Consolidation seems to be the favored survival tactic throughout the entertainment industry, and public broadcasters are no exception, at least in the U.S., where two New York-area stations appear to be leading the way. Thirteen/WNET (licensed in Newark, New Jersey) and WLIW21 (licensed in Garden City, Long Island) have agreed to merge operations, though each will retain an independent identity. Stella Giammasi, WNET’s VP and director of communications, says the goal of the merger is ‘to save money, expand services and stake a claim to the voice of public television in this market.’
Though the stations have concurred, final approval rests with the Federal Communications Commission and the New York State Supreme Court, which can take anywhere from six to 18 months to hand down a decision. However, neither station anticipates any dissent. Upon approval, the Educational Broadcasting Corporation (WNET’s parent corporation) will become the licensee of both stations.
One of the key advantages to WLIW will be WNET’s assistance in meeting the FCC’s May 2003 deadline for digital conversion. WNET has already made the transition, at an estimated cost of US$30 million. WLIW’s conversion is still in the works, and the station requires an estimated $5 million to $10 million.
As for programming, Giammasi says national production will likely be ramped up, as WNET strengthens its role as a key program provider. However, the agreement includes a commitment from the EBC to invest in production and promotion of WLIW programming for and about Long Island, she adds.
In an interview with the New York Times, WNET chairman Steven Rattner acknowledged that combining operations will result in some redundancies. ‘I’d be less than candid if I didn’t say we hope the combined staff is somewhat smaller than the two have been together.’ He added, however, that the pubcaster hopes to reduce the number of positions through attrition, rather than with layoffs.