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SlimeWatch, Part 2: NBC Loves Local. NBC Affiliates? Not So Much.

Jeff Zucker:  Planning to Go Local With You or Without You?

Jeff Zucker: Planning to Go Local With You or Without You?

Lukewarm is really never a good thing.

Not for soup, not for bathwater, and definitely not as an answer when someone’s asked to evaluate the earnings potential of the business you work in. And yet, for us, right now, that’s what we’ve got.  The headline on televisionbroadcast.com:  Analyst is Lukewarm on the Future of Local News.

Rich Greenfield of Pali Capital, a financial services firm that advises clients worldwide on markets and business sectors, thinks Local TV’s not as bad off as radio and newspapers, but it’s not quite healthy, either:  “We believe the local TV business is in secular decline,” Greenfield writes on his blog.  “While revenues/profits may bounce whenever the economy recovers, we have a hard time believing that local news, weather, traffic and sports at 7 a.m./5 p.m./ 6 p.m./11 p.m. can sustain viewership levels, and in turn, advertiser interest over the next several years.”

I’m not a financial analyst, Wall Street guru, or Financial Times subscriber.  But I do know this: if your advertiser-supported business cannot “sustain advertiser interest,” you have a serious problem.  And, as I’ve been arguing here, I believe Local TV has an Everything-Must-Change problem.  The thing is, I don’t sense that most companies that own television stations have much interest in changing.

Or maybe they simply don’t know how to change.  The problem is, other companies are already working on that, and they will not share the fruits of their efforts with local stations when their new model becomes profitable.  And NBC may be one of those companies.  (Don’t feel relieved just yet, NBC affiliates, you might not be invited to the peacock’s party–in your own town)

Here’s NBC’s affiliate relations chief, John Eck, talking last month to TVNewsday about building deeper, stronger ties between the network and its affiliates:  “We invited all affiliates — whether our agreement is expiring this year or several years down the road — to talk about how we could modify the existing arrangements so that we could participate on more platforms together.”

The Bird:  Bullish on Local, Just Not Necessarily Local Stations

The Bird: Bullish on Local, Just Not Necessarily Local Stations

And then there was the big, bold, rah-rah smack on the affiliates’ lips from NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker at the NBC affiliates’ meeting in May, as quoted by Broadcasting & Cable:  “Let me set the record straight once and for all,” said Zucker. “Standing here on the stage of one of the most famous broadcast studios in the world–created for radio, rebuilt over the years for television, then color TV, then digital broadcasting–let me be as clear as I can be: We are not abandoning the business of broadcast network television. We are not going direct to cable. We are renewing affiliation agreements. And we are going to be in business together for a long, long time.”

A long, long time, eh?  I guess it depends on what your definition of being in “business together” means.  To NBC, it means getting a taste of affiliates cable and satellite retransmission deals, and in exchange, affiliates get a piece of NBC’s local online news and entertainment businesses.

Uh, did you say NBC’s local online businesses?

Oh yeah, you didn’t hear?  The peacock’s got big plans for local media, whether they own stations in local markets or not.  For NBC affiliates, the network’s offering a “gold” package, wherein the station and NBC cooperate on a local website, among other platforms, in exchange for a renewed and reinvigorated relationship in this troubled times.  “We’d be willing to go long, long for a gold package,” John Eck told TVNewsday.  What if stations don’t want to share the local web pie?  “Your affiliation arrangement is going to be much shorter term,” said Eck.

NBC station owners and managers have obvious reservations about the NBC offer.  NBC Affiliates Board Chair Mike Fiorile (COO of Dispatch Broadcast Group) talked about the “gold” plan with TVNewsday’s Harry Jessell:

“Do you want to be partners with NBC on local Web sites? For instance, they would want you to be NBCindianapolis.com.

Frankly, I don’t have a lot of interest in that. I’m already NBC Indianapolis. If someone does a search for NBC Indianapolis, I’d sooner they come to a site that I own as opposed to a site that I’m a partner with somebody else on.

Well, this could be a second site for you because NBC is proposing lifestyle sites as opposed to the news site you’re now doing.

Yes, but I’d rather have all the NBC Indianapolis traffic come to visit me.”

We're NBC in This Town, Thanks Very Much

We're NBC in This Town, Thanks Very Much

All well and good.  It’s completely understandable that the guy whose station, WTHR, has historically been NBC in Indianapolis, would like his website to be the source for news and information and all things Indy and NBC.

Well, here’s the interesting thing about NBCIndianapolis.  It already exists, and WTHR doesn’t own it.  GE does.  In fact, a quick survey of URL listings reveals that in market after market, NBC’s been on a domain-buying spree in cities where there are no NBC O&Os.

In Boston, where Sunbeam’s NBC station, WHDH has had a bumpy partnership with the network–most recently threatening not to air Jay Leno’s new primetime show–NBC’s ready to roll into the market with or without Ed Ansin.  NBCBoston.com is owned by GE.  Whether WHDH considers the domain simply a placeholder purchased by a network just in case station and affiliate ever wanted to team up on a site, or rather a threat to compete directly with WHDH’s whdh.com for local clicks–and dollars–is not something the station wanted to talk about.  “We are aware of NBC local,” WHDH’s Chris Weyland said in an email.  “We have no comment.”

Perhaps NBC’s just thinking ahead and buying up domains before some joker can get to them first, and has no plans for using NBCBoston.com to compete against its own NBC station.  But keep this in mind:  NBC’s business model has already moved beyond call letters.

