GCI Buys 3 Alaska Television Stations

GCI is purchasing three television stations: KTVA in Anchorage, KATH in Juneau, and KSCT in Sitka.

The company says it’s the first of potentially more media buys.

David Morris is vice president at GCI. He says the deal has been in the works for about a year.

“This is all positioning for the way the industry is trending any way in terms of the technology in the way people access information,” Morris said.

Few doubt that.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that advertising revenue for local television stations declined in 2011, but ad revenue on mobile devices – like iPads and Kindles – spiked 23 percent that year.

Companies want to advertise where the viewers and readers are and, more and more, that’s on mobile devices.  Morris says for now the company will continue to focus on the telecoms side of the business for now, though the company expects to move further into the t-v market in the future.

“There will be other affiliates and other stations that might be thinking about working a deal,” Morris said. “We certainly saw that when we got into the cable business back in 1996.”

“As soon as we made the acquisition there were a number of smaller cable companies that were interested in acquisition.”

Morris would not say whether GCI initiated the purchases. Nor would he say whether there would be layoffs at the stations. The company is bringing in former KTUU news director John Tracy to oversee the transition in the newsrooms.

Brian Stelter is a media reporter for the New York Times.  He says there’s a national trend of media consolidation at the local level.

“We’ve seen across the country groups of stations being bought up by owners, which over time limits the number of voices in a given market,” Stelter said. “This has been going on for years, and it’s worrisome to media watchdog groups that say that they like more independence on the airwaves.”

Also worrisome to some, Stelter says, is what it means for ad rates.

“Any time we say a company buying up more companies, trying to consolidate its business, it brings up questions whether they’re trying to have preferential advertising rates, whether they’re trying to make it easier and better to work with them as opposed to their competitors,” Stelter said.

GCI’s David Morris says the company would not receive preferential treatment on the stations it will soon own.

Stelter says GCI’s jump into TV is certainly a smart business move. People still rely on television for local news.

“Increasingly though, they’re going to be getting their news from the Internet and mobile devices, and GCI has arms in all of those areas,” Stelter said. “You can imagine a future where these local television stations are streamed to mobile phones that are also provided by GCI.”

And that, Stelter says, could me a model for other telecom companies in markets across the country.

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