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Editorial: ALTV needs a survival strategy

Aug 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Association of Local Television Stations had its bell rung when word surfaced recently that News Corp. is contemplating yanking its newly acquired Chris-Craft stations from the Washington lobbying organization.
The dues from those 10 stations account for about 10 percent of ALTV’s annual operating budget, and in an already tough media market, the group’s very survival could be in question if News Corp. pulls the plug.
The news must have seemed bitterly ironic to ALTV. Among the work the organization has done in the past on behalf of its member stations was lobbying for the changes in the Federal Communications Commission duopoly rules that made it possible for News Corp. to acquire Chris-Craft’s stations in the first place.
But with the media landscape shifting on almost a daily basis, the ever-larger corporations that dominate the industry have a nasty habit of asking their trade groups: What have you done for me lately? In this case, the question hardly seems fair.
But fair or not, it’s a question ALTV is having a hard time answering. The group has been keeping a low profile lately, failing to put itself out front on the big issues.
Originally known as the Association of Independent Television Stations, the organization made a key concession to changes in the TV industry five years ago when it renamed itself and broadened its focus from representing the dwindling ranks of true independent stations to also speaking for affiliates of the emerging Fox, UPN, WB and Pax networks.
But as industry consolidation has accelerated, attrition has become a serious problem for ALTV. With their own agendas and no shortage of resources, giant corporations can do their own lobbying. That makes a group like ALTV a luxury, and with ad revenues down, some of those luxury items have got to go.
ALTV is already smarting from the pullout earlier this year of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s 62 TV stations. More recently, a rumor-strongly refuted by ALTV President Jim Hedlund-has been circulating that Viacom will pull the 19 former Paramount Group Stations out of the fold.
Clearly ALTV has to take the problem seriously. The organization must assess its role in the industry and make adjustments again. One possibility would be to step up efforts to embrace the growing Hispanic TV market.
With independent stations becoming an endangered species, ALTV is needed more than ever to ensure that the voice of local broadcasters is heard in Washington. We hope News Corp. and others recognize the value of continuing to support the group.
More important, we hope ALTV will speak as eloquently-through both its actions and its words-on its own behalf as it has spoken on behalf of its members. Its survival depends on it.