Two of Mobile’s three TV stations are becoming part of the same family after their corporate ownership announced a $1.6 billion merger earlier today. Whether they will stay under the same roof remains to be seen.
Media General and LIN announced their merger Friday morning — a move that will combine 74 stations in 46 markets, reaching nearly a quarter of the nation’s TV households. The deal calls for Media General to acquire LIN with a combination of stock and $763 million in cash. Media General will also reportedly take on roughly $1 billion in LIN’s debt.
The local fallout from this move could be significant as WKRG-TV is owned by Media General and WALA-TV/WFNA are LIN properties. The merger would mean the Mobile/Pensacola market would have four television stations owned by two media conglomerates. WEAR and WPMI are both owned by Sinclair. The FCC has allowed Sinclair to own both stations despite the fact their coverage overlaps the two cities.
However, local station insiders said they believe the situation with WKRG and WALA will be different and FCC regulations will require that one of them be sold to a third party. Media General has made statements that the merger would require sales in some markets where duplicate ownership would be created.
The initial whispers in media circles are that Raycom Media, which is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, would be a likely suitor as the company has shown interest in Mobile stations before.
In the initial wake of the announcement rank-and-file employees expressed shock and a bit of trepidation, but most also realized the process is likely to take some time and very little is known yet.
WALA/WFNA VP/General Manager Gary Yoder expressed that sentiment in a short statement Friday afternoon.
“We are excited about the announcement made today but are focused on our daily commitment to serve our viewers and advertisers. It’s business as usual here at WALA / WFNA,” he wrote.
WKRG General Manager Mark Bunting said his station too is simply focused on the here and now and would await more information from Media General.
“When they know more I’m sure our offices will let us know more,” he said.
A similar situation will exist in five markets, including Birmingham, where CBS42 and NBC 13 will both be owned by Media General after the merger. Whether the stations will be sold off as a group, individually or traded is unknown.
“This merger is a game changing opportunity for both companies, substantially increasing shareholder value, providing a strong balance sheet and creating immediate and very significant free cash flow that will enable further growth. We’ve long admired LIN Media and, as we’ve gotten to know their organization better as this transaction has developed, we are more certain than ever that our shared values and common culture will benefit both our stations and the communities we serve. We look forward to a seamless integration of the two companies as we also deliver quickly on the synergies we have identified. It is a terrific transaction,” George L. Mahoney, president and Chief Executive Officer of Media General, said today in a statement.