Tag Archives: wcbs

SlimeWatch: Innovation and the End of Local Television Stations

Not Me, But I've Got a 1976 Version of This Pic Somewhere

Not Me, But I've Got a 1976 Version of This Pic Somewhere

We all know business is bad. The question local newsers need to ask themselves is this: will it ever get better?

Is local television down thanks to market forces, which would leave hope of a rebound and a return to better days? Or is this more than market-driven, but a generational change–a shift in media habits that casts once dominant local TV stations as latter day vaudeville acts, doomed to ever-diminishing returns and ultimate irrelevance?

I grew up around and inside television stations and have loved the buildings, the logos and the lore as long as I can remember. I have treasured pictures of myself as a kid at WCAU, wearing a 70s era headset and posing for a picture at the studio camera. Years later, as a high school kid, I posed for a picture with a friend on the news set at WCBS. Stations are in my blood, and that’s not going to change.

But I’m sure generations of kids grew up in families dominated by Detroit, developing a love for cars, hood ornaments and engines, and sadly, nostalgia alone won’t save GM. I think stations are in just as much trouble, if not more.

TV Newsday wrote up the sagging situation last week, reporting on revenues for the top 50 broadcast companies. “Gainers Rare” read the headline. In fact, “decliners led advancers” as the market types say, in a blowout: 44 of the top 50 companies lost money in 2008, and some lost a LOT.

Sunbelt, owner of nine stations including KVBC in Las Vegas, fell 20 percent from 2007. Sunbeam (best to avoid using any derivation of “sun” in your name) dropped 15 percent. There were bright lights, though, with six companies posting modest gains.

McGraw-Hill was up 6.26 percent in 2008 (but nosedived 23 percent in 1Q 2009); Post-Newsweek was up 3.59 percent in 2008 (but down 21 percent in 1Q 2009); and Capitol was up over eight percent last year, leading CEO Jim Goodman to tell reporters at NAB in April that “the best is yet to come” for broadcasters, reported Broadcast Engineering. The DTV transition, Goodman argued, meant good things for the future of over-the-air TV.

I’m not convinced.

Anybody Else Remember WCBS and These Wild Desks?  I Do.

Anybody Else Remember WCBS and These Wild Desks? I Do.

In an excellent article on MediaPost, Diane Mermigas reports station revenues will likely fall to 1995 levels this year, and no, the money-printing machine will not be working normally when the recession ends. “TV stations’ ability to excel in the nascent but promising world of hyperlocal information and services is hindered by a slew of uncontrollable forces. There is the collapse of core ad categories, such as automotives, which has contributed about one-fourth of all TV station revenues and will never fully recover. Internet-connected streaming video for PCs and mobile devices will continue to minimize and fragment television. Despite massive reductions in workforce and legacy operations, the pooling of local news-gathering and ad sales resources, and a growing Web presence, TV stations’ economic quandary increasingly mirrors that of declining newspapers,” Mermigas reports.

“Despite the most optimistic forecasts — more than 12 legacy broadcast companies generate between $10 million and $311 million in annual revenues from the sale of online advertising, per Borrell Associates — there is no way to effectively offset lost ad dollars, some of which are not coming back.”

Can stations–facing permanent declines–innovate their way back to profit? I say no. I’ll be laying out my argument in a series of “SlimeWatch” reports here. The reference to slime is not intended to suggest any malfeasance or filth, but rather, a reference to Rishad Tobaccowala, who has argued persuasively that the innovation that will save local journalism will almost certainly NOT come from existing broadcast companies.

I encourage you to watch this video and listen to what he has to say. Then let me know what you think: can stations find a way into the future? Or are they wearing cinder block shoes?

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Filed under Local News 2.0

Local Sports: Key Component of Staying Local and Relevant? Or First to Throw Overboard? (Both?)

Lets Go to the Videotape!

"Let's Go to the Videotape!"

Of all the things that have stayed with me about growing up watching local TV news, two things stand out: the evolution of WCBS/NY’s “2” logo over the years, and the time I got to sit in Warner Wolf’s chair on the Channel 2 News set.  As a kid in Connecticut watching New York news, I won’t ever forget Beutel and Grimsby and the Cool Hand Luke music;  I won’t forget Jim Jensen, Chuck or Sue.  But for some reason, it’s Warner Wolf who I think was the first true “character” that made watching the 6 o’clock news something I would actually talk about at school the next day, what with his trademark style and “let’s go to the videotape!”

