Consolidation mania in the media business will continue to impact Buffalo's television and radio markets, but whether the effects will be positive or negative for consumers all depends on who you ask.
One of the most visible changes is likely to be the debut some time this year of Western New York's first 10 p.m. television newscast. The company that owns WKBW-TV (Channel 7) plans to buy WNGS-TV (Channel 67) for $23 million and is finalizing plans to launch a local 10 p.m. newscast, probably by the end of the year.
Bill Ransom, general manager of WKBW, said the company is moving forward with a concept that was initially floated as "an idea under consideration" two months ago.
"It's definitely on the drawing board. It's going to happen in 2000," Ransom said of the planned newscast.
But Lee Coppola, dean of the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University, said it remains to be seen whether the plan will genuinely enhance the region's news menu.
"I think a 10 p.m. newscast could be very successful here," said Coppola, a former television and newspaper reporter. "But if it's just the same stuff that's churned out for Channel 7's 11 p.m. newscast using the same people, then what's the use?"
But Ransom insisted that the newscast on Channel 67 will have its own staff and will be more than just an early version of "Eyewitness News."
"There will be some cross-pollination between the two stations, but there will separate anchors, producers, editors and other staffers for the 10 p.m. newscast," Ransom said.
Granite's decision to buy Channel 67 is made possible by the federal government's new duopoly rule which allows a group to own two stations in one market as long as there are enough alternative voices in the market.
Ransom and other industry insiders have argued that duopolies and other types of consolidations in the media arena offer opportunities to buy better programming, make technical improvements and even take some "creative" chances with programs or formats.
But Coppola and other critics of consolidation don't see the merger mania as being a long-term benefit to consumers.
"It makes it more likely that all the decisions will be made by the people who control the purse strings and not by those who are responsible for overseeing the journalistic side of things," said Coppola. "I'm worried it could mean a further dilution of journalism."
The trend toward consolidation is even more pronounced in radio, where the Buffalo market is now dominated by three media chains with corporate headquarters outside the region.
A month ago, Entercom Communications Corp. took over six Buffalo radio stations as part of a larger acquisition. The fast-growing suburban Philadelphia company paid the Sinclair Broadcast Group of Baltimore $821.5 million for 43 radio stations that are scattered across the country.
Sinclair continues to own Fox affiliate WUTV (Channel 29) on Grand Island, but it recently scuttled plans to purchase WNEQ-TV (Channel 23) from the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association. Channel 23 is back on the selling block and Donald J. Boswell, association president, is hopeful that the new federal duopoly rule will make the station a more valuable commodity.
Entercom now operates Buffalo radio stations WBEN-AM, WGR-AM, WWKB-AM, WKSE-FM, WMJQ-FM and WWWS-AM. It is currently in the process of moving the stations to an Amherst office park, the first time that they will all be under one roof. In the past, Sinclair operated the stations out of three separate buildings.
Late last fall, Mercury Radio Communications announced plans to sell five Buffalo radio stations to Citadel Communications Corp., a publicly traded company based in Las Vegas. Citadel has agreed to buy WEDG-FM, WGRF-FM, WHTT-FM and WMNY-AM from Buffalo Broadcasting Partners LLC. As part of the proposed sale that is awaiting final approval from federal regulators, Citadel would also acquire WHLD-AM, a station that is licensed to Niagara Falls and located in Grand Island.
The third major player in the Buffalo radio market is Infinity/CBS Radio, which owns five local stations.
While Coppola said it's too soon to assess the impact of the recent ownership changes, he expressed concern in general about the affects of consolidation in the media industry.
"It's the same thing that has been happening in broadcasting for years," Coppola said. "Companies move into a market, suck the profits out of stations, then sell them."