Macon, Ga. station dumps ABC affiliation

Is it retransmission consent? Or is it content? (no, I’m not confusing the two.)

Yours truly doesn’t usually report on the happenings in the Macon, Ga. media world (because, hell there isn’t anything to report, given the market’s CBS affiliate has dominated the ratings since Adam took a bite of that apple.) But this one caught this one’s eye…

ABC affiliate WPGA-TV in Macon – a city about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta – announced it was dropping the network on January 1, 2010 and becoming independent, partly because the station failed to come to terms over retransmission content money the network is demanding and the elimination of compensation.

As a result of the disaffiliation of ABC, Cox is bumping WPGA off Channel 6 on its cable system and replacing it with one of WGXA-TV’s subchannels, which will carry the ABC affiliation, with a deal now pending (the main channel carries Fox programming.) WGXA was an ABC affiliate from 1982 until 1996, when it switched to Fox in the Fox-New World affiliation swap era (WGXA was never owned by Fox, though.)

But WPGA officials said the station will stay on Channel 6 on Cox’s cable systems after the switch and may threaten legal action if it is removed. Cox counters it has a right to remove WPGA off the channel because the station’s decision to drop ABC – and WPGA failed to certify its “must-carry” status prior to the transition. Must-carry status is when a station (like WJYS-TV here in Chicago) declines compensation in exchange for carriage on a cable system, which doesn’t cost them a penny.

Other cable companies in the Macon area plan to keep WPGA in its Channel 6 position because of its must-carry status.

But another reason why WPGA may be dropping its affiliation with ABC is because of – get this… the network’s risque programming. You heard right. The station plans to run more “family-friendly” shows, including programming from Retro TV Network and This TV, in addition to existing syndicated fare.

Lowell Register – who is President of Register Communications, the station’s owner – said ABC’s programming is too raunchy for his station. In October, this is what he told The Macon Telegraph: “I had somebody tell me they’re running a good bit of gay and lesbian stuff on it. That’s really just in-your-face, so to speak, and I’m not sure that’s appropriate. That’s happening in prime time. I’m not really happy with it.”

But yet, one of the station’s syndicated programs is The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which runs on WPGA weekday mornings at 9 a.m. and is moving to 5 p.m. beginning in January, when the station drops ABC. I guess Mr. Register doesn’t know Ms. DeGeneres is a lesbian.

And if he’s talking about running more “family-friendly programming”, I don’t see it in a syndicated lineup consisting of Law & Order: SVU, The A-Team, TMZ, and weekend reruns of Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, and Cold Case. In fact, if Mr. Register is complaining about ABC prime-time programming – which is home to Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, why does he still have them in his station’s lineup in syndication? (besides contractual obligations.)

And if he’s talking about ABC airing inappropriate programming, maybe he should take a look at Fox and CW, whose programming is far raunchier than ABC’s. I guess Mr. Register thought Gossip Girl and Family Guy were both ABC shows – after all, the idiot had someone tell him what was airing on his own station, since he didn’t know himself.

The case he’s making for why he had to drop ABC from his station’s lineup are reasonable, given the looming battles between stations, cable operators, and the major networks over retransmission consent. But adding an unnecessary reason – because of “risque” shows and “gay and lesbian stuff” is moronic, bigoted, stupid, and lacks merit. If word of these comments makes it back to Ms. DeGeneres, she and Warner Bros. should demand her show be taken off this station in Macon and moved to a more deserving outlet.

Trading in popular ABC programming for retreads from the 1960’s and 1970’s isn’t what I call good business sense (he could have signed on with My Network TV – even the fare they’re running is better than what he has planned for prime-time.) I guess there is a reason CBS affiliate WMAZ-TV has dominated the ratings in this market for decades – and not just because it was the only VHF station in the market in the analog era. Their dominance was so overwhelming, both WPGA and NBC affiliate WMGT-TV suspended their news operations for a time.

And it’s hard to feel sorry for him and his station when he talks about being “squeezed by the big guys” – but behaves just like them when it comes to poor decision-making. Big media companies certainly don’t have a monopoly on the practice.

So for those of you who thought Chicago was the only media market whose media outlets are run by incompetent buffoons – think again. Somewhere in North America, there’s always a place where media outlets are run by buffoons who are even more incompetent.


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