No, not Channel 3, and not Channel 5. It’s the other two commercial stations in the Burlington market — WVNY (Channel 22), an ABC affiliate, and WFFF (Channel 44), which carries Fox programming. (The Simpsons, not Bill O’Reilly.)
The stations are currently owned by a subsidiary of Boston Ventures, a private equity buyout firm. Boston Ventures has been selling its TV properties, and the two Vermont stations are among the last to go.
The new owner, pending FCC approval (which is usually, and unfortunately, a rubber stamp), is Texas-based Nexstar Broadcasting Group. Nexstar currently owns 50 TV stations, mainly in smaller markets. And it has an interesting way of doing business that may spell trouble for local staffing and programming.
Nexstar likes to buy two stations in the same market. FCC regulations prohibit dual ownership, but Nexstar has a nice work-around. It’s called “virtual duopoly” — meaning that Nexstar technically owns only one of the stations while a closely-related (but legally separate) company owns the other. The two firms share resources (i.e. “people”) in sales, master control, news operations, and web content production. It’s a big money-saver: run two stations with basically the personnel of one.
Once the deal is approved, most likely in early 2013, Nexstar plans a virtual duopoly for the two Vermont stations with Mission Broadcasting, a frequent partner in Nexstar duopolies. In their other partnerships, Mission usually operates the smaller of the two stations with a skeleton staff. And judging by the public statements from Nexstar, this is the plan for Vermont.
“These transactions are consistent with our criteria for acquisitions that further strategically diversify our operations, create or present opportunities for virtual duopoly markets and which are financially accretive,” said Perry Sook, Nexstar president and CEO.
And yeah, “present opportunities… which are financially accretive” means fewer jobs. The actual impact of this deal may be limited, since the stations already share office and studio space in Colchester. But judging by Perry Sook’s multisyllabic salivating, I’d say he has some ideas for new cutbacks.
BTW, Burlington TV properties are much more valuable than stations in similarly-sized markets, because Burlington stations reach the Montreal market — which is, according to Wikipedia, ten times more populous than WVNY’s entire American viewing area. The sale price for the two stations is $17.1 million.