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Fargo NBC affiliate to swallow CBS station’s programming after FCC ruling

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FARGO — The NBC affiliate television station here is putting the CBS affiliate on one of its digital subchannels in the wake of a controversial Federal Communications Commission decision.

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KXJB’s programming will be transferred to KVLY in the coming months and will broadcast as one of KVLY’s multicast channels; but 90 percent of viewers won’t even notice the change, said Jim Wareham, president of Valley News Live.

Wareham said cable and satellite customers will see no change, and those who get TV over the air via antenna will be able to find KXJB on channel 11.2 instead of channel 4 if they reset their devices.

“Nine in ten people will never know anything has happened,” Wareham said in a phone interview Friday.

“It would be our expectation that consumers won’t see any change whatsoever,” said Kevin Latek, senior vice president of business affairs for Gray Television, KVLY’s owner.

Gray said the decision is caused by the FCC’s new restrictions on collaboration between TV stations.

Shared service and joint sales agreements, or SSAs and JSAs, previously allowed two stations to share an office and sell advertising together, thereby reducing costs. KVLY and KXJB operated under such agreements until the FCC put an end to them in late March, saying they stifled competition.

Latek said KXJB’s programming will be swallowed by KVLY because operating independently without agreements is not financially viable.

The proposed deal gives “Gray Television ... a greater share of local advertising revenue,” according to a statement last month by FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly, who oppose the ban on JSAs. “Are these the victories for competition that critics of sharing agreements were hoping to see?”

“Without the JSAs, the determination was made that one of the two stations would not be profitable to operate, and that’s why it’s going dark,” said Matthew Berry, a spokesman for Pai.

Wareham said the term “going dark” doesn’t apply here, since KXJB programming will continue to be available and few will tell the difference.

Two local TV providers confirmed that the CBS affiliate would not be disappearing from customers’ TV sets in light of this change.

“My guess is that we will continue carrying CBS programming,” said Tom Simmons, senior vice president of public policy at Midcontinent Communications, a cable provider.

Satellite provider DirectTV said it “will continue to work with Gray to successfully transition the channels if the transfer is approved.”

CableOne could not be reached for comment, and Dish said it is not “aware of planned changes for local stations in Fargo.”

“Most cable operators are providing multicast channels,” said Robert Folliard, an FCC attorney with Cooley, LLP, which represents Gray. Cooley also represents Forum Communications Co., which owns Forum News Service.

With KXJB’s move along the digital spectrum, new programming may soon come to Fargo. Gray wants to transfer KXJB’s FCC license to a school, religious institution or minority broadcaster at a low price in an effort to “expand diversity in broadcast ownership,” Latek stated in a news release.

David Honig, president of Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, has been tapped by Gray to find that new owner.

He said over-the-air digital antenna users will hopefully only see channel 4 go dark for a short period of time, between KXJB programming’s move to KVLY’s subchannel and the sale of the FCC license to a new owner.

Once a buyer is found, Honig said, customers will gain a “new station … and its subchannels, and that’ll all be new.”

“That’s the good news,” he said.

Gray has been consolidating stations in other parts of the state.

Programming that used to appear independently on KNDX in Bismarck and KXND in Minot are now broadcast as subchannels of two Gray-owned stations, according to the FCC statement by Pai and O’Reilly.

When Gray bought five North Dakota stations last November, it wanted to continue existing SSAs and JSAs. Gray bought KVLY from Hoak Media, and Excalibur Broadcasting was supposed to buy KXJB from Parker Broadcasting. That way, Gray and Excalibur could continue the existing partnership between the two stations.

But the FCC’s ban on collaborative agreements changed those plans. In response, Excalibur declined to purchase KXJB.

Its original plan having disintegrated, Gray announced June 13 it would place KXJB programming on a KVLY digital subchannel.

Honig said the FCC has not addressed media companies’ use of multicast channels to broadcasting programming from various major networks.

“It kind of left that loophole in the rules,” Honig said.

The Gray-owned stations in Bismarck and Minot now each provide both NBC and FOX programming. In Fargo, Gray will provide both NBC and CBS programming.

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