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Gannett plans America Today cable channel

Dec 30, 2002  •  Post A Comment

“USA Today on TV” was a legendary bomb in syndication.
But USA Today parent Gannett Co. is hoping to successfully adapt the brand to cable by creating a network comprising specially produced USA Today material used to frame repackaged local news from Gannett’s 22 TV stations around the country.
Gannett, which also publishes 94 daily newspapers, has been planning the local-news-driven channel, to be called America Today, as part of its retransmission consent negotiations with major cable operators such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications and satellite operators.
“It’s still a work in progress. We are enthusiastic, but we are not there yet,” said Roger Ogden, the senior VP of Gannett Broadcasting and the president and general manager of Gannett-owned NBC affiliate KUSA-TV in Denver.
The plan relies on traveling or transplanted Americans who yearn for news from back home, an ability to repurpose broadcast and print material and a faith that America Today could cume a broad enough audience that cable and satellite operators would pay to add it to their lineups and national advertisers would support it. Gannett currently has no cable cards to play as it attempts to leverage its local TV signals, for which cable operators do not want to pay transmission fees, into income-producing cable properties.
The idea is to take out all local commercial content and condense a local newscast two hours after it airs in its hometowns (most major markets), putting in national commercials and repackaging it in a sort of big-wheel format with interstitial USA Today-branded material.
There also is a plan to create a distinct half-hour block of material from USA Today, in an attempt to make the country’s largest-selling daily newspaper into “a strong sub-brand” within the channel.
In any given hour there would be six to seven minutes of commercial time, with two minutes per hour available to the local cable operator.
Mr. Ogden would not estimate how much America Today might cost to create, but said, “We have a business plan that is dynamic.
“We will know in the first quarter [of 2003] if we have sufficient carriage to support it,” said Mr. Ogden.