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Television titans talk Triad TV

by Jim Longworth

Here in the Piedmont, nearly every household owns a TV set, and each day, the majority of them get their news and information primarily from television. In this region, the four network affiliates who provide that local news and information are WFMY (CBS), WXII (NBC), WGHP (Fox) and WXLV (ABC).

This past weekend, general managers from the four TV stations appeared on my “Triad Today” program to discuss the state of local television. It was the first time they had ever been together on air, and it was an opportunity for viewers to gain an insight on a wide range of topics, from new technology,to the adversarial relationships which sometimes exist between local TV stations and the cable and satellite providers who carry their signals. Participating in the TV roundtable were Karen Adams from Fox8, Hank Price from WXII, Larry Audas from WFMY and John Hayes, from WXLV/WMYV.

At one point in our conversation, I noted that networks are benefitting from the use of digital video recorders which is allowing people to delay view their favorite programs. I asked if local programs benefitted in the same way.

Price: No. People don’t record news. People record sports, which are almost universally watched within 24 hours of the time they are recorded. They also record soap operas which are watched later that same day. Nielsen knows when you’ve watched a program on delay and they count it.

Hayes: You can watch your recorded programs whenever you want to, but Nielsen only counts it for up to seven days.

Adams: Yes, we get same-day ratings which are the overnights, and those are just households. Then we’ll get what’s called a “Live Plus 7” rating report, where Nielsen can track whether a program has been viewed or not within seven days of the broadcast.

Hayes: Nielsen just reported that we’ve reached the tipping point with DVRs, which is now at 50 percent of all homes in the country who have it. The water-cooler shows are always watched live, whether it’s “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars,” because people want to talk about them at work the next day. But it’s the secondary shows which get a big boost from delay viewing. For example, a week ago, delay viewing for “Castle” increased the show’s overall ratings by 50 percent on the “Live Plus 7” rating.

Audas: In fact, some folks think because there is broadband, and there are iPads and iPhones, and people watching on all different kinds of screens, that they are watching television less, but that’s not the case. There is actually more viewership than ever.

Longworth: We’ve talked about what we can watch, now let’s talk about what we can’t watch. Each of you, at one time or another, has had a dispute with a cable or satellite provider who threatens to black out your signal. Why does this keep happening, and why can’t these disputes be avoided?

Adams: Our value to viewers here in this market is the fact that we are local, and a lot of us commit a lot of hours to local news and news gathering. And so, there is a certain value to our station because of news and primetime programs, and syndicated programming which we pay for.

Some cable networks don’t begin to have the viewership that we have, but yet they’re being compensated very highly for their signal. Fair value is basically what we’re seeking.

Price: When you pay your cable bill, six dollars or so is going to ESPN, while only a few cents is going to local TV stations.

Audas: It used to be that networks paid local stations to carry network programming, but now that is reversed. The networks now charge us for sports programming like college basketball tournaments, and such. So the model has changed.

Longworth: So basically local TV stations are getting gypped now.

Adams: That’s your word, not mine. Price: It’s a pretty good word. Hayes: Again, we’re really just trying to establish the value for what we provide to viewers in the market, whether it’s news, or when we produce the local [Winston-Salem] Dash [baseball] games, which creates value for the local market, and can’t be seen anywhere else unless you’re looking at a local television station.

At the end of the program, I asked the four General Managers to name one TV show which they liked to watch on a competing station.

Hayes: I have to say I do like “Criminal Minds.” Price: My wife watches “Burns and Allen” on WGHP’s digital channel.

Adams: When it’s not up against “The X Factor,” I watch “The Voice” on Hank’s station.

Larry Audas responded with tongue in cheek, and pretended not to know that other stations even existed.

Audas: I guess I’ve seen that “Idol” show, whatever network it’s on.

It was an informative and collegial half hour. The four TV counterparts had much more to say, and seemed to enjoy their time together, so it would be a shame for anyone to miss out on this historic gathering. That’s why we have posted the entire program on yesweekly.com. It’s what you might call a new kind of delay viewing.

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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