By Merdies Hayes
Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly
Pluria Marshall Jr. has purchased three FOX-affiliated television full-power stations – KLJB-TV in Davenport, Iowa; KMSS-TV in Shreveport, La., and KPEJ-TV in Odessa, Tex. for $58.5 million through his Marshall Broadcasting Group (MBG) – pending Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval.
Marshall, publisher of the Wave Newspaper Group in Los Angeles, was practically reared within a media environment—his father is Pluria Marshall Sr., a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, and in the 1970s formally challenged the dearth of federal broadcast licenses given to minorities when serving as chairman of the National Black Media Coalition.
Though there are Black-owned cable networks, such as Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, there are currently no Black-owned digital television stations, down from 18 n 2006. That would change if the FCC approves the deal.
Under the plan, Marshall’s purchase, Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. will sell three of its stations to Marshall. The deal would require a waiver from the FCC, which voted in March to bar so-called “shared service agreements” where one station provides services (i.e. advertising) for another.
However, when the FCC passed the ban on such arrangements, it added language designed to encourage waivers for joint sales agreements that have long encouraged diversity in media ownership. Nexstar said it would guarantee the loans necessary for Marshall to meet the $58.5 million price tag.
In a statement, Nexstar CEO Perry A. Sook said, “We believe the proposed transaction presents an ideal framework for introducing and incubating a new, minority-controlled entrant to broadcasting, and for bringing additional news, information and specialized programming to MBG’s markets at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Marshall is convinced the deal will go through and that more people in the south, southwest and midwest will soon enjoy a more diverse television experience.
“We are confident on our end that they (FCC) won’t say no,” Marshall said. “Nexstar is working with us because I’m an ‘operator.’ I’ll employ a ‘hands-on’ ethic that will offer a better chance of success than merely someone who is operating these stations from a distance.”
Marshall said his group has answered “all questions” regarding the financial viability of MBG and, as is usually the case, he said, “…they (FCC) will likely have a few more questions, as is the tradition of any federal body.”
Jim Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), told Target Market News, “We have reviewed the application submitted by Marshall Broadcasting Group and Nexstar and are very pleased to see that the transaction appears to be the type of transaction NABOB was hoping to see as a result of the new JSA rule. It appears to be the kind of transaction that should receive a waiver of the rule.”
Winston continued, “We still have some questions about the transaction, and we anticipate that the Commission will seek additional information form the parties about the transaction. We are optimistic that, as additional information is supplied to the Commission, NABOB will be able to wholeheartedly endorse this transaction. As described it represents the type of agreement that could be beneficial to increasing minority ownership of broadcast properties and create increased opportunities for minority-owned content producers and channels.”
Marshall said viewers of the new MBG stations can expect a large degree of local programming. “Obviously, Iowa and Texas will be different than Louisiana and that speaks to our efforts to tailor each station to the demands of the local audience,” Marshall explained. “If there is something missing that we should be aware of, I’ll fill the void. I’m going to be in each town at least once a month; I obviously will have a lot of traveling to do, but that is how I plan on running those stations. I’m a hands-on manager. That’s the only way that I’ve learned to offer the best, most effective product.”
Under terms of the proposed agreement, Marshall’s group will be entitled to a maximum of 70 percent of the revenue from advertising sold by Nexstar on the stations, and the agreement will not provide for any bonus payments to Nexstar for reaching revenue goals. The transaction structure reportedly provides MBG with an incentive to seek the best programming and thus maximize station advertising revenue.
MBG wants to feature an aggregate of 24.5 hours of additional local news and sports programming, “…and more will be developed,” Marshall said.
It also plans to develop minority-oriented public affairs programming (required for an FCC license) specifically tailored for the local audience. These shows will be syndicated to other television stations nationwide. What’s more, Nexstar will add another 13.5 hours of local news and public affairs programming in Shreveport, Odessa-Midland and in Quad Cities (Iowa). “We’re dedicated to full coverage of local news and events important to each community of viewers,” Marshall said.
The road to Black TV ownership has been a rocky one recently.
By December 2013, St. Louis-based Roberts Broadcasting sold its three remaining full-power TV stations to ION Media Networks for about $8 million. Roberts declared bankruptcy in 2012 and its decline stemmed primarily from Viacom’s decision to shutter the UPN network which Roberts was attached to because of its early focus on programming featuring ordinary portrayals of African Americans.
Black conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was in the process of purchasing three television stations from Sinclair Holdings, but deal is likely to fall through in the wake of Sinclair announcing that it plans to surrender the three licenses in order to satisfy FCC concerns over its agreement to purchase a string of television stations from Allbritton.
In a nation where African Americans spend some $45 billion annually on cable-TV service, Blacks reportedly watch about 77.4 hours of television each week, and watch 40 percent more television than any other ethnic group, the paucity of Black-owned television stations has been troubling to many industry observers.
That’s why the Marshall deal is considered so important.
Marshall said he will first go on a “listening tour” of the three markets to develop different programming that is timely, informative, entertaining and, importantly, family oriented. “We want people to watch these shows,” said Marshall, who is also CEO of Equal Access Media Inc. as well as heading the Los Angeles Independent Publications Group. MBG owns the Houston Informer and the Texas Freeman. “These are their stations. It’s their community. What we want our viewers to enjoy a selection of quality programming that will uniquely fit their needs. If we accomplish that, all of the hard work put into these acquisitions will have been well worth it.”