Wheeling and dealing in the LPTV market is usually buried deep below the radar. But in South Bend, pushback against such a deal is being led by watchdogs Media Access Project and Free Press. They say the problem isn’t so much the buyer, but the consolidation concept.
Spelling out the basis of the objection, Free Press’s Megan Tady wrote, “If the $22 million deal clears, Schurz will own four of the six national network television affiliates in the city, the only daily newspaper, the only news radio station, and the second-ranked FM radio station. This means a single company will own a majority of the commercial news-producing outlets in the entire South Bend market. In essence, Schurz would be the Murdoch of the Indiana-Michigan border.”
Schurz already owns full-power CBS WSBT-TV, News-Talker WSBT-AM, AC WNSN-FM, and the South Bend Tribune, which Schurz lists on its website with daily circulation of about 70.7K and 93.4K on Sunday. The pending $22M deal is with Weigel Broadcasting Company. The LPTVs are more attractive than is usually the case since they all have network affiliations. The deal includes ABC WBND-LP, CW WCWW-LP & MNT WMYS-LP.
Schurz SVP broadcasting/cable Marci Burdick earlier noted that the deal was perfectly legal, and the company has insisted that it would do a better job making the stations local than the Chicago-based seller. The watchdogs counter that it is not a matter of the quality of Schurz’s operation or the virtue of its intentions. Rather, they say it is important to prevent concentration at this level from occurring lest it become a precedent to allow other similar arrangements to go forward.
RBR/TVBR observation: As we pointed out earlier, the AM-FM-TV-newspaper cluster here is unusual. And the ability to pick up three network affiliated LPTVs in a single market is highly unusual. But low power stations do not figure at all when calculating compliance with local ownership caps. The idea that this will somehow set a precedent is highly unlikely since very few markets mimic the conditions that make it possible in South Bend.