ABC sells two stations back to previous owners

In a rare move in the industry, The Walt Disney Company announced the sale of two of its O&Os – back to its previous owners.

According to Broadcasting & Cable, WJRT-TV in Flint, Mich. (serving the Flint/Saginaw/Bay City market) and WTVG in Toledo, Ohio were sold back to SJL Broadcast Management, who sold the duo to what was then Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. in 1995.

In 1996, Disney acquired Capital Cities/ABC after the sunset of the financial interest and syndication rules, which forbid studios from owning broadcast networks.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Both WJRT (in the 69th-largest market) and WTVG (in the 70th-largest market) will remain ABC affiliates after the deal closes in early 2011.

WTVG switched to ABC in October 1995 after 25 years as a stand-alone NBC affiliate. Before that, WTVG (then known as WSPD-TV) shared an affiliation with both networks before ABC moved its programming to WDHO-TV (now NBC affiliate WNWO) and was also a CBS affiliate before WTOL  signed on in 1958.

According to the Toledo Blade, WTVG dominated the ratings in the May 2010 sweeps, defeating WTOL and WNWO in several key news time periods.

WJRT has been an ABC affiliate since it signed on in 1958.
ABC’s decision to rid itself of its smallest market O&Os follows a trend of other networks doing likewise in recent years. CBS sold its smallest-market O&Os in Austin, Tex. and Green Bay, Wis. and NBC sold its O&Os in Columbus, Ohio and Providence, RI.

Fox sold a bunch of mid-size market O&Os to Local TV, LLC (Oak Hill Partners) in 2007.

The sale of smaller-market O&Os are mostly strategic moves, and does not indicate the networks are softening their opposition to strengthen caps on how many station a company can own.

For ABC, the sale of their Toledo and Flint stations returns them to the original configuration of eight stations they had when their merger with Capital Cities was completed in 1986. Beforehand, ABC owned five stations- all on Channel 7 (and used the same “Circle 7” logo), including WXYZ-TV in Detroit. In order to satisfy FCC requirements per their merger with Capital Cities, WXYZ was sold to E.W. Scripps, Inc. in 1986 – the last time ABC sold a TV station.

The other four original O&Os are WLS here in Chicago; WABC in New York; KABC in Los Angeles; and KGO in San Francisco. ABC picked up WPVI in Philadelphia, KTRK in Houston, KFSN in Fresno-Visalia, Calif., and then-CBS affiliate WTVD in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., in the Capital Cities merger in 1986.