Unions oppose Tegna-Standard General deal

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Two major broadcast unions have filed petitions to stop or delay Standard General’s purchase of Tegna’s TV stations.

NewsGuild and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) have both asked the FCC to halt the acquisition so that more data and information can be gathered.

The documents were filed on the last day for such objections to be filed, June 22, 2022.

A key bone of contention is that the complex structure of the deal that the unions claim is a way to “game the Commission’s ownership and retransmission consent rules in ways that contravene the Commission’s public interest standard.”

The Standard General deal is being backed by Apollo Global Management, which already controls Cox Media Group, another TV station ownership group.

The company said it had no plans to attempt to coordinate retransmission negotiations with pay-TV companies and that no shared management agreements have been made between the two groups.

Another inevitable fear is staff cuts at local stations in an effort to make the stations more profitable, but Standard General CEO Deb McDermott previously said the company does not plan on any staff reductions at stations or newsrooms following the transaction.

“To the contrary, we expect to compete vigorously in all markets, which will require continued investment in local journalism and newsgathering operations,” she wrote in a memo to employees, pointing out that one station she led after a sale saw a 28% increase in staff.

She also pointed to the $25 million Standard General owners have invested in its existing 10 markets in the past 18 months, though it’s not clear how much of that was in staffing or salaries.

Overall, many of Standard General’s pledges appear to be carefully worded, emphasizing “investments” in stations without really identifying if those would be in staffers or one-time capital expenses such as technology upgrades.

When addressing possible staff reductions, the company said it does not intend to make changes in that area following the transaction, which is a bit of a vague statement that’s hedged by conditional words such as “plan,” “intend” and “following” that would, at least from a semantic standpoint, allow the company to make “unintended” or “unplanned” cuts down the road at a time that did not immediately follow the purchase.

Such language is not uncommon when companies are planning mergers and acquisitions and, to some degree, are necessary because, ultimately, no one really knows what staffing adjustments may need to be made as market conditions shift and a merged companies begin operating as one.

However, often one of the biggest advantages of combining two companies is perspective cost-savings that, in turn, can deliver bigger returns to investors and shareholders. Reducing headcount is often one of the most effective ways to do this, since employee salaries represent an ongoing expense as opposed to, for example, equipment upgrades that, while pricey, are typically a one-time investment.

Many TV station group deals have been backed by similar statements from executives only to have staff cut down the road by either eliminating positions or pooling resources such as graphic design and master control, which is widely viewed as being a more cost-efficient way to fulfill stations’ needs with less staffers than having designers or operators at every station, for example.