Opportunities seen in reinventing television

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Changing the relationships between local TV stations and their networks and with cable operators were among the options discussed In Las Vegas. Even in this recession, though, broadcasters are still optimistic about the future for the business.


‘The days of easy 50% margins for local stations are long gone,” said moderator Deborah Norville, anchor of “Inside Edition,” as she began the NAB/TVBR joint Super Session “Reinvention: Television Moving Forward. But panelists insisted that television is still going to be a viable business for a long time.

Bonten Media Group CEO Randy Bongarten said the biggest concern he has about the industry’s future is “Us.” He said because it is no longer easy, TV needs to adapt. He said stations need to make a big effort to sell to its biggest and best customers, because they have been taken for granted. And he said real selling is needed: “Negotiating is not selling.”

Several panelists noted the need for TV to re-brand and promote itself. Prime Cities Broadcasting President John Tupper, who also chairs the Fox Affiliates Association, disclosed that the group will today announce a competition with prizes for stations for creation of local campaigns to promote what viewers get from their local TV station that they don’t get from cable.

The group of broadcasters agreed that the network-affiliate relationship is challenged because the economy is challenging. While many broadcasters are wary of statements by CBS CEO Les Moonves and other network executives that the nets might seek a share of retransmission consent payments from cable, Tupper took a positive approach. He said if the stations and networks worked together on retrans they might be able to get more than broadcasters could get alone – and then the networks would get a share.

But there are strains in the network-affiliate relationship which would have to be resolved first, particularly with the networks under pressure from Wall Street for short-term results. Program syndicator Mort Marcus, Co-President of Debmar-Mercury LLC, said he had run the numbers on NBC’s decision to put Jay Leno in primetime. In his view, they will lose more money in advertising than they will save on production costs. “With Leno, NBC is throwing the model under the bus and the affiliates with it,” Tupper agreed.

Jim Goodman, President/CEO of Capitol Broadcasting, insisted that the network-affiliate model continues to be the most successful business model ever, so he’s having none of the talk about replacing it. “I’m tired of the media that reports on the media saying that the broadcast business model doesn’t work,” he said. As a pioneer in DTV and now in mobile DTV, Goodman said he is “all positive” and the most excited he’s been in a long time about the television business.