Monday, September 21, 2009

What's Up With All the TV Programming Changes?

Local News is Like Beer

Oh, yes, there are several ways to play off of that headline. Let’s take the high road, shall we?

Once upon a time, there was just Budweiser Beer. Bud. That’s it. “I’ll have a Bud.” Nowadays, however, one must be more specific. Do you want a Bud Light? How about some lime? There are other varieties. Why does Budweiser do this? Wasn’t Bud good enough? Well, yes and no. Yes, there were lots of people who just wanted Bud. Competition forced Budweiser to come up with stuff the old brew masters would have never put in a keg.

Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of LIN TV’s (TVL) KXAN-TV, KNVA-TV and KBVO-TV, was not talking about beer in a release announcing the newscast on KNVA TV/CW late last month when he said, “It reflects our ongoing commitment to provide viewers with more options and convenience.” Just think beer instead of TV news. Mr. Lassberg has not commented since then the August release and Michael Fabac, KXAN TV news director says he will not be a source for any stories. They have been asked several times. Fine.

Yeah, it’s about “options and convenience.” It’s also about revenue streams. More about that later.

First, the options: “Beginning Monday, you don't have to stay up late for local news anymore,” the KNVA CW web site says. You have to search for this little tease. It is stashed way down on the right side. KNVA CW is not now known for its news. KXAN TV “Austin News” is the obvious source for the content, and one of its rising stars Shannon Wolfson is the face for the news at 9 p.m. on the CW. She is joined by KXAN’s meteorologist Jim Spencer and sportscaster Roger Wallace.

Ms. Wolfson is an excellent and talented anchor for the younger audience on KNVA. Whether the content is suited for the audience

is another question. Further, will this younger, hip audience hang around for a local newscast after CW programming ends?

Cutting to the chase, Wolfson and her colleagues turned a clean show. She knows her craft and the producer put together good elements. It was not tailored to the CW audience. It was clearly cross-promotion to KXAN “Austin News”. They used the same set. Most of the stories for both newscasts were the same. They sent people to the KXAN web site for more information. Further, it is not direct competition with Fox 7. The KTBC broadcast is an hour long, and the CW newscast is 30-minutes.

There was only one “CW” type of story, one involving an astronaut on the latest shuttle mission and a connection with a future U2 album. Otherwise, it was a standard newscast. Two things stood out: A news set piece fronted by KXAN anchor Robert Hadlock and a newsroom piece from KXAN anchor Leslie Rhode. All three of these things were good. Two of these things were cross-promotion to the KXAN “Austin News” at 10 O’clock.

I couldn’t help but smile when a KXAN 10 p.m. story intro read, “New at 10!” when it was a retread of a story that ran in the 9 O’clock show. Yeah, it was “New at 10”.

Breaking news could be a problem if it requires relocating a live shot in the 30-minutes between the newscasts. From another point of view, running an “exclusive” story at 9 p.m. might be too late for other TV newsrooms to react. Another interesting facet is that the newscast appears opposite the new Monday-Friday Jay Leno show. If he doesn’t deliver a news-viewing audience at 10 p.m., much the same news product might be found on CW at 9 p.m.

At 9 O’clock, KNVA was airing “MyNetworkTV” programming. It appears that the “MyNetworkTV” shows will be shifted to one of their digital channels where it might find its own audience. CW will air reruns of “The Office” following the 9 O’clock news at 9:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

So much for the opening night. Here’s the rest of the story where the Austin audience is concerned:

All of these shifts and changes are attempts to find an audience that will produce potential audiences and, therefore, revenues, something that has been hard to come by for all stations in recent days, although LIN stock has managed to crawl up off of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in recent weeks. Still revenues lag. Some blame some blame the phlegmatic flow of revenue on the recession, but it started long before that. Others blame it on the Internet, yet all of the stations have their own web sites with ads. Are the online ads paying their own way? That’s hard to say. It’s more of a total package approach with new and distinct revenue streams.

So, the Austin audience is being dissected in dozens of different ways.

Sure, there are the traditional network stations still pumping out local news on KEYE TV (CBS), KTBC TV (Fox), KVUE TV (ABC), and KXAN TV (NBC). For the most part everyone goes head-to-head, except for Fox. As of Monday, September 21, 2009, Fox has a competitor at the 9 O’clock hour. KEYE TV abandoned the chase at 5 p.m., opting for an hour-long newscast opposite Oprah and 4 p.m.

Even the 4 O’clock on KEYE is an opportunity for more revenue. The TV station controls the breaks, and every one of the breaks is for sale. It appears that even some of the segments themselves are for sale since they often focus on local businesses and their products. News never was a major emphasis in KEYE’s 4 O’clock.

