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Media General buying Meredith Corp.; companies own Springfield-area TV stations WWLP, WGGB, CBS 3, Fox 6



Last modified: Wednesday, September 23, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — Changes in the Pioneer Valley television market are on the horizon after Media General, owner of WWLP’s 22 News and The CW Springfield, announced Tuesday that it is buying Meredith Corp., which owns CBS 3 and WGGB’s abc 40 and Fox 6.

The combined company, called Meredith Media General, will own 88 television stations in 54 markets and brands such as the magazines Better Homes and Gardens, Parents and Shape, and the website allrecipes.com.

Though both companies’ boards approved the deal, it still needs approval from Meredith and Media General shareholders as well as from the Federal Communications Commission — a step that will mean further changes in ownership for one or more of the Springfield stations.

The FCC dictates how many media outlets one company may own in any given market. The deal must also clear other federal antitrust regulation.

Meredith and Media General will either sell or swap stations in eight states in anticipation of regulatory hurdles, including stations in the Springfield and Hartford-New Haven markets.

But officials from both companies said Tuesday it is too early to say how the deal would impact TV news in western Massachusetts.

“We’ve engaged a company to help us market all of the stations in the overlap markets,” Art Slusark, Meredith’s chief of communications, told the Gazette. “We’re going to have to divest one of the (Springfield) stations.”

WSHM CBS 3 and WGGB (abc 40 and Fox 6), the stations owned by Meredith Corp., consolidated their news operations in April under the umbrella of Western Mass News after the company bought WGGB last year from John G. Gormally Jr.

NBC affiliate WWLP began broadcasting The CW on one of its over-the-air digital substations and on cable in April. Both channels carry its 22 News broadcasts.

WWLP General Manager William Pepin could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Meredith and Media General expect the transaction to close by June 30. The new company will maintain offices in Des Moines, Iowa, and Richmond, Virginia.

Consolidation concerns

Should it gain approval, the combined company will be the nation’s third-largest owner of local TV stations, reaching 34 million households — 30 percent of the entire country — and maintaining a significant digital presence.

The companies say the move will save $80 million in the first two years after the transaction closes. Those savings will be used to pay off debt and pay shareholders dividends, and will allow the company to continue growing “as the media industry consolidates,” according to a release.

Jarice Hanson, a professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said she is “quite sure” that the companies will sell the stations that are either costing them too much to run or not making enough money.

Under the new structure, Meredith Media General would have the market cornered in terms of western Massachusetts TV news, she added.

And what makes for financial gains in mergers and acquisitions often means a loss for local consumers, she said.

“It often doesn’t result in better news coverage or attention to civic matters,” Hanson said. “Those don’t make much money.”

Hanson said that Media General and Meredith are likely eyeing an expanded mobile and Web presence in their business model. The companies said in a release that Meredith Media General’s websites will reach over 200 million monthly visitors — including key demographics such as “millennial women.”

Hanson said the companies likely took note of Verizon’s recent trial of producing video content for its cellphones in an attempt to compete in the mobile advertising industry.

“That allows them to have an awful lot of information about who watched what, what they’re paying attention to — streamlining advertising,” Hanson said.

And she said she would not be surprised if local companies will be charged more to gain access to that advertising medium.

Timothy Karr, director of strategy for Florence-based liberal lobbying organization Free Press, said he believes the Springfield TV news duopoly that exists today is “already far too high a level of viewpoint concentration.”

He added that the sale of one of the Springfield stations could open the door for local ownership and more on-air diversity.

“But if this deal follows the pattern of other recent mergers, the spin-off will just be to another non-local, giant corporate owner,” Karr said in an email.

Whatever happens, Hanson said the deal could open a new door for independent media.

“This might spur the indie media folks into taking up where whatever is lost when we lose some of the local focus,” Hanson said. “I think there are some opportunities here.”

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.