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Hearst agrees to pay $220 million for Waterman’s WBBH-TV

The transaction is one of the largest for a single television station in American history.

The transaction is one of the largest for a single television station in American history.

The front façade of the Waterman Broadcasting building in Fort Myers, Florida. (Courtesy photo, Graphic by The Desk)
The front façade of the Waterman Broadcasting building in Fort Myers, Florida. (Courtesy photo, Graphic by The Desk)

Waterman Broadcasting agreed to sell its only television station to Hearst Broadcasting for $220.5 million this week, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

The purchase price for Fort Myers-based WBBH (Channel 20, NBC) is one of the largest transactions for a single television station in American history.

It effectively ends Waterman as a company, with ownership of WBBH and operational control of Fort Myers ABC affiliate WZVN (Channel 7, ABC) expected to move to Hearst later this summer. Hearst has the option to acquire WZVN outright from licensor Montclair Communications for an additional $4.4 million, the documents showed. If the company doesn’t exercise this option, WZVN will continue to be operated under the previous shared services agreement that saw Waterman effectively control all aspects of the station.

The purchase price and ancillary details of the transaction between Waterman and Hearst were first reported Thursday by Gulf Shore Business.

Steve Pontius, the executive vice president and general manager at Waterman, told Gulf Shore Business the company settled on Hearst as a buyer because it’s a private company that has “the highest journalistic standards.”

“It’s a bittersweet time,” Pontius said. “We’re passionate broadcasters. We love Southwest Florida. We really do. We have one opportunity to get this right, and we’re confident we did.”

The sale of WBBH effectively leaves the Fort Myers market with just two locally-owned station: WINK-TV (Channel 11, CBS) and WXCW (Channel 46, CW) are owned by Fort Myers Broadcasting Company. The market’s Fox affiliate, WFTX (Channel 4), is owned by the E. W. Scripps Company.

The closure of Waterman comes six years after the death of Bernie Waterman, one of the company’s co-owners. His wife, Edith Waterman, has operated the company since his passing. Pontius said she wanted to find “the best buyer possible,” and Hearst has privately affirmed that it will continue to employ the same staff at WBBH and WZVN once the transaction closes.

The deal between Waterman and Hearst won’t shatter any records for the highest price paid for a single television station — that honor goes to a deal involving Los Angeles station KCAL (Channel 9), acquired by Viacom (now Paramount Global) from Young Broadcasting in 2002 for $650 million.

The final amount Hearst pays for WBBH could also go down by the time the deal closes. The deal includes stipulations that Waterman will continue repairing damage to WBBH’s broadcast tower and property, which total over $153,000.

The actual amount Hearst will pay Waterman for the station will be finalized two days before the closing date.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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