Will New Sister Stations Denver7, KOAA Downsize?

KOAA-TV News5 in Colorado Springs will soon be a sister station of Denver7.
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KOAA-TV News5 in Colorado Springs will soon be a sister station of Denver7.
Denver7 will soon have a new sister station, thanks to the purchase of KOAA-TV News5 in Colorado Springs by its owner, E.W. Scripps. But while Scripps isn't sharing plans related to the buy yet, KOAA's general manager is touting the opportunity to share news content between the outlets — and if other sharing follows, downsizing could, too.

Late last month, Minnesota-based Cordillera Communications revealed that it would sell fifteen of its sixteen stations, including KOAA, to Scripps; the sixteenth, an outlet in Tucson, Arizona, was picked up by Quincy Media. In a statement, Cordillera president Terry Hurley stressed that the deal would be good for staffers at the assorted signals, saying, "The two buyers represent the best possible scenario: They are poised to grow the stations and empower them to compete in this changing media landscape, and, more importantly, they will provide a great home and opportunities for the dedicated employees of Cordillera."

After the announcement, we reached out to Dean Littleton, vice president and general manager for Denver7. In response, we received a statement from Brian Lawlor, president of local media for Scripps. "This deal will require approval from the FCC and DOJ [Department of Justice], which will take several months," Lawlor wrote. "We would not expect this deal to close until sometime in the first quarter. For competitive reasons, we prefer not to discuss our plans for the station publicly until a time much closer to our ownership of the station."

The Scripps acquisitions come toward the end of a year that began with the company embarking on what a January 2018 TV News Check post described as "comprehensive restructuring and cost reductions expected to yield more than $30 million in annual cost savings." The plan involved the sale of its 34 radio stations (the last of them were unloaded in August) and layoffs aimed in part at "eliminating duplication of services at their TV stations like graphics and traffic, but with an effort to avoid any in newsrooms."

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Former E.W. Scripps CEO Rich Boehne at the press conference announcing the closure of the Rocky Mountain News in February 2009. Today, Boehne is chairman of the Scripps board.
Photo by J. Knight
The Cordillera move suggests that Scripps is focusing even more on its television properties, a process that's been under way for at least a decade. Scripps was once primarily a newspaper company, but the firm shut down its Denver tabloid, the Rocky Mountain News, in February 2009, and spun off the rest of its newspaper properties into a separate company, Journal Media Group, in 2014. Two years later, JMG was acquired by Gannett. Now, the radio stations are gone, too.

As for KOAA, president and general manager Evan Pappas is bullish on becoming part of the Scripps family. "Cordillera Communications remained committed to finding a buyer that fit our culture, ethical standards, commitment to quality news and community service and placing our valued employees in the hands of a company that cares for its employees as both these companies do," he notes via email. "They did that in committing to Scripps. If we can't work for Cordillera any longer, Scripps is as close to a perfect match as they come."

After the deal is finalized, Pappas expects the station to "continue on same path with number one news ratings, number one sales revenues results for clients, and THE place to work in town. Scripps offers us advancements in programming, cutting edge digital products and more resources for news content. We are all very excited over what will develop over the next twelve months to service all involved in this transition. Scripps has advanced systems for most broadcast departments while ensuring localism. We are going to be working for another dedicated news and information broadcaster on all platforms. This acquisition is also of great benefit to share news content, not only with the entire Scripps portfolio, but especially here in Colorado with KMGH/The Denver Channel."

Pappas is hoping to stay with KOAA after regulators give their blessings, and presumably the 100 current employees at the station feel likewise. But phrases such as "eliminating duplication of services at their TV stations" have an ominous ring.