Merger decision for two Ohio pubTV stations ‘no brainer’
With big overlaps between their signals, the public TV stations in Cincinnati and Dayton have opted to merge.
Cincinnati’s CET and Dayton’s ThinkTV will keep their separate local identities and local facilities.
The two stations had discussed merging for more than two decades, according to execs of both.
“To me it was a no-brainer,” says John Danis, a Dayton construction executive who chairs ThinkTV’s board. “No one came up with a reason not to do it.”
David Fogarty, president of the Dayton station for 15 years, will head the combined operation. CET President Susan Howarth, who also favored the merger, has moved on.
“We were fortunate that we had two very, very qualified people,” Danis told Current. “Susan wanted to do some other things.”
Jack Dominic, chief operating officer at CET, will manage the station until the merger is complete.
It’s the decade’s third major merger between nearby pubTV stations. New York stations WNET and WLIW married in 2001; San Francisco Bay area stations KQED and KTEH combined in 2006.
Fogarty says the stations will move quickly to coordinate the use of their channel capacity for the best service to the region. “We have no lack of services we can put on those channels,” he says.
The two licensees have been going head-to-head with the stronger national programs on CET’s channel and ThinkTV’s two channels. Both of the Dayton licensee’s channels — WPTD in Dayton and WPTO in Oxford, Ohio — reach into the Cincinnati area. WPTO’s new digital signal originates within sight of the Cincinnati station, Howarth says.
Preliminary analysis indicates the stations could free up 50 percent of its broadcast capacity by eliminating duplicative programming, Fogarty says.
Regional mergers also make good use of the two licensees’ special capabilities, he says, such as the Cincinnati station’s extensive online video-on-demand service, CET Connect, developed during Howarth’s term.
He expects to make the combined staff of 95 more productive by reducing redundant work and assigning employees to new services, instead of having layoffs.
This was probably the fourth time the stations had seriously talked merger, Howarth says. For the past year, a committee with five board members from each station had met regularly, according to Fogarty. The boards agreed on the merger in late October and expect to complete the union early next year.
Howarth has “watched with curiosity and admiration” an earlier media merger close at hand: Pubradio station WGUC, located in CET’s building, acquired and now operates a second FM channel, WVXU.
“In many, many communities, there needs to be serious attention paid to the opportunities for mergers and collaborations,” Howarth says.
She wouldn’t advise two stations to merge if that would mean a reduction of local services or local fundraising. But she expects the two stations to continue promoting their own local brands and not their joint name.
“I gave our boards a lot of credit in this,” she adds. “They really did something to help public broadcasting.
Decisions about the membership of the combined board of directors have not been made or even thought about, says Danis. “It’s a big old nonissue,” he says.
One factor favoring the merger is that the two western Ohio cities, 50 miles apart, are growing into a single metro area along north-south Interstate 75, according to Danis. Years ago, when he’d drive down to a Cincinnati Reds game, “we’d drive by a lot of cows,” he recalls. “You don’t drive past any cows now.”
Copyright 2008 American University