Psssst! Hey buddy, wanna buy some TV stations?

Wow. I walked in the door this afternoon and my wife told me she had just heard on NPR that the New York Times was selling its broadcast group. Then I sat down at my computer and had seven posts from folks telling me the same thing. This is a big deal. I’m told the NYTimes will try to sell the stations as a group and by the end of the year if at possible. That makes me think that they already have a buyer lined up. For the most part, the NYTimes stations are very strong in the market or were. Some are part of the TailBone patrol. Still, they make money. This ia a big turnaround from about five or six years ago when they NYTimes was trying to buy a group of stations to expand its holdings. I remember one of the stations was in Hawaii. Somebody else, possibly Raycom bought the stations and the only expansion by the NYTimes was to add one station in Oklahoma City to the stable.
The NYTimes is a very good company to work for. It was the best company I ever worked for. Stock options, 401K, about as good of health benefits as one could get in a broadcast environment. I think some folks who have been with the company for a while have gotten spoiled. A company buying the group would be hard pressed to match those benefits (if they even bother trying).
And then there is this little caveat. One of the reasons I left back in 2004 (in addition to the terrible morning show hours) was an extremely one-sided and restrictive contract. I remember when my wife read through it she commented “Didn’t they abolish indentured servitude a while back”. I was told the new and improved contract was being implemented across the broadcast group. One of the clauses in the new contract (which by now most on air people have signed) basically allows the station to reduce salaries or move people around and there’s nothing that anyone who signed the contract can do about it. When questions were raised about it, managers said “Oh, that’s just something the legal department wanted to put in there. We would never do anything like that.” When I asked why it needed to be in there, people tended to get huffy about it and I never got a straight answer. The new contract gives the station all the control and the talent none. If they leave, their non-compete clause, which is even more restrictive than it was five years ago, prevents anyone from doing anything but breathing in this market and I’m not sure about the breathing part.
All of this may be a moot point but if someone was trying to make the bottom line more attractive, wouldn’t they start trimming salaries or start letting people go. I know as a buyer, knowing that 20 percent (or more) of the newsroom salaries could be cut, would make things a lot more attractive for me.
But all of this speculation may be for naught. I’m sure whoever comes in to buy the group will want everything to be kept just as it is and any cuts will be made strictly at the senior management level. By the way, I’ve got the Hernando Desoto I-40 Bridge for sale too.

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22 Comments on “Psssst! Hey buddy, wanna buy some TV stations?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Dear NYT TV Senior Leadership;

    Tick, tick, tick. That’s the clock counting down on your career as you’ve known it.

    Time to check into selling those country club stocks and start being nicer to everyone around you, because you’re about to start kissing all those butts you’ve been kicking.

    Start making reservations for those goodbye parties.

    Good luck.

  2. Doug Johnson Says:

    I hate to be so behind the curve on this one. I didn’t send you an e-mail on the proposed sale until this morning (I am SO losing my touch). The former NC3 employee who e-mailed me tells me that Sinclair is looking at buying ‘REG. That would be a very bad thing for what has bascially been a decent operation for a long time.

    I didn’t realize that the broadcast group brought in such a small part of NYTs overall income. If that’s really the case, a sale doesn’t surprise me. Plus, it’ll save the top level of management in New York the trouble of keeping up with the TV business. It reminds me of a few years ago, the NY Times Magazine did a scathing piece on local TV news, focusing on the Orlando market. The folks in New York were shocked, shocked, I tell you, that local news was the way it was. Young Mr. Schulzberger went on a little fact-finding tour after that, stopping by NC3 to sse if it was all true. Of course, it was during the period when the then-news director and his EP styled themselves unabashed “news whores” who would do anything to hype a story.

    I do agree with the first post that the skids will be greased for senior leadership. New owners always want to bring in their own folks. Everyone else should pray that whoever the buyer is doesn’t start belt-tightening right away.

