weekend news broadcasts because of weak economic conditions.

The Peoria-Bloomington market has been hit hard in particular: In October 2008, two radio stations owned by local businessman Bob Kelly went dark, and in January 2008, the market’s local public TV station had their facilities foreclosed on.

How did it come to this? In the linked Milwaukee story regarding WITI ending its early-fringe weekend newscasts for now, Tim Cuprisin notes NBC affiliate WTMJ-TV has started running infomercials in prime access and primetime on Saturdays. No surprise here: CBS-owned WBBM-TV and NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in Chicago have done the same thing (in prime access) on alternative Saturdays for years now, and Buffalo’s network affiliates have ran paid programming off-and-on in Saturday prime access for nearly fifteen years. Gives new meaning to the phrase “Saturday night TV is dead.”

Also: Interesting to note in the WTVH story at Syracuse.com, 55 percent of Syracuse households tune in to late news – higher than Chicago’s four-share tune in for its 10 p.m. newscasts.