Founder of American News Network plans to build a ‘must carry’ for independent stations

Jan 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Vincent Castelli wants to give independent television stations a voice they have heretofore lacked. His American News Network, launched earlier this month intends to deliver a one-hour national newscast to independent stations twice each day, along with brief one-minute updates. Mr. Castelli also plans within six months to create an overnight news service similar in concept to CNN Headline News.
ANN’s first broadcast Jan. 6 went out to stations serving about 10 million households in half a dozen markets, Mr. Castelli said.
“There has not been a national news service available to independent stations across America. There is a large niche for organizations such as ours to produce local and national newscasts for independents,” he said.
ANN will help to fill one of the last unplugged holes in television news. Hundreds of independent and low-power television stations have no access to a news service, either because they are not affiliated with a broadcast network or because they simply lack the financial wherewithal to produce their own news programs.
“We are not able to afford the millions of dollars it would take to do a competitive local newscast, so when we have the opportunity to pick up and air a national product and hourly breaks, we’ll take it,” said John Broomall, director of underwriting at WATC-TV, a privately-owned noncommercial station in Atlanta.
Mr. Castelli has assembled a crew of former network and free-lance journalists to run ANN. The anchor team consists of former Headline News anchor Patti Tripathi and Susan Hendricks, a former news anchor at KMIR-TV, Palm Springs, Calif. Scott Hartman, from WMAZ-TV, Macon, Ga., handles sports updates. Other regulars include Amira Rida, formerly of KTLA-TV, Los Angeles, and Melissa McCarty, a former anchor and health reporter at KJCT-TV, Grand Junction, Colo.
In addition to WATC, ANN has signed a handful of affiliates, including KHIZ-TV, Victorville (Los Angeles), Calif., WVCY-TV, Milwaukee, Wis., and KKCO-TV, Grand Junction (Denver), Colo. The service also appears Monday through Friday evenings on FaithTV, delivered on the Sky Angel satellite service via DirecTV. Mr. Castelli said he expects ANN to be available in more than 20 million households by the end of February.
“Our stations have must-carry status, and that’s a nice thing, so that we automatically have a guaranteed coverage in the whole [market] and we don’t have to cut individual deals with cable operators for carriage,” he said.
The bulk of ANN affiliates are full-power stations, but there are a few LPTV signals thrown in for good measure.
Most efficient operation
Current ANN programming includes an hour-long news package delivered by satellite to affiliates at 7 p.m. (ET). The feed is updated and resent at 11 p.m. (ET). Stations have the option of picking up hourly news briefs, called One@One, delivered at one minute before each hour. The mini-newscasts double as a promotional vehicle to keep viewers from switching channels.
“We hope that a person will stay with us into the next program because we have provided them with information about what’s going on in the world,” Mr. Broomall said. Another Atlanta media mogul, Ted Turner, tried a similar tactic with his TBS Superstation several years ago, starting programs at 5 minutes past the hour to discourage viewers from tuning away.
The inaugural ANN newscast Jan. 6 was fraught with the technical glitches that frequently attend such an undertaking.
“The TelePrompTer didn’t work, for one thing,” Ms. Tripathi said. “We are still working some of those things out.”
With its skeleton crew, ANN will not generate much original reporting. It relies on what Mr. Castelli calls a “pool” news service, which includes video and raw footage from ABC NewsOne. Ms. Tripathi, who serves as news director, executive producer and assignment editor as well as co-anchor, oversees the editing and rewriting of the daily content.
Although Mr. Castelli would not reveal his start-up costs or project an annual budget, the on-air product projects a frugal feel. ANN employs robotic cameras and a virtual set, using technology from GlobalStreams. The studio is situated in a 200,000-square-foot building inside a strip mall on Atlanta’s north side, a scant 20-minute drive from its bigger, broader sibling, CNN. Fewer than one dozen people work on each night’s broadcast, including on-air and technical crews.
“We have to be the most efficient news operation in the world,” Mr. Castelli boasted.
Offered on both barter and cash bases, ANN cedes four minutes per hour for local stations to sell. The network retains 12 minutes.
While many independent stations have commercial inventory to spare, Mr. Castelli feels that ANN’s local avails give stations the chance to grab some of the advertising dollars earmarked for news programming.
“Agencies basically have dollar figures from their advertisers in each market to spend on news. If a station does not have news, it is left out of that equation, but if it does, the station can get its proportional share of agency revenue,” he said.
By summer, Mr. Castelli plans to launch the overnight “headline news” service between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. (ET). The service will include up to 10 minutes each hour in which stations can insert a local news report. ANN will also offer to produce local segments for stations that do not have the facilities to do their own. Mr. Castelli said he hopes to pick up many of the former clients of Conus and All News Channel, both of which folded late last year.