WVUE-TV, which is owned by New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, will be entering into a "shared services agreement" with Raycom Media, which owns a chain of 53 TV stations across the southeastern and eastern United States. Terms of the deal — which Raycom calls a "join hands" agreement — were not disclosed, but Raycom will provide "operational services" of station management for Benson's Louisiana Media Company (LMC).
According to LMC President Joe Cook, Benson will retain "100 percent" of the station. "We remain locally owned," he said Nov. 20, the day the deal was announced.
Cook said the arrangement will go into effect Dec. 16, at which time Raycom will oversee "all departments" of WVUE, including appointing a new general manager, a position Cook now holds. He will transition into a full-time position with LMC and be "less involved day to day" with the station. "What there'll be a need for," he said, "is for the president of the company to be one of the LMC employees working for the best interest of Tom Benson."
Asked about possible employee reductions under Raycom, Cook said, "There have been absolutely no discussions about newsroom reductions, and anyone who says that is misinformed."
Raycom has been said to be interested in purchasing WVUE outright. In early October, an internal newsletter produced by Raycom's pension fund controller reported the sale of WVUE to Raycom with extreme specificity — including a dollar amount — a report which WVUE hotly denied. Nevertheless, "strategizing" with Raycom had been going on for two years, Cook said.
Cook said the deal will allow for partnerships that will provide "connectivity of the entire footprint of the two professional teams owned by Tom Benson." In Louisiana, Raycom owns stations in Lake Charles, Shreveport and Baton Rouge, as well as other stations in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle. "This was a no-brainer to develop some kind of relationship with stations all over those areas," Cook said.
Benson bought WVUE from Emmis Communications in 2008 for $41 million. Terms of the agreement between Benson and Raycom are not known. — KEVIN ALLMAN