NBCU: Miami, Hartford O&Os For Sale

Station groups with multiple NBC stations have been frustrated for some time by the network's lagging prime-time performance, which chips into their own revenues. But recently, while acknowledging their concerns, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker suggested that NBCU isn't exactly immune to the struggles, considering it operates stations in major markets itself.

On Wednesday, the company said it will sell two of its owned-and-operated stations, reducing its exposure to any uncertain prime-time performance, as well as a business undergoing rapid change. In an internal memo, the NBCU executive who oversees the O&Os said the Miami and Hartford, Conn. outlets would be put on the block.

Assuming a sale takes place, NBCU will have unloaded six stations in the last two years. Its portfolio will still include O&Os in the country's six largest DMAs, as well as the ninth. And it plans to keep its O&O in San Diego--the 27th DMA--to maintain a strong position in California, with outlets also in Los Angeles and San Francisco.



Miami is the 16th-largest market, and Hartford is the 29th.

The local station business has seen growth slow recently--partly because top-grossing programming, the late local news, is losing relevancy. Many potential viewers are well-versed in the news, since they surf the Internet. National spot sales also appear to be slowing; plus, there is competition from so other media outlets, although competing local newspapers are struggling.

NBCU has tried to transform its station business into a local-media linchpin for advertisers, offering ad opportunities stretching from commuter trains to stadiums to health clubs. Unlike local broadcast, the out-of-home market is growing at a healthy clip.

In that vein, NBCU has created a local media group with John Wallace as president. "We're in the process of re-engineering the way we think, shifting our focus from a traditional stations' business to becoming full-service local media production centers," he said in the memo.

Wallace said new initiatives, such as moving into out-of-home and other digital arenas, "need to be self-funded," implying that the sales will give it flexibility there.

NBCU might have been able to command a higher premium for the stations had it sold them early last year, when flush private-equity firms were paying top dollar. It's unclear how the troubled credit markets will affect the sale price going forward.

NBCU owns 80% of the Dallas (fifth-largest DMA) and San Diego stations--with station group LIN TV controlling the remaining 20%.

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