  3. AMNewsBoy Says:

    I find this hilariously funny, especially since there was a recruiter from NYT Broadcast at NLGJA over the weekend.

  4. Joe Larkins Says:

    The worker bees should hope and pray the rumor of Sinclair eyeing the NYTimes broadcast group is just that…a rumor. That’s according to what I’ve heard and read about that operation.
    The other thing to remember is that the station DOTR is the broadcast group headquarters so a number of folks there will find themselves without a job unless they can be absorbed into the local station. Plus, the broadcast group’s master control operation for the nine stations located in Norfolk will probably end up closing down as well.

  5. Tommy Stafford Says:

    This would be exactly why I got out of the television news business. They make the decisions, not you. I like having the latitude to determine where I am headed vs some figure at the corporate hdq. Like the others have said here, sale generally is never a good thing. WREG was the last of the stable stations in that market – that hadn’t been sold like all of the others.

    As for Sinclair, let’s hope not, let’s really hope not, not a good thing.

  6. autoegocrat Says:

    Sinclair is bad. Very bad.

  7. John Says:

    Let’s hope and pray that it is not Sinclair. Conversely, I’ve been hearing other possibilities including Gannett, Gray, and the Journal Broadcast Group. I would think a more established, credible, and reputable broadcast group, the polar opposite of Sinclair of course, would go after the NYT stations which are themselves mostly established and quite strong, especially WREG and also KFOR in Oklahoma City.

    I just can’t imagine WREG being owned by Sinclair. If it ends up being the case, however, you can easily say goodbye to the WREG we all know now. Sinclair will have sucked out every ounce of strength in that station within the first week.

    The folks DOTR must be quite nervous right now, the rumblings and rumors of “trouble” there in the months leading up to this are obviously very minute now compared to this.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I work for the station on Union. We changed hands three times in the 90s. Don’t discount the impact. It will be BIG.

    Layoffs. No capital improvements. Imagine the worst things that could happen and they will.

    They did at WMC.

  9. Tommy Stafford Says:

    Though I never was a Scripps / Elcom / or Raycom employee during my stint at WMC after leaving WREG – I was strictly freelance for my 4.5 years over at 5, I agree with the previous poster. I saw up close and personal what happened when the new management took over. Some really bright, mature minded folks got chopped (typically mid management = money) that were immediately thrown out or transferred. Codeword=move them to another place then get rid if them.

    I would also hope it’s not Gray television as well, they have markets all over the east coast here and I am not impressed. WREG is way beyond what they do here. It is way too good of a station for something like that to happen to them. WREG deserves a much better caretaker, hopefully that will happen.

    Joe, do you think we can put together a group of investors and just buy it? …….ok, well, maybe not.
    -T-

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, Joe! A new soap opera starts: “As the River Rolls” for DOTR!

    The fear of Sinclair is very real. The are known to starve, trim and/or elimiinate newscasts on some of their stations.

    I am a little surprised it is rumored to be Sinclair, because they big overlaps in some areas (Oklahoma, Iowa, Virginia Comes to mind), but Memphis Huntsville, and Ft Smith/Fayetteville fit very nicely geograpically in Sinclair’s porfolio.

    The majority of Sinclair’s holdings of 58 stations are 32% FOX, 29% MyTV, (both MyTV and FOX operate together) 17% ABC, 15% CW, and the three stations of combined CBS/NBC make up 5%. If the percentages hold up, then networ stations will be the odd holdings of Sinclair.

    Whatever happen to that Scripps-Howard overture to buy 2-4 of the NYT stations including N3,TSOTR?

    My thought is that NYT investors and Stockholders would get more bang for the buck from a spinnoff or sale of seperate stations than as a group.

    I am like Doug with the drop in income from the “4th estate” paper holdings, I am surprised at the small amount of income generated by the Broadcast group.

    No matter who it is, what will happen is a new owner will trim and lean down to make up the price of purchase.

