Cable/Satellite vs. Broadcast TV. Again.

Almost every month, a cable or satellite company gives its customers warning that they might lose access to one or more local channels.

These things usually get settled before the deadline. Except when they don’t.

This is one where I get both sides of the issue. No one wants to pay a higher cable bill. They’re crazy high already. And there’s a reason it’s called “free” over-the-air TV, right?

But from the TV stations’ standpoint, the cable company makes a lot of money from retransmitting TV stations. If you’re going to make money from my product, you’re going to share some of that money with me.

If you have cable or satellite, you pay $7.72 a month (nationwide average) for ESPN, whether you watch it or not. That’s just for ESPN. ESPN2, ESPNews, all of the other networks are separate and you pay for them, too. You pay $1 a month for Fox News, whether you watch it or not. And Fox News fans, you’re paying for CNN, whether you ever watch it or not.

It’s pretty hard to find a household that doesn’t watch ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox, at least once in a while. The local affiliates of those networks usually get 50 cents or a dollar a month. It’s a pretty good deal, when you consider they get the most viewers, have (usually) fewer commercials than most cable networks, bring local news and weather and face governmental regulations and fines.

I’d be all for a la carte cable/satellite, where you just pay for the channels you watch. A limited proposal for that actually came up in Congress this year. It was limited because you could only choose to opt out of your local TV channels.

So you could opt out of that 50 cents for your local TV station, but you could NOT opt out of the $7.72 for ESPN? How, exactly is THAT fair?

It would sure be great to figure out a fair way to let us pay less for cable/satellite.

New Opportunity for Local TV

Since the FCC decided to crack down on Shared Service Agreements, something very interesting has happened.  In a few cases, broadcasters have chosen to combine network programming onto one signal (I.E. CBS is on Channel 1.1, NBC is on 1.2), and shut down a transmitter.

I thought this might happen.  To me it was an obvious solution for broadcasting companies that want to control two major networks in a small-medium market.  If the FCC won’t let them control two stations, they’ll use technology to run two stations on one transmitter.

Viewers still get all of their major network programming, although possibly with lower picture quality.  But viewers could also lose several other program choices in the process.

Here’s where the opportunity lies:  someone needs to start buying the licenses of stations that have been shut down–preferably before the licenses are turned in to the FCC.  Ideally, people in a given community will buy the local station and find new ways to serve their communities AND the local economies.

Need some ideas of how to program these stations?  I have some ideas, as you’ll see on my most recent post.

If these newly-independent local stations can band together, they can share programming costs and marketing ideas.  There may be a way to bring some much-needed cash to the operation, using the same technology that the other stations used to create their virtual duopoly: lease one or more “sub-channels” to religious broadcasters, home shopping networks or even to a local organization, such as a community college, that would like to start a PBS member station.

At least one broadcaster who’s giving up stations has recruited someone to do something admirable with these stations.  Let’s hope they see realistic possibilities and bring in people such as me who have big ideas.


Local Media Reboot: Changing Channels to Create the Golden Age of Local Media

by Mark Shepherd

Having a license for a television station was once considered a “license to print money.”[1]    Competition for viewers was extremely limited and advertisers would essentially outbid each other for limited local commercial time.  With few exceptions, the most successful TV stations were those with a combination of a strong network and a strong local identity.

Through the 1980s, 1990s and even into the 21st century, that network-station relationship seemed to grow stronger.  Many stations gave up much of their own identity and tied their branding to their network.  Yet now that relationship is threatened, and it’s the stations, not the networks, that stand to lose everything.

The threat comes as networks find other ways to distribute their programming:  online, video on demand (VOD) and their own cable channels.  Local stations, which profit by selling advertising during popular network programming, don’t see a cent if a viewer watches the same shows via any other source.

For the networks, it makes sense.  They make money from their programming, no matter how viewers access it.  They don’t have to worry about how each station in 210 television markets performs.  Plus, as a cable channel, the network can collect monthly subscriber fees that range from a few cents to a few dollars per month, per cable/satellite subscriber.[2]  That means they get a lot of money whether anyone’s watching or not.

Local TV stations may collect fees (called retransmission fees[3]) from cable and satellite companies, but they’re not usually as high as what a cable channel collects. Only a portion of that money, if any, is passed on to the network.

Those subscriber fees are at the heart of the latest threat to local television.  At least one company, Aereo, is using an alternative delivery system to bypass the subscriber fees.[4] The whole matter is in court, and networks have threatened to pull their programming from OTA broadcasts if Aereo is allowed to continue. [5]

Whether Aereo succeeds or networks follow through with the threat, the network-station relationship is strained.  With the networks offering their programming in so many other places, OTA is left without the unique programming that made them so popular for the first 60 years of the medium. While ratings for network programming continue to drop, local stations continue to tie their own destiny to the fate of their networks–networks that don’t need local stations.

To be blunt, TV stations are the middleman in a world that doesn’t need a middleman.  Some form of the network-station relationship may evolve, but it’ll be very different from what we see now.  That’s best for both networks and stations.

Stations have one more program source:  syndication.  But few programs are available exclusively to local stations.  And local TV stations are still the middleman.  It’s more efficient for a syndicator to go directly to cable–or directly to viewers online.

