What's Behind Newport TV's Covert Consolidation?

When Free Press’ Change the Channels initiative shined an uncomfortable spotlight on Newport TV’s business practices, the company responded with threats and demanded that YouTube take down our video exposing it. In the week since, buzz has been building around how Newport used a baseless copyright threat to try to silence a critic.

The Change the Channels campaign highlights covert consolidation going on in over 80 communities involving 200 stations. It is worth looking into why Newport reacted so strongly to being identified as a covert consolidator. 

Take a look at the Change The Channels covert consolidation map and you’ll see a pattern. Newport has six Shared Services Agreements in place with stations owned by a company called High Plains Broadcasting. Coincidence?  Unlikely.

Here’s how Newport used covert consolidation tactics to maintain control of TV stations it acquired from mega conglomerate Clear Channel Communications. In 2006, Clear Channel announced plans to sell all of its 42 TV stations. Providence Equity Partners, a $22 billion "global private equity firm," created a new company to acquire and manage the Clear Channel stations. That is how Newport Television was born

The acquisitions placed Newport in violation of the FCC’s media ownership limits in six media communities. But Newport found a way to maintain control over the stations, notwithstanding the FCC’s rules.

Newport sold the six stations to a newly minted company called High Plains Broadcasting (which, not coincidentally, has a permanent board seat for a representative of Newport’s parent, Providence Equity Partners).  In a simultaneous move, Newport and High Plains entered into Shared Services Agreements for all six stations. This “sell to rent” tactic rendered High Plains essentially a just name on the license, while Newport continues to run the stations by controlling programming and operations.

What’s the result of this scheme? Let’s look at Jacksonville's WAWS and WTEV - the two stations who we featured in our video that so upset Newport.

WAWS (the local Fox affiliate) and WTEV (CBS) share content, a single newsroom and reporting staff. Their main website is a joint operation - www.actionnewsjax.com – where you can see their shared news staff and both logos listed at the top. And while WAWS also has it’s own site, the two websites are nearly identical. The only major difference between them is the color schemes.

So what kind of local news do WAWS and WTEV provide? Looking at the joint ActionNewsJax website for Monday, July 11, their "top stories" were; a 16 pound baby born in Texas, an elderly woman killed, a couple fight over the outcome of the Casey Anthony trial, a house fire, and a story about a man who called 911 after seeing a toddler take a sip of beer. Other featured stories on their site included stories like "World's ugliest dog," "trial begins for girl strangled by python," and a "barking cat video".

The Newport/High Plains deal reduces local media competition and diminishes the quality and quantity of independent and diverse TV news sources in places like Jacksonville. What’s more, Newport and its shell company High Plains Broadcasting have made a killing by consolidating newsrooms and undercutting their service to local communities. That’s why they don’t want us shining a spotlight on what they are up to. 

This summer the FCC has an opportunity to close the covert consolidation loophole that lets companies get away with these types of shady deals. Help us keep up the pressure to end covert consolidation.  

 

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good