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Trade group: KMSB/KOLD deal 'breathtaking disdain for public'

A national trade group of cable operators is blasting the deal, announced Tuesday, for KOLD to take over local news production for KMSB as "breathtaking disdain for the public interest."

Dozens of employees are likely to lose their jobs under the move, which will see Tucson's CBS affiliate, KOLD Channel 13, take over nearly all operations of KMSB Channel 11, a Fox affiliate.

KMSB, owned by the Dallas-based Belo TV chain, will maintain an advertising sales staff. All other aspects of the KMSB operation will be staffed by KOLD, owned by the Raycom chain of TV stations.

"Raycom is seizing effective control of Tucson's CBS and Fox affiliates just as the FCC is about to release a notice of proposed rulemaking asking to what extent such  deals violate the ban on consolidation among the top four local stations," said the president of the American Cable Association, Matthew Polka, in a press release Thursday.

"Consumers typically pay higher transmission consent fees [what stations charge cable companies to carry their programming] while receiving diminished local news services under such deals," the ACA said.

Shared service agreements, the industry term for such agreements, have been "strong indicators of bad news to come, including higher retransmission consent fees; higher advertising rates; less competition, localism and diversity; and job loss among news reporters and production employees" in other markets, Polka said.

The trade group said that when two network stations in a market negotiate together, they can "increase their pay-TV carriage fees by 21.6%, compared to situations where Big Four stations negotiate carriage separately."

"Federal Communications Commission rules generally prohibit formal cross ownership among the four highest-rated stations in a market," the ACA noted.

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The move will be effective Feb. 1. KOLD will produce a morning news show, in addition to the current 9 p.m. news cast, for broadcast on KMSB. KOLD will also take over operation of KMSB's website.

"It's horrible," said one employee, who learned of the news at a Tuesday morning staff meeting.

"The bottom line is we were hoping to expand and add a morning newscast," the source said. "This is the worst-cast scenario."

"Running an operation like that is not cheap," another said. "Even though we're the smallest news department in Tucson."

KMSB employees declined to comment on the record about the cancellation of the newscast. One staffer had yet to hear the news when contacted by TucsonSentinel.com.

KMSB management did not respond to a request for comment.

Some KMSB staffers were laid off from other media organizations, including the Tucson Citizen and more recently Journal Broadcast Group.

The newscast's end adds to the significant number of Tucson journalists who have lost their jobs working for out-of-town corporate owners. In July, the Arizona Daily Star fired 52 reporters, editors, production personnel and other staffers.

"The media business is in an interesting stretch right now," one KMSB staffer said ironically.

Some staffers may be offered jobs with KOLD to work on that station's newscast, employees were told.

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Others may be able to transfer within the Dallas-based Belo television chain, which operates 20 TV stations around the country.

The KMSB building at 1855 N. 6th Ave. is owned by Belo.

"The building will likely be sold or leased. It will be empty in a matter of months," one about-to-be laid-off employee said.

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2 comments on this story

Nov 17, 2011, 3:29 pm
-0 +0

Problem is (actually there are several): Ad dollars are no longer there to support large media operations, due to the many and varied options in addition to print and broadcast; FCC “deregulation” under the Reagan Administration opened a Pandora’s box of “consolidation” techniques; print and broadcast media are owned by people who know nothing about print and media (they just want their annual 6% return on “investment” each year, no matter the realities of the business); the general public in communities like Tucson really don’t care about “localism,” as long as their favorite TV show remains viewable somewhere (that’s how deregulation has been allowed to run wild, uncontrolled and unchecked, basically; technology has led to the elimination of countless numbers of jobs (remember “linotype operators?”)and the ability to operate multiple broadcast operations from a single location.  Look for KVOA and KGUN to one day soon enter into a similar “service agreement.”

Nov 17, 2011, 2:09 pm
-0 +1

Wow…what’s coming out now is much worse than the story of a couple of days ago on the same topic..

“breathtaking disdain for the public interest.”

Yeah, I would agree with that statement.

The trade group said that when two network stations in a market negotiate together, they can “increase their pay-TV carriage fees by 21.6%, compared to situations where Big Four stations negotiate carriage separately.”

I admit college was over a decade ago for me, but back then I remember a term for this situation…it was called price-fixing, an anti-competitive business practice prohibited by the Sherman anti-trust Act of 1890. But, my memory might be a bit hazy…

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KMSB screengrab