Belo, the Dallas-based chain of TV stations, was sold today to Gannett in a deal worth 2.2 billion dollars. Twenty stations will change hands, including Belo’s flagship, WFAA-Channel 8. Until now, IT’S been the only locally owned major-network affiliate in North Texas. This deal does NOT include The Dallas Morning News – the newspaper is owned by a spinoff company, A.H. Belo. This deal could reshape the broadcast landscape in North Texas.
To TV writer Ed Bark, it’s a landmark moment.
“My gut reaction was it is the end of an era because Belo bought the station from some little broadcaster in 1950  and has owned it ever since. And it’s been their flagship station. It’s been the marquis station in Dallas …”
Bark, the longtime TV critic at the Morning News, now writes the blog unclebarky.com. Channel 8, he says, dominated the local TV news scene for decades – and through it all, WFAA remained the only major North Texas station not owned by a network.
”So that alone was significant. And another reason why the sale today has such reverberations.”
Bark isn’t sure whether viewers will notice a difference on the air. But Gannett’s Broadcast President, Dave Lougee, says they won’t see any immediate change, And because this purchase of Belo stations makes Gannett the largest owner of major network affiliates in the nation’s top 25 cities, Gannett’s resources will grow, improving the local news product.
“As if WFAA was disadvantaged at all by the fact they’re up against three network-owned stations inside Dallas, this gives them equal scale. The other benefits to WFAA is that before they worked for one of two companies most committed to local broadcast journalism, and now those companies have just come together.”
Price Colman, contributing editor at TVNewsCheck.com, which covers the industry, says Gannett isn’t buying Belo for a better news product. It needs to improve the bottom line.
“Broadcast television company station groups like Gannett and Belo recognize size and scale are important to compete against others in the information space like broadband companies In order to do that they’ve got to get bigger or go away.”
Colman cites just one profit center – something called “retransmission consent revenue” - that should grow with this acquisition.
“They charge retransmission consent to cable companies and satellite companies. Those companies pay to carry a broadcast signal on their systems. It’s a relatively new revenue stream for broadcasters and they’re getting everything out of it they can. The bigger they are the more they can get.”
Colman also doesn’t believe Gannett when it says viewers won’t see changes.
“Any time there’s consolidation, there are typically jobs lost. I would anticipate that would be the case here. Some people will lose their jobs.”
Those lost jobs may initially come from the corporate side. That’s because Gannett says Belo’s downtown headquarters will eventually move to McLean, Virginia, Gannett’s home. As for on-air changes. Critic Bark expects the new owner will take a close look at local competitors, such as Fox-owned Channel 4.
“What’s become now the end-all be-all demographic, the 25-54 year old group, Fox is a station that wins at both, 5pm and 6pm for the most part, or has . I would say oddly enough, Fox-4, in addition with their 9 o’clock news, ratings-wise, is probably the dominant news station right now in this market.”
Despite those recent troubles, Belo has long been the dominant player in Texas broadcasting – with powerhouse stations in Houston, Austin and San Antonio, as well as Channel 8 in North Texas. The station’s set a high journalistic bar, too – in fact, just this week, the station won a national Edward R. Murrow award – one of the top honors in broadcasting.