NBC is in the process of buying 88 percent of KUTV-Ch. 2.

The big question is - why?When Fox bought KSTU a few years ago, the reasoning was fairly obvious. The fourth network was built almost entirely on weak UHF stations, and when a strong VHF Fox affiliate went up for sale, the network was interested.

There's no such incentive for NBC in Salt Lake City. The network has plenty of VHF affiliates - not to mention six VHFs it owns.

According to NBC Television Stations President John Rohrbeck, there are two reasons NBC is buying KUTV. First, the "dynamic growth of the population and the economy" in this area.

But while this is indeed a growing market, it's still only No. 37 - extremely small for a network owned-and-operated station.

(It's absolutely mind boggling that a market this size has not one but two network O&Os.)

Rohrbeck's second reason was "the synergy we hope can exist between this station and the station we own in Denver."

Which could make sense. With KCNC in Denver, the two stations have the Rockies largely covered.

(But then, do Salt Lake viewers care about what's going on in Denver, and vice versa?)

Although Rohrbeck downplayed the importance of securing another station in these times when Fox's raids on other networks have put the affiliate situation in flux, NBC President and CEO Robert C. Wright made it a point to mention that "the strategic importance of our owned-and-operated stations has never been greater" in the official announcement of the purchase.

So securing a part of its distribution system undoubtedly played a part in NBC's decision.

And, while they won't say so publicly, NBC would not have been interested in KUTV before all these affiliate switches began.

THE EMPLOYEES: KUTV employees have been told their jobs are secure. Rohrbeck said, "We certainly are not coming into this expecting to make reductions" in the work force.

But don't be surprised to see some changes. NBC will assign somebody to oversee the money at KUTV. (NBC is owned by those notorious bean counters at General Electric, after all.)

In off-the-record conversations, NBC officials indicated they'll be evaluating the station - and production company TeleScene - in the coming months. And there may be changes in management.

THE VIEWERS: Will the viewers notice any difference with NBC in control of KUTV?

Probably, but not dramatic differences.

There may be some changes in the KUTV news product - although don't expect anything overwhelming. They will almost certainly evolve over time.

You will see more of the network's programming and a lot fewer local pre-emptions. (KUTV won't be pulling NBC's shows for a movie or for things like Billy Graham crusades.)

It won't be long before "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" will air at 11:35 p.m., right after "The Tonight Show." (KUTV does have a contract with a syndicator so that may not happen immediately, but it's going to happen.)

But, overall, local viewers aren't going to be greatly impacted by the ownership change.

THE COMPETITION: There's been some consternation among employees at KUTV's competitors here in town that the purchase by NBC will somehow change the balance of power and make Ch. 2 dominant in the ratings.

That would not appear to be an immediate concern.

Of the six stations NBC already owns, only one - KCNC in Denver - is No. 1 in its market. The other five are either second or third.

Ironically, long-time local TV titan KSL now finds itself competing with three stations that all have considerably stronger backing than Ch. 5's owners, Bonneville. NBC owns KUTV, Fox owns KSTU, and United/Chris-Craft - a powerhouse station group that's launching a network with Paramount - owns KTVX.

And that puts KSL at a disadvantage in things like buying synidicated programming, which the others can do with the clout of their ownership groups. KSL and sister station KIRO in Seattle don't have that clout.

On the other hand, the NBC-KUTV deal kills the possibility of any affiliate swaps here, meaning KSL will remain with CBS.

UTES ON KUTV: The change in ownership apparently won't affect Ch. 2's long-running relationship with the University of Utah.

Rohrbeck said that other NBC O&Os pre-empt network programming for college and pro sports, so Ch. 2 will be able to do the same for Runnin' Ute football and basketball games.

That's different from Fox's policies, which prohibit its owned stations to pre-empt network programming for sports and strongly discourages its affiliates from doing so.

(That's why KSTU no longer broadcasts Utah Jazz games.)

BIG SECRET: NBC officials refused to divulge the purchase price for KUTV, although it's hardly a state secret. Or even a secure one.

When the network files papers with the Federal Communications Commission, which must approve the sale, the price will become part of the public record.