Buffalo's major pubcaster again has an agreement to sell its second TV station for $26.2 million. The buyer this time is LIN Television Corp., a chain based in Providence, R.I. , that already owns WIVB, the CBS affiliate in town, as well as 15 other network-affiliate stations around the country.
The Western New York Public Broadcasting Association said it will invest the proceeds in an endowment fund whose earnings will aid program production, program acquisition and community services.
To swing the sale of WNEQ, Channel 23, Western New York Public Broadcasting Association is committing to sell its stronger main channel--WNED, Channel 17--if it cannot clear legal obstacles to the WNEQ transaction. The licensee's plan is to switch the noncommercial reservation from Channel 23 to Channel 17, which now has an unreserved channel, so that it can sell 23.
The FCC has approved that swap, but the move has been challenged in court by a citizens' group, Coalition for Noncommercial Media. If the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington rules against the FCC action, LIN will be able to buy Channel 17 for an extra $5 million, said Donald Boswell, president of the pubcaster.
The Buffalo licensee tried to sell Channel 23 in 1998, but the $33 million deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group fell through. Sinclair also backed out of an agreement to buy the second public TV channel in the Albany/Schenectady market.
Buffalo's major pubcaster, WNED, has decided to sell its second TV channel to fund an endowment and help it pay for the conversion to digital TV. For budget reasons, the second channel, WNEQ, now operates just eight hours a day.
Board of Trustees Chair Mary Ann Lauricella, president of Lauricella Public Relations Co., said that continuing to have two channels "will create excessive and expensive capacity," because, after the switch to DTV, the two together could transmit eight programs at once. "The cost of converting two stations yielding eight channels makes neither economic nor programming sense," she said in a release.
To sell Channel 23, which has a restricted noncommercial license, the licensee will ask the FCC to swap its designation with that of Channel 17, which has an unrestricted license. WNED wants to keep Channel 17, which has the stronger signal of the two. But if the FCC declines to swap the designations, WNED could go ahead with the sale and keep the weaker signal, says new President Don Boswell.
On the advice of his station broker, Boswell declined to discuss prices that WNED could get for one of its stations.
Among other things, the sale could give WNED some capital to do more national production in its well-equipped new facility, Boswell said.
No layoffs are planned, according to the station.
Web page posted Aug. 12, 1998, revised April 23, 2005
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WMHT, the public TV station in the Schenectady-Albany area of New York, is selling its second channel to Tribune Co. after the collapse of the sale to Sinclair Broadcast Group, approved by WMHT [in June 1998].
The sale is "bittersweet," said President Donn Rogosin, because the pubcaster "had learned how positive a second channel can be." But the station decided to cash in its second channel so that it will have funds to convert its main channel to digital.
Channel 45, WMHQ, operated on a commercial license, so it was not reserved
for noncommercial purposes. Tribune is paying $18.5 million, compared to
the $23 million that Sinclair was to pay before the company ran into financial
Tribune, which is a minority owner of Time Warner's WB Network and owner of 17 other stations, plans to make Channel 45 into a WB affiliate.
WMHT, meanwhile, has selected a vacant site for its new home in an industrial park created by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, eight minutes from the state capitol in Albany, Rogosin said.
The third and fourth public TV licensees in recent years are selling their second channels, in Albany/Schenectady, N.Y., and in Oklahoma City.
In both cases, the station is raising funds for the multimillion-dollar cost of launching a simulcast channel for the transition to digital TV. And the managers recognize that DTV will give them multichannel capacity in the future to replace the channels they are giving up.
Also in the process of channel sales are WQED, Pittsburgh--which awaits FCC approval of a swap-and-sale deal for WQEX with a local religious broadcaster and Paxson Communications Corp.--and WNED, Buffalo, which announced in May that it will sell its sister station, WNEQ [story at left].
The Schenectady and Oklahoma City channels can be sold directly to a commercial operator because they operate on unreserved, commercial licenses. Only a handful of public TV licensees operate two channels in the same city.
In Schenectady, lawyers are negotiating details of a $23 million sale of WMHQ, Channel 45, to Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., a major station group based in Baltimore. [Sinclair later backed out of the deal. See story above.]
The station's board of directors approved the sale in June, says President Donn Rogosin. Donald Schein, the late president of WMHT, was "pilloried" for buying the frequency in a bankruptcy sale some years ago, but the channel has appreciated as an asset and can now be sold to help the public TV station equip itself for the digital transition, says Rogosin.
"We loved the second channel," says Rogosin. WMHQ gave the station freedom to air local programs in primetime and to air programs for kids and adults simulaneously, but this was outweighed by the "overwhelming" need to secure DTV conversion money. And DTV multicasting will provide extra channels in the future.
Oklahoma ETV, a state-owned network, this month closed on its deal to sell its second channel in Oklahoma City — KTLC, Channel 43 — to Paramount Stations Group for $23.5 million in cash.
Most of the proceeds will be spent on DTV transition. "We have to take a step back in order to take a major step forward," says Executive Director Bob Allen.
The network is minimizing the loss of its second channel, which was dubbed the Literacy Channel, through a program agreement with its buyer. For the next five years, the new UPN network station will air: Literacy Channel programs on weekday mornings; eight hours a year of pledging; and promos worth $100,000 a year. The state network will put the Literacy Channel on satellite along with its main channel next year so that cable systems can pick up both of them, according to Allen.
The network aims to use $5.6 million of the sale proceeds to match another $5.6 million it has requested from the state to launch pass-through DTV service on four channels across the state, says Allen. It will also reimburse its fundraising foundation $1.5 million for the purchase of the channel. The remainder will become a facilities endowment for purchase of HDTV origination equipment and other hardware.
Pittsburgh's WQED leases its second channel to home shopping network, 2004.