More changes are coming to Montana’s television news ownership landscape.
Cordillera Communications, which owns CBS affiliate KPAX in Missoula and other stations in Montana’s largest markets, has announced it is selling KPAX and 14 of its stations to the E.W. Scripps Company for $521 million. Scripps is also acquiring KAJJ in Kalispell, KTVQ in Billings, KXXLF/KBZK in Butte and Bozeman, KRTV and KTGF in Great Falls and KTVH and KXLH in Helena.
Terry Hurley, the president of Cordillera, said the company believes that an “evolving broadcast industry” requires an ability to scale for the future. The deal came following an auction that Hurley said generated significant interest from parties across the country. One of Cordillera’s 16 stations was sold to Quincy Media, Inc. to avoid anti-monopoly laws in Arizona.
“The two buyers represent the best possible scenario: They are poised to grow the stations and empower them to compete in this changing media landscape," Hurley said. "And, more importantly, they will provide a great home and opportunities for the dedicated employees of Cordillera."
Bob Hermes, the president and general manager of KPAX, said he sees the sale as "a very positive development" for the station and its staff.
"Cordillera has been a wonderful group to work for the last 31 years and we expect E. W. Scripps to also be an excellent company for our employees and the community," he said in an email. "They are local news focused and community based as we have always been. They have substantial resources and a commitment to broadcasting for the good of the public and I foresee a continuation of the same effort we have always put forth."
In April of 2017, the parent company of local NBC affiliate KECI was purchased by the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group. The third television station in town, ABC/FOX Montana, is owned by Cowles Montana Media.
KPAX also operates KAJ-TV, a Flathead County-based television bureau.
The acquisition grows Scripps’ television station ownership to 51 stations in 36 markets with what they say is a reach of nearly 21 percent of U.S. television households.
Brian Lawlor, the president of local media for Scripps, said the 10 Cordillera markets have about 700 employees.
The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2019.
"In addition to the immediate benefits to our portfolio's operating performance, this deal leaves Scripps with the capability to continue to pursue incremental and transformative deals for television stations," said Scripps president and CEO Adam Symson. "We will continue to pursue all appropriate avenues to enhance the scale and operating performance of our local media portfolio."
Founded in 1878, Scripps is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ: SSP) and also operates a content business called Newsy, a podcast company called Stitcher and is the longtime steward of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.