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