NBCNewYork:  Peacock Yes, Station Call Letters No

NBCNewYork: Peacock Yes, Station Call Letters No

Jeff Zucker explained his thinking clearly in a quote on lostremote: “WNBC.com or WNBC4.com is an extension of the television station, it’s not a real scaled game. We don’t want to play just in that game. We want to play in the entire New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or whatever city you want to call it online media space and we can’t do that by just limiting ourselves to the call letters of our traditional analog TV station.”

“Or whatever city you want to call it.”  If you work at an NBC affiliate, punch in NBC and your city.  Is the domain taken?  Is that why NBC’s smiling even as the over-the-air business for stations fades away?

I’m just asking.  NBC, by the way, did not respond to requests for comment.

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The Inescapable Truth: NBC’s Secret Evil Plan to Destroy Local News as We Know It

NBC:  Out to Destroy the Local News

NBC: Out to Destroy the Local News


Who knows?  We may look back on this era and think, “Man, NBC was so far ahead of the curve!” They knew the model of local news many of us grew up with:  the big, well-paid anchors, the choppers, the liveshots, the stable of seasoned reporters–those were all, you know, expendable. In the future, the local news would come from content centers:  awkward, low-ceilinged newsrooms where recent college graduates would produce quick and dirty stories that air in endless repetition on digital cable channels somewhere between monster truck shows and classic movies. Oh!  And you can also get the stuff (sorry–the “content”) on your phone.

Well anyway, this Secret Evil Plan to dominate the next evolution of local news is well underway at NBC.  That conclusion is now inescapable.  A few cases in point from the past few days:  the departure of Paul Moyer in Los Angeles, and NBC’s enraged response to WHDH/Boston’s decision to ditch Jay Leno in favor of an hour of local news at 10 p.m.

KNBC's Paul Moyer: An Unexpected "Retirement"


First, LA.  Earlier this week, I wrote about the splashy yet debatable Defamer report that NBC had plans to kill off two of its golden geese:  Moyer at KNBC and Chuck Scarborough at WNBC/NY. Showing my bias as a kid who grew up watching local news in New York, I largely dismissed the idea as almost-too-stupid-even-for-NBC. The next day, Moyer announced his “retirement.”  As the LA Times reported, “Moyer, whose last day has yet to be determined, would not comment on the reasons behind his unexpected announcement.”

The reason is this:  NBC is over big money anchors and believes young and nameless (and by definition easily replaceable) is the way of the future.  And now, more than ever, I wonder how long Chuck and Sue will sit at the desk in New York.  Sources this week confirmed what I had only jokingly suggested:  that yes, NBC has had “brainstorming sessions” that have focused on a WNBC without its longtime anchor.  If your goal is translating local news to an ever younger demographic, the thinking goes, why stay tied to a guy who, you know, is only getting older?

Jay Leno, Key Component of NBCs Secret Evil Plan

Jay Leno, Key Component of NBC's Secret Evil Plan


And then there’s Boston.  A key component of NBC’s Secret Evil Plan is the move of Jay Leno to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, bringing his sleep-inducing show from its position AFTER the local news, and putting it on as a LEAD-IN to local news.  Once upon a time, NBC produced excellence in the 10 o’clock hour:  dramas that were so good, the network and its local stations worked together to seamlessly move from the last frame of the drama right into the first tease of the local newscast, so as not to lose a single eyeball.  It was designed to deliver a profitable payoff for stations, especially NBC’s O&Os.

Now comes Leno.  An hour.  Every weeknight.  Imagine how tired you’ll be by the time 10:58 rolls around.  Ed Ansin, no stranger to maximizing an audience at ten o’clock, decided he’d be better off in Boston doing an hour of news.  As Ansin told the Boston Globe, “We feel we have a real opportunity with running the news at 10 p.m. We don’t think the Leno show is going to be effective in prime time,” Ansin said yesterday. “It will be detrimental to our 11 o’clock [newscast]. It will be very adverse to our finances.”

Even more interesting than Ed Ansin’s pushback against NBC (and do you think he’ll be the only one?) is the enraged response from the network:  “WHDH’s move is a flagrant violation of the terms of their contract with NBC,” John Eck, president of NBC Television Network, told the Globe. “If they persist, we will strip WHDH of its NBC affiliation. We have a number of other strong options in the Boston market, including using our existing broadcast license to launch an NBC-owned and operated station.”

So much to dissect in that statement.  But let’s go with the craziest first.  NBC would invest in starting its own station in Boston?  Over Leno?  The network’s been trying for months to offload some of the best local stations in the country, with no luck.  Clearly, NBC thinks owning stations is a losing proposition.  A year ago, LostRemote reported on a revealing NBC memo:  “We’re in the process of re-engineering the way we think, shifting our focus from a traditional stations business to becoming full-service local-media-production centers,” NBC Local Media president John Wallace said in an internal memo obtained by Broadcasting & Cable.

WHDH/Boston:  Ed Ansin Wants 7 News, Not Leno

WHDH/Boston: Ed Ansin Wants 7 News, Not Leno


So it’s really not about having a station in Boston.  It’s about destroying local news as we know it. And damn Ed Ansin if he still believes in local news as a profit center!  Not only that, but how rude of WHDH!  Leno grew up in Andover, Mass!  You’re basically stabbing a local boy in the back in the name of a few bucks!

Oh wait.  That’s what NBC does every day.  Never mind.

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