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WBIN-TV sells broadcasting rights for millions, lays off staff

STAFF REPORT
February 17. 2017 10:53AM
Binnie Media headquarters in Concord closed down its television news network, NH1, today. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — WBIN-TV said Friday it “will cease broadcasting in the coming months” after selling its television broadcasting rights to the Federal Communications Commission. News programming will end immediately.

Sources said a majority of the staff was laid off at a meeting on Friday morning, in what they were calling “Black Friday.” There was no warning before their final broadcast on Thursday night, the sources said.

The state has been in contact with human resources at WBIN and will be providing "rapid response" services for those employees affected by the announcement. 

In a statement, the Concord-based company valued the transaction at almost $100 million.

WBIN-TV sold its broadcast rights in an FCC auction for $68.1 million dollars. Additionally, it entered into a channel-sharing sale of its remaining television license rights to a major television group for an undisclosed amount that is estimated by insiders to be an additional $10 million to 30 million, the company said in a news release.

Binnie Media, which purchased the broadcast rights five years ago for $9 million, plans to use the proceeds from the sale to acquire other media assets including digital, outdoor and radio, the company said.

Since the launch of its television news product, WBIN-TV’s ratings have lagged behind other stations in the market, including WMUR-TV in Manchester and several Boston news shows.

“The sale of our television business makes strategic and financial sense. The deal makes WBIN-TV one of the most valuable media properties in the history of New Hampshire media,” said Binnie, president of Binnie Media. “Many of our employees at WBIN-TV and NH1 News will be transferred to our other media businesses. Our commitment to New Hampshire and local news has never been stronger.”

The company owns 19 radio stations as well as outdoor and digital news platforms including NH1.com.

Michael Power, community outreach administrator for "NH Works," the Office of Workforce Opportunity, which leads the state's "rapid response team," said they reached out to WBIN-TV Friday morning. The response services, which are provided free to affected employees, are designed to help employees laid off with the job search process and provide information on unemployment compensation. The team includes officials from New Hampshire Employment Security, NH Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Community College system.

Power said he did not have an estimate on layoffs in connection with the WBIN announcement.

It was not clear how many of the station's TV personnel were let go, and who may stay on with the radio and online operations. The gregarious WBIN-TV anchor was Charlie Sherman, who is on Manchester's police commission. Other on-air reporters include Keke Vencill and Paul Steinhauser, the political director. Steinhauser remains at work - several hours after the TV news operation ceased, Steinhauser Tweeted out an update for a web story on the right-to-work bill that died in the House this week.

Other news observers called the announcement a surprise.

"It certainly comes as a shock," said Scott Spradling, a former anchor and political director at WMUR-TV, who now runs his own consulting and marketing firm in New Hampshire.

Asked to respond to the announcement, Spradling called it "a sad day" in that journalists at WBIN worked hard every shift to put out the best broadcast they could, and that the station was a different TV news option for consumers in the Granite State.

"What we don't know is what is happening at the back end," said Spradling, regarding the deal between Binnie and the unnamed major television group in his announcement.

Stefany Shaheen, a former Portsmouth city councilor and businesswoman who considered running for governor last year, appeared on WBIN panels to discuss the election season. 

"This is disappointing news for the State of New Hampshire and the dedicated team at NH1," said Shaheen, a Democrat. "The elimination of these jobs and another media outlet is a real loss. Hopefully, the addition of this broadband capacity will provide additional coverage and capacity for the North Country."

The FCC holds the "spectrum incentive auction" with the intent to make additional airwaves available for mobile, wireless broadband and address consumer demand, according to the commission. The process is authorized by Congress.

The announcement shows how fluid, and quick-changing, today's media landscape can be, said state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester. "I find it unbelievable, to be honest with you," he said. "Things are going these days at such a pace, it's hard to keep up with them."

Both D'Allesandro and political and public affairs consultant Rich Killion, co-founder of Elevare Communications, remarked that it looks like WBIN-TV is one of Binnie's best investments.

"Binnie is an incredibly smart businessman with the vision and track record to build value and opportunity in enterprises that often require specialized and hard-to-acquire expertise," Killion noted. "The return on his investment is tremendous and removes him from having to worry about a massive (and arguably hopeless challenge) of taking on WMUR in New Hampshire's television broadcast sphere."


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