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Editorial: A bad sign for regional cable news

Aug 6, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Adelphia Communications’ decision last week to quietly pull the plug on Southern California’s Orange County NewsChannel barely made headlines among media watchers. That’s a shame, because the demise of one of the oldest regional news channels is an important and ominous event.
For Adelphia, the country’s sixth-largest cable operator, it came down to the bottom line: The service had been losing money, and with a weak ad market, no turnaround was in sight.
It’s folly to believe the cable giant couldn’t support the service. While Adelphia recently reported losses, its cash flow was up 11 percent to 13 percent. But Wall Street had anticipated cash-flow increases of 18 percent.
Orange County NewsChannel has provided an ambitious lineup of live weekday and weekend newscasts for 10 years, reaching more than a half-million subscribers. Adelphia gave up on the channel after running it for 22 months.
Obviously, the decision doesn’t bode well for regional news on cable. It also reveals a lack of will and foresight on the part of a major cable operator.
Regional cable news does more than merely provide a valuable community service. Local coverage is cable’s trump card in its fight with satellite providers, and a viable regional news channel helps a cable operator maximize that advantage and distinguish itself in a competitive environment.
A serious news channel will attract viewers-especially in a market where what passes for local news is the nightly roundup of car chases on the broadcast channels. Making a decision to pull the plug solely on the basis of the bottom line is an insult to subscribers, particularly when a number of options exist.
It would have been a lot easier for Adelphia to justify scaling back the operation, even if it meant cutting the staff size dramatically. Partnerships with print media and other news outlets were another possibility. If nothing else, Adelphia should at least offer some explanation of why these options weren’t pursued.
Adelphia’s willingness to wield the ax so freely sets a bad precedent. Other cable operators would be wise to consider their options before following Adelphia down that path.