An upcoming Federal Communications Commission meeting could alter a deal by an Illinois media company to acquire a Fort Wayne television station and manage another.
On March 31, the government agency will vote on proposals that may limit joint ad sales agreements by TV stations in local markets. In short, the FCC could make it more difficult for broadcasters who team up to sell advertising or share other resources.
Last month, Quincy Newspapers Inc. of Quincy, Ill., announced intentions to acquire WPTA – Fort Wayne’s ABC and CW affiliate – from Malara Broadcasting Group. The agreement was touted with SagamoreHill Broadcasting’s intent to buy WISE – the city’s NBC and MyTV affiliate – from Granite Broadcasting Corp.
Under the arrangement, Quincy also was to manage WISE.
The FCC meeting could change things.
A week after Quincy announced its plans, the Justice Department told the commission that joint sales agreements allow broadcasters to sidestep rules put in place to limit the number of stations they own in a market.
Granite Chief Operating Officer Duane Lammers declined to comment. Officials from Malara Broadcasting did not return calls last week.
But Louis Wall, president and CEO of SagamoreHill, admits the FCC’s meeting has him nervous.
We are a government-regulated business, so when the Fed speaks, we have to listen, he said. There is some concern about what will take place at the meeting. You would have to feel that way a little.
Fort Wayne attorney Steve Shine is a member of the Federal Communications Bar Association for lawyers who specialize in these issues. He said the government is trying to ensure fair play in the marketplace.
They want to put up some firewalls, he said. I will say this, though, and that is that Quincy is a family-owned company. There hasn’t been a family-owned broadcaster in Fort Wayne since the 1970s.
The advantage of family-owned stations is officials tend to have a better pulse on the community and are more responsive, Shine said.
They’re not in some big office in New York, he said.
Ralph Oakley is president and CEO of Quincy. He said speaking on the matter is speculative at best because the FCC could decide not to take action. The executive, however, did say he has a contingency plan.
We’ll make this happen and it will be within the guidelines of the FCC, Oakley said, declining to provide details. We’re still looking forward to coming to Fort Wayne.
Besides the stations in the Summit City, Quincy wants to acquire Granite-owned stations in Peoria, Ill., Duluth, Minn., and Binghamton, N.Y.
Local television proponents say joint sales agreements allow small stations to save costs, improve programming and remain in areas they likely otherwise wouldn’t serve.
One proposal that is being floated at the FCC would give broadcasters two years to comply if the rules are changed.
Oakley said his company would grow from 770 workers to 1,000 employees with the additional stations, but some positions could be eliminated where there is a duplication of duties.