After standing as a pillar of campus broadcasting for the past 50 years, WUSF-TV will end its production late this year after its license was auctioned off for $18.7 million, the school announced Wednesday.
This move is because the broadcast station didn’t “align with our resources and mission and vision,” said university spokeswoman Lara Wade. “The broadcast TV license was not part of our education mission to continue student success.”
The WUSF public radio stations will not be affected.
Members of WUSF-TV could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.
WUSF-TV has been receiving funding from the university and from private donors through its website, but that funding is one of the aspects still being figured out.
“We announced the sale today, but it will not be finalized until late this year or next year,” Wade said. “We will have more information to share as we go through this process.”
The sale isn’t completely out of left field. It has been in the works since late last year.
In October of 2015, the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) decided to put the station up as part of the Federal Communication Commission’s Broadcast Incentive Auction. Participation in the auction offered two options: either offer up the full broadcasting rights or share channels.
Either way, the auction’s goal was to free up space for cellphone operators to support growing traffic. The BOT decided to keep all options open, but the auction resulted in the university selling all broadcast rights.
“I am not at all convinced that a traditional TV platform has as powerful a future reach as digital content that can be developed and ‘pushed out’ to future generations via rapidly evolving technology platforms,” USF provost Ralph Wilcox said in an email to the university’s chief of staff in fall 2015, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
During a Finance and Audit of the BOT meeting in October 2015, the idea of participating in the auction was first brought up. Nick Trivunovich, vice president of Business & Finance, gave a presentation on the station’s financial situation. At that time, WUSF-TV had been losing money for the past three years and had a $716K loan due in September 2016, according to the meeting’s minutes.
Also during the meeting, the members discussed other potential uses of the building WUSF was housed in, including repurposing it as a video and digital production area for students, or renting the facilities to a local station.
“You have to mourn any loss of a media outlet, and its certainly sad to see that programming in that form go,” Wayne Garcia, associate director of the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications, said. “But it’s understandable as people move more toward digital streaming of products. I think the real question for us in the mass comm school is going to be ‘so what does that mean for studio space and studio collaborations?’
“Is that space going to be used for academics? Is that space going to be used for some other purpose on campus? I don’t know if that’s going to be in play as something that can be used academically or if it’s just going to be repurposed entirely. We’re going to have to hear about that from the BOT and the provost.”
Most of those aspects are up in the air.
The closure impacts 22 employees, according to Wade, but the university plans to try to find other options for them. Additionally, before the doors close, the university will figure out what’s going to happen to the equipment and programming.
For Garcia, the price that the station sold for was the biggest shock.
“I think the biggest disappointment that was our reaction across the faculty was the price because that’s a much lower number than everyone was talking about,” Garcia said. “The cost of simply even updating WUSF’s studio facilities to state of the art, from my understanding, it is quite a bit of money. I’m not sure that the sale price would even cover upgrading.”
According to the Times, original projections had the station potentially selling for $349.2 million to be taken completely off the air.
Chris Griffin, student body president and member of the BOT, wasn’t part of the decision to put the station up for auction since it was before his time on the board, but he’s not convinced this is the end for the station.
“I think we (SG and the BOT) will definitely be reaching out to the new owners to try to secure future partnerships with them,” Griffin said. “They wanted to buy WUSF, so they obviously see the potential in it, and I’m sure that they’re interested in continuing some of our great partnerships and hopefully they’re interested in making new partnerships.”
Additional reporting by Breanne Williams and Chelsea Grosbeck