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Hearst to acquire Fort Myers NBC affiliate from Waterman

The deal will see Hearst acquire WBBH-TV and assume control of a shared services agreement for WZVN.

The deal will see Hearst acquire WBBH-TV and assume control of a shared services agreement for WZVN.

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)

Florida-based Waterman Broadcasting has agreed to sell its only television station to Hearst Television, the company announced on Wednesday.

The deal will see Hearst acquire Fort Myers NBC affiliate WBBH-TV (Channel 20), a move that will effectively end Waterman as a company.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The companies said the deal should be completed by the third quarter of this year, assuming it receives the necessary regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other agencies.

As part of the deal, Hearst will also assume control of Fort Myers ABC affiliate WZVN (Channel 7). That station is owned by Montclair Communications and operated by Waterman through a local marketing agreement. Both stations have studios in the same building.

After the deal is complete, WBBH will become a sister station to several other Hearst-owned broadcasters in Florida. Hearst already owns WESH (Channel 2, NBC) and WKCF (Channel 18, CW) in Orlando; WMOR (Channel 32) in Tampa and WPBF (Channel 25, ABC) in West Palm Beach.

“Hearst Television has long admired the leadership of Waterman Broadcasting and WBBH,” Michael Hayes, the chief operating officer of Hearst Television, said on Wednesday. “This success is built upon a dedication to news and community service. We are proud to carry forward the tradition of service Edith Waterman, Steve Pontius and their colleagues have established in Southwest Florida.”

Waterman President Edith Waterman called the decision to sell WBBH and exit the television broadcasting industry “challenging and emotional.”

“We have had the great privilege of proudly serving Southwest Florida for more than four decades,” Waterman said in a statement. “Broadcasting has filled our lives with wonderful relationships and deep ties to our communities. I am so grateful to all the talented and dedicated employees who made our innovative stations pillars of their communities and great places to work and grow over the last 67 years.”

Waterman was formed in the mid-1950 and acquired WBBH in 1979. It began operating WZVN under a shared services agreement in the mid-1990s when that station was owned by Emmis Communications. Both stations maintain separate newscasts and on-air talent, despite being housed in the same building and otherwise sharing broadcast resources.

“Bernie and Edith Waterman have been outstanding stewards of WBBH-TV and the programming relationship with WZVN-TV,” Jordan Wertlieb, the president of Hearst Television, said on Wednesday. “They have served the viewers of Fort Myers and Naples with distinction since 1979. Of course, both stations provided important lifesaving coverage during Hurricane Ian, and have been providing information and updates as the area recovers and rebuilds. We are proud to have been selected to continue the legacy of such distinguished broadcasters.”

“Waterman Broadcasting has always placed paramount importance on local journalism and unwavering service to the community,” Steve Pontius, the executive vice president and general manager of Waterman Broadcasting, said. “Southwest Florida viewers have known for decades that they can Count on NBC2. I am confident that Hearst is the best television broadcaster in America to continue that commitment.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).