Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Negative Energy


You cannot make this stuff up. Separate sources tell NewsMcNabb that Eric Lassburg, president and general manager of KXAN TV (NBC), KXAM TV (NBC), and KNVA TV (CW), the weekend before last, escorted a woman through the TV station in downtown Austin. She was said to be looking for sources of positive and negative energy.

KXAN TV, solidly in a ratings war with Belo’s KVUE TV (ABC), must be looking for answers. The important May sweeps period is well underway. TV stations can throw out certain nights, asking Neilson not to consider them. KXAN may well choose last night, Monday, May 11th at 6 p.m. There was “negative energy”. Once again, the station’s automated system, called “Ignite”, failed them. They were unable to begin the newscast. Instead, producers frantically called on weatherman Jim Spencer to bail them out once again. Much of Spencer’s weathercasts are based on computers separate from those in the control room.

I do not have the rating numbers from last night. For all I know, the audience may have hung around, transfixed on a train wreck. How long, however, will people watch a train wreck? Anchor Robert Hadlock apologized Tuesday (May 12, 2009) on Facebook, “Hoping our technical problems [are] solved for our 10PM news tonight. Last night was ‘rock and roll’!”

Looking for “evil”? Find it in LIN (TVL) Television’s annual report. LIN TV owns KXAN, KXAM, and KNVA TVs. “We will continue to automate our master control operations. In addition, many of our studios are fully-equipped with robotic cameras that are programmed with hundreds of shots,” said Vincent L. Sadusky, LIN TV chief operating officer based in Providence, Rhode Island in the recently received annual report. “We have reduced LIN TV’s headcount (people) by 11% in the last four years, while building our digital teams and improving the quality of our local news product,” Sadusky continues. “Our goal is to produce more news on a 24/7 real-time basis for our web, mobile, and TV outlets, using fewer resources.” (I have written before about “Doing More With Less”.)

It was that automated system Sadusky lauded that failed. One of my axioms is that information is not news until it is published. KXAN’s systems had a hard time publishing last night. (I have a lot of friends at KXAN where I worked for 16 years before leaving as managing editor in 2005. If I were still there, I would have been throwing things.)

LIN TV does not expect the financial sun to shine soon. According to the annual report, “We expect decreased demand in advertising categories…in 2009. These developments are likely to result in decreased revenues and weaker results of operations for us, and, if they persist, and if we are unable to offset the decreased revenues by additional cost savings, could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and cash flows.”

The above statement mentioned “additional cost savings”. Interpret that as cuts. Elsewhere, in a recent LIN TV news release, the company said, “Given the state of the economy and the level of uncertainty in predicting advertising revenue, the Company has defined a series of further cost reduction actions that the Company could potentially enact and largely realize during the remainder of 2009.”

How could those cost savings be manifest? The answer may be in a recent Security and Exchange Commission filing: “Our further cost reduction actions may include, among other things, decreases in headcount, salaries, and related benefits, reductions of business travel and advertising expenditures, and the sale of certain non-strategic assets.”

Further LIN has considerable debt, although it has been successful in reducing that debt over the past few years. The recession, however, may be a game-changer. LIN is now saying that it may need to restructure its still heavy debt. Earlier this year, the LIN stock came close to being “de-listed”. The stock has been improving lately.

In the middle of the May Sweeps, however, this is “bad energy”.

LIN TV owns and operates or programs 27 full power television stations in 17 mid-sized markets. Austin is the nation’s 49th market.

(Note: Eric Lassburg, president and general manager of KXAN TV was contacted in two emails concerning separate aspects of this report. Mr. Lassburg did not respond.)

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

Jim, you've made my day! Anytime I get news of LIN TV going down in flames is going to be a good day.

After the crap LIN pulled last year with the satellite and cable providers, I hope they crash and burn.

Clearly they continue to attempt to strong arm providers in their markets and to expect satellite and cable providers to bear the burden of their poor management and large debt is unexceptable. I *USED* to be a religious viewer of KXAN, but after LIN TV's crap of last year, I've moved to KVUE and have no intention of going back any time soon.

Lassberg is a tool. To hear he pulled this just furthers that standing.

Bowman said...

Well, I was glued to the "train wreck" and couldn't tune away, despite the very major lead of the day.
Mainly because I worked hard in that news room for 5 years, many many years ago, and still find it a little personal despite the distance...
Producing a perfect, or even smooth newscast in any "epoch" requires the merging of hundreds of different elements. Was there good planning combining both reactive and original elements? Did the video unfold and get back for editing in time? Did everything get cut? Did the Anchors get what they needed to write salient intros? Did the crews get swamped with low grade spot news that had promise? Did anyone call in sick? etc.
Then there is the "technical" world that serves, but is not controlled by the newsroom.
The chain starting at the lense all the way to the transmitter is the realm of the Engineering department. I'm sure the video servers, and everything else in the automated systems fall to them to keep up and running.
Trust me, the Engineers often don't know and care even less what is "on" content wise. They are concerned with the physical plant and equipment operation. They, and the machinery, do an incredible job, most of the time. And so does the entire 36 news staff.
It's unfortunate that the newsroom and the on air
component will look bad or even get the blame when some black box "goes South". Happens.
Incidently, the split between "on air" producing and Engineering goes back to the 1865 Paris ITU conference. There had been some problems where telegraph lines crossed borders between countries and messages were handed off to the next system. Until then the Engineers had been responsible for the "content". It was decided to split the two functions and have both full time "operators" and "engineers". I'm sure adding positions was costly, but in the interest of smooth operation it certainly worked. Imagine that.
I'd suggest a paper print out of the news cast script always be ready, and be ready to stand the anchors out in the parking lot by a live truck if all else fails. That's how we used to do it down on MLK...

Jim McNabb said...

Editor's Note: KXAN President and GM Eric Lassburg has a lot on his platter right now. He did take a moment for a quick response to this post and some additional questions about his interest in the response of water crystals to negative and positive stimuli, specifically a YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkbpXRSIUnE.

"I will relentlessly explore all options and work towards making LIN Austin the happiest, most rewarding, productive and positive work environment possible," Lassburg said.

Also, there is an urban legend that KXAN is built on an Indian burial ground. I heard it when I was there. I think it is just what I called it, an urban legend. Actually, the station is three buildings joined together. For his part, Lassburg said it isn't a factor. "I am not familiar with the Indian burial ground issue."

Jim McNabb