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Belo, TW Cable team to spread 24/7 news

Jul 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

While some broadcast companies are slashing spending and others are shutting down entire news departments, Belo is teaming with Time Warner Cable to launch 24-hour cable news channels in Charlotte, N.C., Houston and San Antonio.
Why now, when advertising is in a historic slump?
“Why not now?” asks Elliott Wiser, VP of news programming for all of Time Warner’s 24-hour local news channels.
“People are always interested in news,” Mr. Wiser said. “That interest doesn’t go away, regardless of the economy.”
In addition to the joint ventures with Belo, Time Warner is launching 24-hour cable news channels in Albany and Syracuse, N.Y., and Raleigh, N.C. The cable company owns R/News Rochester, NY1 News in New York, Bay News 9 in Tampa, Fla., Central Florida News 13 in Orlando, Fla., and News 8 in Austin, Texas.
“The cable news channels were going to happen in these markets [Charlotte, Houston and San Antonio] where we had properties,” said Dennis Williamson, senior VP of Belo’s Television Group. “We figured it was better to join them than to fight them.”
Mr. Williamson oversees 19 television stations, two 24-hour cable news networks and the three new joint-venture local 24-hour cable news channels. “If you were at KHOU-TV right now,” he said, “would you rather be competing against the Time Warner 24-hour local news channel or working with them? We chose to work with them.”
Mr. Williamson said the partnership discussions between Belo and Time Warner evolved over a three-year period. “Our chairman knew their chairman,” he said. “There was an affinity for the two companies. In a certain respect, each was trying to do something compatible. It was a natural fit.”
The most recent partnership launch, News 14 Carolina, premiered on Time Warner Cable June 14 in Charlotte, with the station offering 21 hours of original local news programming each day. Belo owns WCNC-TV, Charlotte’s NBC affiliate. News 14 Carolina has fiber connections to WCNC-TV as well as to Time Warner’s News 14 Carolina facility in the state capital of Raleigh.
“We’re already getting positive feedback,” said News 14 Carolina News Director Jim Newman. “We’re getting calls and e-mails saying, `Thanks for bringing local news back to Charlotte when I want it.”’
Mr. Newman cited Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent trip to Charlotte, when News 14 Carolina carried his speech live in its entirety. “We didn’t have to worry about upsetting soap opera viewers or advertisers,” Mr. Newman said. “Nobody else in the market could do that.”
Mr. Wiser believes established 24-hour local cable news channels, such as Time Warner’s successful NY1, Central Florida News 13 and Bay News 9 are “throwbacks to the way TV news used to be.”
“We’re committed to good journalism,” he said. “We don’t go for the titillating or the sensational, because we don’t have four ratings periods a year. We don’t worry about producing specials for the ratings periods.”
Mr. Wiser said all of Time Warner’s 24-hour cable news channels are patterned after NY1. He sees three consistent qualities in successful channels: a commitment to weather coverage, being able to stay with breaking news and a focus on hyperlocal news coverage.
“We cover stories that often get ignored by broadcasters, because we have the time to cover them,” he said.
Carl Gottlieb, deputy director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, agrees that hyperlocal news coverage on the nation’s local cable news channels is drawing viewers.
He pointed to the successes of NY1, Tribune-owned Chicagoland TV and Washington ‘s Newschannel 8. “Where else do you get that kind of hyperlocalism anymore?” Mr. Gottlieb asked. “I think it’s been a long time coming. The traditional concept of appointment viewing is fading with a new generation that’s learned to access information when they want it.”
Figures released by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau indicate season to date [Sept. 24, 2001, to June 16, 2002] cable television whittled almost 4 share points from the nation’s broadcasters.
According to the CAB figures, the share of U.S. households viewing ad-supported cable increased from 42.3 share points to 46.2 share points, while U.S. household viewing of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The WB, UPN and Pax dropped to 44.2 share points from 46.4 share points during the same time period the year before.
It’s no surprise Charlotte broadcasters such as WSOC-TV VP and General Manager Lee Armstrong are keeping their eyes on the upstart cable news operation.
“They’re what I expected,” Ms. Armstrong said. “They’re a local version of headline news. From what we can see, they have a different mission.”
The difference between cable and broadcast is simple, Ms. Armstrong said. “Cable is frequency and broadcast is reach.”
WSOC-TV reaches 22 North Carolina counties, while News 14 Carolina is carried on cable in nine counties, she said.
“I have a healthy respect for anybody out there with a mission,” Ms. Armstrong said. “That’s how I feel about them: They have a mission. We’ll watch-and stay true to our mission.”