Soon, KEYE TV.2 will offer news in Spanish as a part of its new programming from Telemundo. Former Morning Anchor Fred Cantu is said to be the local news anchor for these newscasts at 5 and 10 p.m., Monday-Friday. KXAN apparently is planning to launch Spanish programming on a digital channel. KVUE TV.2 began broadcasting programming from Estrella network earlier this month. All of these local stations going after new revenue streams. First, however, they like all of the rest must attract an audience.

And after finding an audience, all of these local programs hope to find a revenue stream. Oh yeah. They’re competing with cable for a slice of the pie.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

Revenue, revenue, revenue. It's broadcastings version of Real Estates Location, location, location. In the "good old days" of limited cable reach and only 3 networks... the revenue poured in like a Texas flood. Now with twice as many networks, hundreds of cable channels, and the internet the revenue has been dammed, and split off so many ways the local affiliates are living in a Texas drought.

It is interesting to see the CW not tailor their show for the audience and instead try to capture folks to add to KXAN... not sure that will work. In other markets I've seen the same set, same anchor team, same reports, but presented in a much more upbeat, quick , and interesting way.

KEYE is for sale. They are obviously about one thing and one thing only. Cash. I would not call the 4pm show news... it's a garage sale. It's sad, but in a strange way up-front and honest, if that's possible. I would like a disclaimer though if in fact all those product placement spots are being sold like they seem to be.

Snowed In said...

I believe KNVA is airing MyNetwork TV programming from 10 to midnight now.

Anonymous said...

Operating a money-making TV news operation is tough business these days. KXAN, like all the other local stations, is doing what it can to boost revenues.

KXAN's parent company, LIN TV, has about $18 million in cash, a $225 million in revolving credit, of which less than $10 million is available and total outstanding debt of almost $700 million.

The bottom line here is that the revenue decline for LIN TV has been worse than expected this year, so all LIN stations will have to work smarter in maximizing revenue opportunities with existing staff. If the revenue decline continues, then further staff cuts are likely.

Anonymous said...

There's a link to this article on

NewsMcNabb said...

Man, I'd like to know who "Anonymous #3" is, the person who posted right after "Snowed In".

My other comment is that, I still actually own stock in LIN.

Anonymous said...


Something else to keep in mind that weighs heavily on LIN TV.

LIN TV has a 20 percent interest in operation of NBC Universal's owned and operated TV stations in Dallas and San Diego. The revenue being generated by the two NBC Universal O&O's is not expected to be enough to cover the interest due this year on the $815 million note for the two stations, so LIN and NBC are using existing debt service cash reserves from the joint venture to pay the interest. If that isn't enough, LIN and NBC each will provide a shortfall loan to cover their share of the payments. LIN's share would be 20 percent and that money would come from LIN's meager cash balance or from its available credit.

By the way, the $815 million note is held by General Electric.

Anonymous said...

Local news is like beer, except I like beer.

The KEYE 4p show is one of the most disappointing things I've witnessed on local tv. They have such an opportunity to do different and interesting content yet it's the same old morning news fluff. Even if it's sold (which by FCC regulations they should be announcing any paid content) I'm okay with it as long as it's interesting and relevant.

Guess I'll just have to stick with the Statesman and blogs/twitter for my news.

Anonymous said...

Ratings anyone? What is the 4 p.m. show doing on KEYE? Have the other stations seen a bump in the morning or at 5 now that KEYE no longer has news at those times? And how was the debut of the new 9 p.m. news on KNVA?

NewsMcNabb said...

I wish the "Anonymous" with all the financial information on LIN would also post to comments at where I post most of my stories including this one.
It's a totally different audience. It would be quite useful.

Anonymous said...


Feel free to pass on the info, with the source being an anonymous who reads your blog.

NewsMcNabb said...

It's a journalism thing, "Anonymous". I can't and won't use information that I cannot corroborate. The information you quote, I cannot confirm. I'm pretty sure it is true, but I cannot and will not use it.
You are free to write it, however. That's why I referred you to, a totally different audience. This information is a window to what's going on. Viewers/users/consumers don't see these figures. They assume that when they punch up KXAN/KNVA/KBVO, the desired programming will be there. There is a lot going on behind the screen.

Anonymous said...

Yet another reason why LIN TV needs to ramp up earnings.

In 2008, 54 Broadcasting, which listed KEYE-TV news anchor Ron Oliveira as one of its owners, sued LIN TV over disposition of 54’s equity interests in 54, operator of KNVA-TV.

In an agreement, LIN had the option to acquire the shares of 54 Broadcasting for $500,000. In 2007, LIN assigned its option rights to Vaughan Media. Vaughan, in turn, sought to exercise the option.
54 sued, alleging that the option could not be assigned by LIN.

To resolve this legal skirmish, LIN agreed to pay $6 million to 54, but the purchase price for KNVA remained the same $500,000. LIN is paying the $6 million in monthly installments.

Vaughan now owns nearly 100 percent interest in KNVA. LIN maintains a minority interest in KNVA.

Now back to the $6 million. That is yet another obligation LIN must fulfill in this tough economy.