Time Warner backs 24-hour news

Aug 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Though two local all-news cable outlets in California are closing down, Time Warner Cable believes it is still a viable business.
Time Warner will begin to roll out six more 24-hour cable news channels in markets where it has a large cable penetration, beginning in December with Raleigh, N.C., where the network will be called News 14 Carolina. In the first quarter of 2002, Time Warner will launch a news channel in Charlotte, N.C., in partnership with Belo, which has a television station in that market.
That will be followed by news channels in Albany and Syracuse, N.Y. In mid-2002, Time Warner will launch news channels in Houston and San Antonio, partnering with Belo, which has television stations in those markets. Web sites will be launched at the same time the news channels debut.
“Our take is it’s all about being in the news business 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Kirk Varner, vice president of news services for Time Warner Cable. “We think we have a business and operational model that does this well.”
Time Warner already has five 24-hour cable news channels, with NY1 News in New York City; Bay News 9 in Tampa, Fla.; Central Florida News 13 in Orlando, Fla.; and R News in Rochester, N.Y. The last channel launched was News 8 in Austin, Texas, which celebrates its two-year anniversary in October. The news channels are all in markets where Time Warner is the major cable system, with the exception of NY1 in New York City, which has substantial competitors. In that market, Cablevision also has its own cable news channels, which include News 12 New Jersey, News 12 Long Island and News 12 Bronx.
Dennis Williamson, senior vice president at Belo’s television group, said the Time Warner partnership on the news channels in Charlotte, Houston and San Antonio includes a “reciprocal news sharing agreement” with the Belo stations in those markets.
“In a practical sense, the two entities, while cooperative, will be competitive,” Mr. Williamson said. “The core value of our company is providing news and information to the audience we serve. It’s just part of filling out the markets that we are in. We think it’s just a very logical extension of our core strategy.”
Despite the fact that BayTV in San Francisco shut down last month and the Orange County Newschannel is slated to close Sept. 7, Mr. Varner said local news channels can be profitable.
“I argue that not everyone is closing down,” he said. “BayTV tried to be a different kind of product; it wasn’t just a news channel. The issue with Orange County was it had owners that had certain expectations, and the expectations weren’t met. One of the reasons we think we’ve been successful in doing this is we built on a model that is very successful, which is NY1. These are products that we focused on, local vs. regional or areas that have multiple cable operators.”
NY1, which was Time Warner’s first local cable news channel, is in its ninth year. It is outgrowing its current facility on 42nd Street. In October, it will move to a 50,000-square-foot space that is twice its current size, the former Nabisco factory in Chelsea where the first Oreo cookie was made. NY1 will also be in the same building as the Oxygen cable network. In the new location, NY1 will install a new generation of technology that will allow desktop editing using Pinnacle Systems. Raw tapes will be transferred onto computer servers four times faster than real time. The editing from the computer servers will go direct to air.
All the new cable news channels that will launch will also be computer server-based and use SONY DVCam cameras. In Raleigh, Time Warner will be hiring about 85 people to staff a state-of-the-art facility, Mr. Varner said. Alan Mason, who worked at Audience Research and Development, will be the general manager of the Raleigh news channel, and Rick Willis, who worked at ABC-owned WTVD-TV, Raleigh, will take the news director post.
Mr. Varner said the key to a local cable news channel’s success is “knowing what your product is going to be in the marketplace and delivering on that. Some people have a work-in-progress mentality-we know it’s about local, local information all the time.”
Time Warner news channels are also known for using one-man bands, such as a reporter who shoots his or her own video. “I think we’re good at having good people who are able to use a good set of tools and multitask well,” Mr. Varner said. “Instead of having six or seven reporters on the street, we have 15. Carrying their own cameras allows NY1 to deploy more people covering news. One of the things we’re trying to bring to the television news idea is that it is possible for one person to cover a story. They are empowered to do journalism on a one-to-one level, that it doesn’t take several people to do one story.”
Right now, Time Warner Cable employs about 425 people at the five news channels. This time next year, 11 news channels will be up and running, employing about 1,100.
“We’re making money doing this,” Mr. Varner said. “Maybe our expectations are more realistic than others. I think because we started smaller … we knew our impact would be very small in ratings and advertising, but we knew it would be more realistic to grow those on a going-forward basis.”