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Guest Commentary: Centralizing Aids Localism

Sep 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

There has been considerable discussion regarding “localism” in broadcast television. As nebulous as the term is, most agree that programming, local advertising and community sponsorship decisions all serve local interests.
Airing local news is another example of localism. The decision to air local news is not about owners liking or disliking news. Airing news is an expensive proposition. Continually rising costs create an entry barrier for Fox, The WB, UPN and independent stations, which don’t have the advertising revenues of the traditional three networks to offset the large investments needed. About half of the Fox affiliates and only a handful of WB and UPN affiliates produce local news. In fact, several top 10 market WB and UPN stations don’t air local news.
One approach that can lower the entry barriers is the use of an efficiency model. Operating efficiencies achieved by pooling resources and optimizing the use of national and international news stories can make the difference in successfully launching newscasts. Make no mistake: Local news is the lifeblood of a local newscast. But realistically, most national stories don’t have unique, local impact. So why should a dozen producers and anchors inefficiently report the same story a dozen ways if it has no local impact? That 50-year-old model of reinventing the wheel of reporting nonlocal news is a key obstacle preventing half of the commercial stations from airing a newscast.
This is why Sinclair developed a new model in its launch of News Central. More than half of Sinclair stations are WB, UPN and smaller-market Fox affiliates, and most have not aired news. Accordingly, we’re building, staffing and operating local newsrooms just like everyone else, except News Central provides a seamless, real-time satellite feed of national and international news reports for integrated newscasts. And because the local news staffs focus 100 percent of their time, effort and resources on local news, they better serve their communities.
Given the choice, it is likely every owner would like to air local news, but the high barriers to entry must be overcome. An efficiency model, similar to News Central, is one proven way to provide communities with more news choices. And need I underscore how this is even more critical in the most challenging of markets-the medium and smaller DMAs where the barriers to launching news are even more pronounced because ownership relief is limited? The fact is, equipment costs are the same in Glendive, Mont., as they are in New York City. How can we expect smaller-market station owners to bear the cost of airing local news using the 50-year-old model when a television spot can cost less than the price of a cafe latte?
A backdrop to this issue is the debate over the national ownership cap, with both sides arguing over where to draw the line. This much is certain: The economies of scale kick in with more stations. For Sinclair, News Central will allow as many as 30 stations to launch newscasts. This is a no-brainer if it’s a choice between the status quo of no news or in launching news using an efficiency model such as News Central.
Our industry has a golden opportunity before us. By shedding a 1980s mentality, broadcasters can double the number of news stations by capitalizing on innovative approaches, using state-of-the-art technologies and by absorbing a little criticism from various agenda-driven groups.
Mark E. Hyman is VP of corporate relations for Sinclair Broadcast Group and commentator for “The Point With Mark Hyman” on Sinclair stations.