The E.W. Scripps Co. broadcasting group based in Cincinnati, Ohio, announced Monday it will buy Waco’s KXXV-TV Channel 25, its first television station in Texas.
Scripps also will buy WTXL-TV in Tallahassee, Florida, in a $55 million deal for the two ABC affiliates. The deal for KXXV includes its KHRD-TV in Bryan. Scripps is buying the stations from Raycom Media, which in June announced it was being bought by Gray Television Inc. in a $3.6 billion transaction awaiting regulatory approval.
Gray Television owns KWTX-TV Channel 10, the CBS affiliate and ratings leader in Greater Waco, so it was legally compelled to part with either KXXV or KWTX. The Federal Communications Commission frowns on one company owning two competing television stations in a single market for competitive reasons and to discourage monopolies, according to Gray Television.
The pending deal between Raycom and Gray would create the third-largest portfolio of stations and markets in the United States, Gray reported.
“Because of the relative market dominance of KWTX, we can’t keep KXXV-TV,” Gray President and CEO Hilton Howell told the Tribune-Herald in June. “We already have fielded four or five calls from interested parties.”
“Scripps’ acquisition of these two stations is in line with the strategic vision we set out early this year: to strengthen our portfolio of local television stations while delivering value to shareholders,” Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson wrote in a press release. “In addition to expanding our household reach and deepening our strong relationship with ABC, this transaction expands our political footprint in key battleground states leading up to the 2020 elections.”
After the deal, Scripps will own 35 TV stations in 26 markets and will reach 18.5 percent of TV households in the United States, according to a report by Markets Insider. The move increases Scripps’ presence in Florida, where it owns stations in Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Tampa, according to the Markets Insider.
KXXV-TV is expecting few, if any, changes at the station, vice president and general manager Eric Duncan said.
“Gray had to divest itself of one station, and we were it,” Duncan said. “Scripps has a solid reputation, and this represents its first dive into Texas. We couldn’t be happier. I had a sit-down with my staff Monday afternoon to discuss the move, and those who have been in the business awhile were excited.”
KXXV-TV has about 90 staffers who cover much of Central Texas, focusing on Bell and McLennan counties and the cities of Waco, Temple, Killeen and Belton, though it occasionally pursues stories in Coryell County, Duncan said.
He said Raycom, based in Atlanta, Georgia, “did a tremendous job of rebuilding the culture” at KXXV-TV, invested in changes to the set where anchors are seated and bought a dozen new vehicles.
“We are striving to become an even larger presence in the community, and if our coverage grows, we could see hiring,” Duncan said.
Broadcasting veteran Ann Harder is perhaps the most recognized talent at KXXV-TV, and Lindsay Liepman, a Mexia High School and Texas A&M University graduate, has become the lead anchor at 6 and 10 p.m., Duncan said.
Scripps has had other ventures in Texas, but KXXV will be its first TV station, spokeswoman Kari Wethington wrote in an email response to questions.
“Scripps had a presence in Texas beginning in the early 1900s with the founding of the Dallas Dispatch, followed by other Texas-based newspapers,” Wethington wrote. “The company no longer owns newspapers, but the commitment to local journalism remains strong in all of the local communities where we do business.”
Bob Lauck, a local advertising executive who buys air time for clients, said changes at KXXV-TV in recent years have impressed him.
“The set changes are attractive. I was given a tour of the studio, and Raycom has performed some impressive groundwork,” Lauck said. “The station has made great strides, but KWTX has set the standard in this market for years.”
KWTX-TV general manager Mike Wright said he welcomes Scripps to Central Texas and respects its reputation in the industry.
“That is what Gray wanted, to sell to someone the quality of Scripps,” Wright said. “But they will have no impact on what we do. We will continue to try to set the bar and hope Scripps does the same. As I told our team, we will work hard to expand our lead, not protect it. We are fortunate to be in this position and we do not take it for granted. We will keep the pedal down.”
Announcement of the buyout follows Scripps’ decision in earlier this month to sell its 34 radio stations for $83.5 million, according to trade magazines.