The shiny new television station installed this year at the University of Georgia has been a spectacular commercial failure. The Red and Black reports that WNEG, which moved its operations from Toccoa to a new studio at the Grady College of Journalism, may have to pull the plug on all its operations by September.
From the Red and Black:
Following months of declining revenue and a growing deficit, the station faces the real possibility of being taken off the air mere months after it started programming from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. WNEG has already burned through most of a five-year, $5 million grant and could “hit the brick wall” by September if woeful economic trends continue.
“It all depends on what happens in between now and then,” said Michael Castengera, manager of the station now housed on the bottom floor of Grady College. “Then we’ll have to decide the next steps.”
“We’ve been in Athens effectively since January 1, and it takes time to reorient,” said Culpepper “Cully” Clark, dean of Grady College. “With all the factors, the cash has burned much quicker than we thought.”
With a fiscal year 2010 operating expense of $1.8 million and a projected annual revenue of $800,000 — which merely covers the $786,000 in staffing salaries — the station will incur a deficit of $1 million. The deficit will be drawn from what’s left of the grant.
The Red and Black reports that WNEG’s financial woes are rooted in poor advertising sales. The TV station is based in a tiny market in Northeast Georgia, whose major cities are Athens, Gainesville and Toccoa. WNEG also lacks affiliation with any major TV network.
WNEG has a small full-time staff to produce UGA-based newscasts. Grady students also produced content for the newscasts, making UGA one of three universities in America with a commercial TV station at its disposal for journalism students. For students seeking careers in TV news, work at a “real” TV station is a big plus on the resume.
The Red and Black reports that WNEG had hoped to land programming contracts with the UGA athletic department to broadcast sports like gymnastics. But in 2009, the Athletic department signed a big contract with another provider.
In the same issue, the Red and Black’s editorial board calls for the University to shut down WNEG. Which would be a damned shame.