6 BR, Lafayette stations to get new owners

Six television stations in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, including the local Fox and NBC affiliates, are slated to get new ownership later this year.

Mission Broadcasting and Nexstar Broadcasting have reached a $270 million deal to buy 19 television stations from Communications Corporation of America and White Knight Broadcasting. The deal includes WVLA, the Baton Rouge NBC station; WGMB, Baton Rouge Fox station; WBRL-CD, Baton Rouge CW station; KZUP, Baton Rouge Retro TV station; KADN, Lafayette Fox station; KLAF, Lafayette My Network TV station; KMSS, Shreveport Fox station; KSHV, Shreveport My Network station; and WTNZ, Alexandria Fox station.

The other stations in the transaction are in Texas and Indiana.

The deal is expected to close by the end of summer or beginning of fall, pending regulatory approval, said Dennis Thatcher, president and chief operating officer for Mission Broadcasting, which is based in a suburb of Cleveland. The plan is for Mission, which has 17 stations across the U.S., to get WVLA, KZUP and KMSS.

Nexstar, of Irving, Texas, would get WGMB, WBRL-CD and KADN and would serve as a manager of Mission’s new stations. The company already owns KTAL, the NBC affiliate in Shreveport, and KARD, the Fox station in Monroe.

“We’re very excited about the state of Louisiana,” Thatcher said. “And we’re excited about having a presence in the state capital.”

Mission already owns KTVE, the NBC affiliate in Monroe, and Nexstar manages the property. Adding stations in Baton Rouge and Shreveport opens the door to offering statewide news, Thatcher said. A similar arrangement exists in Arkansas, where Mission owns several stations, including the Fox affiliate in Little Rock, and does a 30-minute statewide newscast.

Thatcher said viewers shouldn’t notice anything different at WVLA or KZUP.

“More than likely, the only change will be in the copyright at the end of the broadcast,” he said.

But down the line the plan is to eventually convert the local news broadcasts to high-definition, Thatcher said.

“Technical upgrades are one of our hallmarks,” he said.

WVLA and WGMB share a building and news resources. That relationship will continue, even with the stations having different ownership, because of Nexstar’s management agreement.

Joseph Jaffoni, a spokesman for Nexstar, said the plan is to get the Louisiana stations “operating more efficiently” and strengthening the product.

“If there’s not good programming, you’re not going to get viewers, and then you won’t have anything,” he said.

Communications Corporation of America and White Knight put themselves up for sale in 2005. A year later, the companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing more than $400 million in debt. A bankruptcy reorganization plan was filed in fall 2007.

A person who answered the phone at White Knight’s business office in Longview, Texas, refused to comment on the impending sale, citing confidentiality agreements.

Thatcher said his company had looked at buying Communications Corporation and White Knight “for a long time.”

“This is good for our business. We’ll be all over Arkansas and Louisiana and very deep into Texas,” he said. “We can have a real impact with viewers.”

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, an industry trade association based in Washington, D.C., said the economics of owning local television stations have improved, thanks to an improving economy. That has led to an uptick in the sale of stations.

“The advertising market has rebounded nicely,” he said. “People are coming to the realization that broadcasting is a very healthy business economically with a good long-term future.”