Today, there aren’t many wise young sportscasters expecting to be Warner Wolf one day.  Sure, you don’t “go to the videotape” anymore, but more importantly, sports has become the go-to source for deep-sixing talent and freeing up cash at struggling stations from coast to coast. WCBS, Wolf’s old station and the one I watched as a kid, (Anybody remember “NewsBreaker Territory?”) recently fired its main sports anchor, Ducis Rogers, and the morning guy, John Discepolo.  Sports, struggling for air time, is down to one lone anchor/reporter.

New York still has Len Berman, but many markets may do away with local sports altogether. Managers claim there’s no need, since true sports fans get their info from ESPN, or regional sports nets.  As Stacey Brown writes in the Scranton Times-Tribune, “Nightly sports reporting and local news appear to be headed for a divorce.”  

WOLF/Scrantons FOX 56

WOLF/Scranton's FOX 56

“It is a shame you don’t see more local sports during the newscasts,” Jon Cadman told Brown.  Cadman’s GM at (ah, irony) WOLF-TV in Scranton.  He says costs are just too high, and something’s gotta give.  So forget about seeing your kid’s high school touchdown run on Channel 16.  Maybe it’ll make SportsCenter.

In my own newsroom yesterday, as the sports folk were busy writing scripts, producing their ever-shrinking six o’clock sportscast, I heard the bellowing boom of the Asst. News Director:  “Sports is dead!”  It happens a lot.  And as a newsguy, I get it–to a point.  When news breaks, you’d expect weather and sports to give.  But in this environment of cutbacks and layoffs, is killing sports altogether the next step?  And does that, in a sense, take away one more thing that sets local news apart?  

I’ve worked in some sports-crazy cities, especially in the South, and let me tell you, there’s hardly a bond as strong as that between sports fan and sports talent.  When they show up at the high school football game on a Friday night, that’s the kind of thing that earns viewer loyalty. (Remember the Friday night football shows where sportsteams would actually use the station helicopter to fly around to as many games as possible?  Bringing not only a camera to get the game on TV that night, but the chopper to fly the colors in front of a packed stadium:  “Wow, Channel 5 ROCKS!”)

But even in small town Scranton, sports is on life support.  And in big city, sports-crazed New York, calling it a sports “department” seems like a bit of a stretch.  Are we turning away viewers to save a few dollars?  Or do the viewers really not care anymore–have they truly moved on?

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Filed under Cutbacks

WCBS Sports a One-Woman Show Starting Friday

Sam Ryan/WCBS's Entire Sports Department

Sam Ryan/WCBS/NY's Entire Sports Department



Sam Ryan, weekend sports anchor at WCBS/NY will take over weeknight sports duties Friday, with the departures of main anchor and sports director Ducis Rodgers and morning sports guy John Discepolo. Rodgers’ last day is tomorrow, and Discepolo wraps his Channel 2 tenure on Friday, according to Richard Huff in the NY Daily News.

Huff reports Ryan will get some help covering sports on weekends from weekend news anchor and former WABC morning news anchor Steve Bartelstein who may do both news and sports duties;  morning sports will be taped, but may also include contributions from CBS-owned WFAN radio personalities.

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LATEST LAYOFFS: WCBS/NY Cuts Rodgers, Discepolo

Ducis Rodgers/WCBS Photo

Ducis Rodgers/WCBS Photo

NY Daily News TV writer Richard Huff quotes a source at WCBS/NY this morning, saying Channel 2 has pink slipped sports director Ducis Rodgers and morning sports anchor John Discepolo, leaving the CBS O&O with a sports team of precisely one: Sam Ryan. Huff says station officials refused comment, but Huff’s source credited the cuts to “cost cutting.”

The layoffs (Rodgers’ last day is reportedly Thursday, with Discepolo ending his Channel 2 run on Friday) come just days after Huff’s column
 arguing that local tv sports itself is an endangered species.

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