T Dog’s Grab Bag: FCC gives Gannett, Tribune Christmas presents

Image courtesy of Broadcasting & Cable.
Image courtesy of Broadcasting & Cable.

FCC approves purchases; deals close

It’s a Holiday Week edition of the Grab Bag – will it be presents or several lumps of coal? Let’s find out:

Both Gannett and Tribune received presents in their stockings thanks to the FCC approving their deals on December 20. Gannett purchased Belo last summer, while Tribune announced their takeover of Local TV, LLC two weeks later. With the FCC and Department of Justice approvals, both deals closed this week with a condition: the DOJ forced Gannett to sell Belo’s KMOV (more in a minute.) While Tribune is selling its Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Norfolk stations to Dreamcatcher, with Tribune retaining services at each of the stations. With the transactions, Gannett becomes the largest owner of Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) affiliates, while Tribune becomes the largest owner of Fox and CW affiliates in the U.S.

– Meanwhile, KMOV (CBS) in St. Louis was sold last week by Gannett in order to comply with a DOJ order to sell an outlet in order to maintain a competitive balance in the St. Louis market, since it already owns KSDK (NBC). The lucky recipient was Meredith Corp., which bought KMOV and KTVK/KASW in Phoenix, the latter two also owned by Belo but was sold in order to satisfy the DOJ (Gannett owns NBC affiliate KPNX in Phoenix and the Arizona Republic newspaper.) For Meredith, adding KMOV already enhances its Missouri portfolio, which includes CBS affiliate KCTV in Kansas City.

KMOV was once known as CBS-owned KMOX-TV (in tandem with co-owned AM radio station) until 1986 when Black Rock was forced to sell it to Viacom (which spunoff from CBS in 1971) to raise money to thwart a Ted Turner takeover attempt. Viacom sold KMOV and other Big Three network affiliates in 1997 in order to concentrate on its then-UPN stations. CBS retains ownership of KMOX.

While there is still no official word on what WLS-TV will replace now-canceled Katie with at 3 p.m. next fall, ABC affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta announced Friday it was replacing Katie with Dr. Oz, beginning in September. WSB acquired the Sony show from Fox-owned WAGA-TV, which passed on another season of Oz despite other Fox-owned stations sealing a deal (including WFLD here) with Sony to continue.

During October, Katie earned a 2.1 household rating and a 6 share for WSB, finishing behind Steve Harvey and The Young And The Restless, with Katie down 25 percent from October 2012 numbers. Meanwhile, Dr. Oz on WAGA earned a 1.4/5 in its 2 p.m. time slot in October 2013, down 22 percent from October 2012, when the show ran at 4 p.m. Harvey nearly doubled Oz’s lead-in at 3 p.m. with a 2.6.

While Oz found a new home in Atlanta, MeTV did likewise in Dallas-Ft. Worth – a present for fans in the Metroplex. Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting’s classic TV channel is moving to CBS-owned independent KTXA as a “dot-two” digital subchannel – the first time CBS has allowed a dot-two on any of its stations (aside from WCBS-TV’s dot-two, which is a local news and info channel.) A few weeks ago, independent KTXD pulled the plug on MeTV to air more local programs. While the move could have won kudos for investing in local programming, it had the opposite effect instead – lots of fans were outraged, with complaints pouring in to MeTV’s Facebook page and into the comments section of Broadcasting & Cable’s website.

So what have we learned here? While activist groups often complain about media consolidation zapping local programming, they need to look at what happened in the Metroplex – last I checked, supply and demand determines a station’s programming needs, not some activist group’s agenda. And there is absolutely no demand for whatever “local programs” KTXD is offering.

87.7 Fans of alternative rock in Cleveland received a lump of coal in their stocking recently as WLFM 87.7 (the former calls of the 87.7 frequency here) as the owners entered into an local marketing agreement with TSJ Media, a Cincinnati-based company specializing in programming formats targeting Hispanic audiences. The station becomes La Mega 87.7 on January 1, despite  a recent push by fans to “save our sound”.

But recent trends show a growing Hispanic population in Northeast Ohio, up 14 percent in the last census – a segment thoroughly underserved as there is no Spanish-language station in the area.  Meanwhile, the alternative format has struggled on terrestrial radio in recent years, despite an effort by Chicago-based Merlin Media to bring it back. So far, those results have been mixed: while WKQX (Q87.7 FM) has had modest ratings success in Chicago, its return to WRXP in New York after a year-long hiatus (due to the launch of FM News) was a flop. Merlin, which killed the original Q101 format in 2011 to run FM News in Chicago, sold WRXP last year to CBS, who flipped it to sports-talk.

One of the reasons for the Cleveland switch was the inability to attract strong advertising dollars to WLFM, a problem still plaguing many alternative rock stations across the country. A Hispanic format would certainly be more profitable as there would be more advertisers eager to reach the Hispanic audience.

Back in 2011, yours truly examined the alternative format and its future in radio. In addition to New York and Chicago losing alternative stations that year, Cleveland also lost one when CBS-owned WKRK-FM flipped to sports talk.

Despite the format change, WLFM is going ahead with a canned food drive, which ends on January 1 – the day it goes into effect. But the future of WLFM – and WKQX – and seventeen others who operate on the 87.7 frequency are in question since a deadline is approaching in 2015 to do away with analog low-powered TV – whose channel 6 also shares a frequency with 87.7.