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CABLE TRADE GROUP PROTESTS KOLD/KMSB AGREEMENT

The American Cable Association has come out against the fact that Belo-owned KMSB Channel 11 is handing over control of its news and production operations to Raycom-owned KOLD Channel 13. The move, scheduled to take effect in early February, will cut KMSB's work force by more than 30 employees.

The ACA claims the agreement, an increasingly common practice throughout the country, is infringing on market competitiveness.

"These are two competing stations no longer competing against one another, because they're under similar control," said Ross Lieberman, the ACA's vice president of government affairs. "There are concerns about the impact on local news, because you're no longer having broadcasters competing for stories. In some instances, in shared-services agreements, each station ran an independent news program, but ran the same stories on both stations. There are concerns about advertising. Both these stations sell advertising. ... When you reduce the number of sellers, it gives them greater bargaining power and allows them to drive up the cost."

A while back, KMSB had a shared-content arrangement with KVOA Channel 4. Many of the stories broadcast on KMSB's 9 p.m. newscast had the same copy—and even used the same video—as KVOA stories, even though the product was broadcast from the KMSB studios with talent paid by Belo.

Under this new agreement, KMSB will retain a sales staff to sell advertising on the newscasts produced by KOLD, and will compensate KOLD for news-production.

"They're paying us to provide news, engineering (and) marketing," said KOLD general manager Debbie Bush. "We have nothing to do with their sales department, except our marketing department helps them with sales in terms of producing commercials and things like that. The news department will be entirely KOLD employees."

Lieberman says he believes the arrangement skirts the Federal Communications Commission's intent of separating ownership among the four top-rated stations in each market. In Tucson, Raycom owns CBS affiliate KOLD; Belo owns Fox affiliate KMSB; Journal owns ABC affiliate KGUN Channel 9; and Cordillera Communications (under the Evening Post Publishing banner) owns NBC affiliate KVOA. By taking over production control of KMSB, the ACA argues, Raycom now has a vested interest in two of the top four stations (as well as Belo-owned KTTU Channel 18), which gives it stronger bargaining power in areas not necessarily related to news.

"Cable and satellite operators are most worried about retransmission concerns," Lieberman said. "That's where stations sell the rights to cable and satellite operators, so they can retransmit their signal to cable and satellite customers. Fees for retransmission have been increasing exponentially. Of the 56 shared-service agreements, in 36 of those instances, broadcasters negotiate retransmission consent together, using a single bargaining agent. Under that, they're able to extract fees ... at least 21.6 percent higher when they negotiate together. When a cable or satellite provider has to pay higher costs for programming, of course, those costs are passed along to the customer."

Lieberman says the FCC is investigating the nature of these types of arrangements.

"One of the big issues the FCC is going to be looking at this time around is the extent that shared-service agreements are in violation of its existing ownership limits," Lieberman said. "We may see in the next year or so new restrictions for local stations to coordinate their activities. It was interesting timing, perhaps not good timing (by KOLD and KMSB). They're doing this at the time the FCC is considering the issue, and it brought just a little bit more attention to the problems with these issues."

But an FCC decision almost certainly won't occur by the time the February transition goes into effect, which means at least 30 KMSB employees will be searching for work in a market decimated by cutbacks. Some of the employees at Belo Tucson have been hit more than once. Val Cañez worked at the Tucson Citizen from 1992 until it shut down in 2009. Ken Carr just got a job at Belo after being downsized from Journal's radio operation. Sportscaster David Kelly lost his job at IMG and was recently hired at KMSB as the replacement for longtime sportscaster Vinnie Vinzetta, whose move to a Belo operation in San Antonio, Texas, couldn't have come at a better time.

KOLD needs to hire staffers to make its 7 to 9 a.m. weekday commitment and weeknight 9 p.m. newscast work for KMSB, but it isn't going to absorb 30-plus employees.

"We're going to add people," Bush said. "How many is still being determined. Once we get that decision, we'll let (KMSB employees) know first, and then they'll have the opportunity to apply for those positions, and interview for them. Some of those people may be coming over here. We don't know; they don't know. ... My sympathy goes out to those people right now."

Ultimately, the plan is to present the impression of a separation between the two products. The KMSB newscasts will have, at the very least, a largely different staff from KOLD, although occasional crossover benefits are available.

"Let's say there was some kind of major news event that happened at 8 o'clock. We have a reporter out there—let's say it's J.D. Wallace. J.D. Wallace could pop up at the top of the 9 o'clock news, maybe at 9:30, maybe at the very end of the 9 o'clock news, and then say, 'By the way, join me in a couple minutes on KOLD at 10, and I'll give you an update,'" Bush said. "Of course it's going to help us, because it gives us more exposure. Maybe people have never watched KOLD. But that's not the point. The point is, we will be producing high-quality newscasts for KMSB, and we will take pride in that. It will have its own graphics. It will be a KMSB-branded newscast and not look like KOLD."


1450 NO LONGER FUNNY

The comedy-radio experiment is over at Clear Channel. On Monday, Nov. 21, the company switched Funny 1450 AM to a Mexican-music format. Funny 1450 only lasted a few months.

It's the second format flip for 1450 this year. In the spring, the automated-comedy station replaced KOOL 1450 AM.

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