    My guess is that the NYT is putting an emphasis on their Times-Digest and Evening Times Digest synopsis that is sent out via electronic media.

    One word, Joe sell that NYT stock at the big jump in price! Momma and baby both need those new shoes. That jump will be as good as it gets.

  11. Joe Larkins Says:

    Some great observations. Thanks for sharing. I’ve heard some more on the the Scripps-Howard scenario as well as some others. I know the CA likes being cozy with a powerful TV station and probably regrets letting WMC go.
    As for the NYTimes stock. I plan to dump it so fast it will make the stockbroker’s head spin.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Given what’s happening on Union lately, can certainly understand why the WMC know-it-all might be HOPING this to be a BIG negative for WREG, but it could just as easily be a BIG improvement.
    Raycom’s one of the bad ones…everyone knows it.. owned by retirees with no media knowledge.
    But several good companies, with strong backgrounds in broadcasting might also be the buyers. If that happens, it couid be very good news for WREG.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Have they relaxed the ownership rules on newspaper/tv in the same market?

  14. Joe Larkins Says:

    If they haven’t already I think they are working on it. A few years ago there was a rumor floating around at the Station DOTR that the NYTimes was considering buying the Commercial Appeal.
    I know the newspaper likes the relationship with WREG and the other stations wished they had that relationsip.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Maybe NYT will buy CA after all broadcast media is sold.

  16. John Says:

    An insider at the TVspy watercooler is backing up your comments on the original blog post, Joe:

    He/she basically said that the deal is hoped to be completed by year’s end, announcement expected mid-Oct. Buyer already lined up, and they will buy all 9 stations, but only 5 will remain with that group, the others spun off. The 5 to remain include WREG.

    See the watercooler for the full text, but thats the gist of it. Sounds like pretty reliable info to me, especially since it lines up with what you’ve heard.

    Just keep praying that it is not Sinclair.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    now, when i was working at the fishwrapper, we had it the other way around… scripps was buying the station dotr from nyt… guess it’s all perception. rumor has always been scripps was dumping print in favor of broadcast and cable… it is slowly coming true.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Is the sale a cosmetic way for NYT to look like they have better turn on the nickel?

    All the rumors seem to report letting go of the more Eastern stations and keeping themore western stations.

    My guess is scratch off the companies that own stations in Okie City and Mempho, since they look like they are the keeper part of the sale.

    If I had a guess, I say the buyer is looking to kepp the larger markets station. Could that be a network rebuilding their holdings (GE-Viacom-DIsney) or a mid level ownership group trying to expand their market reach?

    Would Meridith Young or Landmark with strong stations in Nashville be in the mix to buy the stations?

    Anybody here the story of Young’s station in San Francisco that changed ther address number due to the station manager’s astro-numerologist advisor advice? No joke, its true Joe, and you thought these suit guys looked at the bottom line……. It seems that the station had flat profits, until the number change. Watch out if SOTR and on Union hear about this, Madam Bell the Palmist that was in Southaven (all those years ago)will be back in business reading palms and tea leaves……

  19. Joe Larkins Says:

    The really scary part of this last post is that if some consultant pitches it, there are some managers out there who will latch on to it and try to make it happen.
    As for stations making money and with good reputations, both KFOR and WREG have both. KFSM used to be and may still be the place to send managers to train to be GMs. It used to be that no matter what bone-headed stunt you might pull, KFSM was such a powerhouse that nobody could mess it up that much and everybody came out of there looking good.

  20. AMNewsBoy Says:

    Buyer already lined up, and they will buy all 9 stations, but only 5 will remain with that group, the others spun off.

    IMHO, that sounds like it could possibly (POSSIBLY) be a sale to Hearst. Hearst already owns stations in 3 of those markets (OKC, FSM, and DSM)…

  21. Anonymous Says:

    This just in, Scripps sells 5 TV stations Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Bridgeport, Conn…

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