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Pubcasters WNET, WLIW wed

Gotham station merger is a cost-saving move

Two of the country’s largest public television stations — Thirteen/WNET and WLIW 21 — have agreed to merge operations.

On Tuesday, WLIW’s board of trustees voted in favor of the merger, which WNET’s board approved last week. The deal is awaiting approval from both the Federal Communications Commission and the New York State Supreme Court, which could take up to 18 months.

While the two New York-area stations will retain their distinct public identities, the Educational Broadcasting Corp., Thirteen’s parent, will be the licensee of both stations. WNET has agreed to help WLIW upgrade its digital television capability by the FCC’s deadline of 2003 and to increase funding for its programming.

Without financial assistance from WNET, WLIW would have to pony up between $5 million and $10 million to complete the mandated digital conversion on its own. WNET already has completed the process, at a cost of $30 million-$35 million.

Gov’t encourages mergers

Congress and the Corp. for Public Broadcasting have encouraged public TV stations in overlapping markets to consider pursuing joint operations. As a result, it’s likely there will be a number of similar mergers over the next few years.

“Combining our talents and resources will not only help ensure the future of public television in this area as we now know it, but provide significant new opportunities for growth and development of this media resource,” said Terrel L. Cass, WLIW prexy and general manager, who now will report to WNET prez Bill Baker.

WNET is the country’s most-watched and largest public television station and provides a number of key programs for PBS. WLIW is the fourth most-watched public television station in the U.S., with a weekly audience of 1.7 million households in the New York area.

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