Nexstar Broadcasting didn't waste much time getting hands-on with its new asset, Quorum Broadcasting. Only three weeks after announcing plans to take control of its sibling station group—both are owned by Boston Equity firm Abry—Nexstar shuttered the newscasts on Quorum's two stations in Billings, Mont. (DMA 170), laying off the 26-person staff that supplied news to both.
ABC affiliate KSVI(TV) and Fox affiliate KHMT(TV) shared staff under an LMA deal. Between them, they aired two hours of news per night: KSVI with half-hour newscasts at 5 and 6 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. weekends and KHMT airing a 9 p.m. half-hour.
Steve Bruggeman, general manager of both, says he has been "terminated" but will remain acting general manager until a replacement can be found.
He conceded that the newscasts hadn't been doing well in the ratings but noted the stations had launched the effort a little over a year ago. He also pointed out that the newscasts had won awards from the Montana Broadcasters and the Associated Press.
But because they were new, he said, "we hadn't picked up the viewers we needed to make a profit."
"Struggled mightily" is how one source put it, the two stations trailing far behind the market's CBS and NBC affiliates, which run No. 1 and 2.
Nexstar Senior Vice President and Regional Manager Brian Jones, who broke the news to the affected staffers, said, "It was very expensive to produce a quality local news. The viewers, unfortunately, didn't embrace it during the last 18 months, and so it was a business decision we made based on the fact that elimination of the expense of producing that news would mean the difference between profit and loss for the television stations."
He called it a market-unique situation and said he is not aware of any plans for news cuts at other Quorum stations. Nexstar, he pointed out, has similar markets that are expanding their news and receiving more resources.