KCTV to Drop Sports, Use Metro Cable Reports

Nov 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

In a highly unusual instance of cooperation between a cable operator and a local broadcast station, the CBS affiliate in Kansas City, Mo., plans to eliminate its in-house sports news department and replace it on the air with reports from Metro Sports, a regional sports cable channel that is a subsidiary of Time Warner Cable.
The move, which KCTV General Manager Kirk Black calls a way to “put a better sports product on the air,” is particularly unusual for a local station that is a major factor in sports in its area.
Meredith-owned KCTV holds the broadcast rights to Kansas City Chiefs pro football preseason games and through the network agreement broadcasts regular-season games as well as the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. In the past it has often produced specials on the area’s perennial basketball powerhouses. All the more reason to outsource, added Mr. Black, who said having only three employees at KCTV dedicated to sports wasn’t getting the job done. He added that pulling additional resources away from the rest of the news operation wasn’t an option.
Time Warner spokesperson Carol Rothwell noted that the transaction could wind up being a net positive for local employment, since Metro Sports will be hiring. Mr. Black and KCTV News Director Regent Ducas will approve Metro Sports’ choice of on-air talent, which could include ex-KCTV staffers.
The switchover is scheduled for next February.
Metro Sports was formed after Time Warner shut down its public-access channel in 1997. It airs a nightly sports report and a call-in show as well as high school games from across the metro area. Through an interconnect, Metro Sports is shared with the area’s No. 2 cable provider, Comcast, for a total reach of 410,000 homes. (Comcast is also the silent partner in Time Warner of Kansas City, a joint venture that both sides hope to unravel soon.) Metro Sports is carried on basic cable as a value-added service.
Metro Sports derives most of its revenues not from subscriber fees but from outsourcing. It produces 130 games a year for the Kansas City Royals and regional sports for ESPN. Time Warner has been looking for a broadcast partner for Metro Sports; last year it floated the idea of partnering with KSHB-TV, the Scripps-owned NBC affiliate.
Brian Bracco, group news manager for Hearst-Argyle Television, said he’s interested to see what will happen when a sports story leads the news. “Are they going to have the Metro Sports guy come on if Dick Vermeil resigns?” he said, referring to the Chiefs coach.
But the leader of a trade group representing local cable news channels said content sharing-outsourcing by another name-is a fact of life.
“The key question is, does it compromise your editorial voice to outsource?” said Brian Benschoter, who’s also general manager of Time Warner’s News 8 Austin. “I think in the case of sports and weather, it’s hard to argue that it does.”
Mr. Black conceded that outsourcing will save KCTV money. But he said that wasn’t his primary motivation. “It’s going to take our sports to another level. It’s a bold move, but it’s not a crazy move.”