Thursday, May 08, 2008

Local TV news - NBC sees the future and doesn't like it much

Most interesting announcement this week from NBC about how it is redoing its news operation out of WNBC in New York -- and it's hardly a ringing endorsement for local TV as we now know it.

According to the New York Times article, NBC is shifting the station's resources, de-emphasizing the station (WNBC is coming off the Web site and it will just be called NBC New York) to be part of a "content center" that will feed a 24-hour cable channel as well as gas pumps, taxi cab screens, etc. In that, it's smart. "Convergence" means a lot more than just print, broadcast and online.

But a few bon mots from John Wallace, NBC's new president for "local media" (again, de-emphasizing the "station" aspect).

Mr. Wallace said that local television “has a perception issue right now as to whether it is a sustainable business long term.” Once a huge generator of cash for media companies, local stations now have an “eroding and aging” audience and have become “slow-growth business,” Mr. Wallace said, adding that their revenue growth averages between 1 percent and 3 percent.

“We look at our content, and we believe it’s relevant content,” Mr. Wallace said. “It’s just not convenient because of the way people’s lives have changed with technology.” ...

Providing round-the-clock live news will not require NBC to hire more employees for the new channel; it plans to rely instead on expanding the duties of its present staff members, which Mr. Wallace called “a work-flow change.” He said, “There will be no added staff. We’ll just use them differently.”

Producers, for example, whose previous focus had been “getting the show on the air at the assigned time,” will be retrained to produce video segments instead of shows, with the goal being to spread the segments across various local NBC platforms, be they the news channel, the Web site or the taxis.

He said he expected "some natural resistance." Well, at least he's not laying it between the lines, huh? I wonder if broadcast journalism programs across the country are paying attention.

If it works in New York, NBC plans to expand it to its other large-market stations. I doubt this would work the same way in smaller markets (not enough taxis after all {grin}). But, of course, if NBC pulls this off with the same (I'm betting eventually smaller) staff in the larger markets, then we all know others will be watching and we know what rolls downhill ...

Chuck Fadley of the Miami Herald and proprietor of the Yahoo newspaper video group had insightful comments, noting that this could also be a direct competitor to newspaper Web sites during the office day when a lot of people go to local news sites for breaking news. In response, Bill Dunphy warned that if it becomes a head-to-head situation, newspapers could be the ones that eventually suffer -- while they are better staffed, it's hard to compete with that much additional overhead.

Stay tuned.

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