So why isn’t anyone (or everyone!) making big changes?  Consolidation in the industry over 3 decades has left station groups looking for large national footprints to attract national advertisers.

That’s great news for national advertisers, but it prices local businesses out of the market.  Why pay to reach viewers in a large region if your potential customers are all in one town?

Continuing business as usual puts their business and an entire industry at risk.  What happens to local TV stations when they can no longer rely on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC?  The broadcasters who start planning and changing now will be more profitable than ever, enjoying a Golden Age of Local Media.


Now is the perfect time to reboot our businesses.  We still have network programming driving much of our image and our revenue.  In many states, political money is flowing into TV stations (although more of those dollars will start going online each political season). We have strong positions in our communities, and for now, we’re guaranteed a channel on the local cable system.

Most stations currently have more than one signal going to viewers, allowing room to experiment without risking the current product.

We can leverage our strengths to build new giants of local media.

Most importantly:  with so much working against local TV, and the government continuing to look for more ways to reclaim channels,[6] large numbers of local TV stations could cease to exist in a few short years–whether they’re driven out of business or because they just find it easier to cash out.

You need to be among the strongest stations to ensure your survival.  You can’t cut your way to success.  You can’t copy your competitors to be truly successful.  You have to be truly innovative and truly original in your marketplace.  And you have to be first.


The local media giant of the (very near) future will create a new business model.  It’s a multimedia source of news, information and entertainment that’s unique to each market.

(In much of the description, I’ll use the word “station” to keep things simple.  But please keep in mind, “station” means a multimedia operation of video signals and online content.)

These local stations will get back into the business of producing TV programs.  The stations will produce a lot of news and information programs, as you might expect.  But they’ll also produce new genres of programming:

  • Locally produced documentaries (about local issues, history, events, people, art, music)
  • Magazine shows
  • Court shows (with cases of local and regional interest)
  • Game Shows
  • Entertainment competitions
  • Sports programming (ranging from middle school to college-level)
  • Community Events (many of which will be developed by the station itself, creating opportunities for the station advertisers on TV and at the actual event). These can include concerts, parades, and health expos.
  • Game/Quiz Shows
  • Sketch shows, Comedy and Drama

Ideally, the station will create partnerships with similar stations in nearby markets, creating opportunities to share content that will be relevant in nearby areas.

I see stations starting to place these programs on digital channels and online, NOW, while also reevaluating current syndicated programming.  When a program contract expires, it could be a great chance to replace an expensive syndicated show with something  you produce yourself–and keep all the ad time and revenue.


Across the country, stations have expanded their news products.  They’re on the air as early as 4 AM and as late as 11:35 PM.  Local newscasts are on at once-unheard of times like 1 PM and 6:30 PM.

Adding news time slots certainly increases the convenience for your audience.  Whatever time they can watch, you’re probably there. But most stations have added those broadcasts while adding few or even no journalists to their staffs.

So here’s where I tell you something your audience already knows:  you’re running the same news over and over!  Sure, the presentation changes a bit. First, the reporter is live from the scene.  An hour later, he or she has a packaged version of the story.  If you’re watching and paying attention, you know there’s nothing really different about the content–we’ve just added “new and improved” to the label.

To really expand your news product means having a staff who develops stories in specific content areas or “beats.”  Beats can be geographical or subject-based, such as crime, job creation, education or medical.

I can hear the journalists and managers in newsrooms around the country screaming, “but we’re too small to have beats!”  In the old way of operating, that was true.  But the new way of running a newsroom gives you a chance to dramatically expand your operations–and your revenue sources!

If you made it through the introduction, you might already think you know where I’m headed with this: generate all of this new content to bring more variety to your newscasts.

Yes, that’s a part of it, but a surprisingly small part. For now.


You probably think of your market as the areas reached by the signal of your television station.  How limiting!   You’re giving your potential advertisers only one place to present their ads (or two, if you count your website).  Again, you’re pricing many of them out of the market.  Here’s your chance to give them new opportunities while carving out a larger share of your advertising market.

All of those news “beats” you’re creating can be the basis for entire websites that are very targeted, either by geography or by interest. For every small town where you commit coverage, you have a website.  The site becomes a new-age newspaper for the town, ad dollars come to you, all while creating new content for any platform where it fits.

Right now in your market, you probably have one or two communities that you really cover well.  How many other towns in your market are lucky to be mentioned in a weather picture or a Friday Night Football clip?  The answer to that question also answers another question:  how many opportunities to serve advertisers are you missing?

In addition to city beats, you’ll also create content beats.  Business is a big one, if you break it down into things that really affect residents: job creation, real estate and prices for food and fuel.  Education, health and sports are a little more traditional for TV stations, but there’s still plenty of room to expand those beats..

For each content beat, you don’t just hire a reporter, you start a business.  That business  consists of a website with news from that city or for that beat in your region; a business that creates content for your TV newscasts; a business that generates opportunities for your advertisers–who’ll also need you to produce ads for them: video, audio, banner, even paid content.

Soon you’ve done what[7] couldn’t:  you’ve created a series of strong local websites in a region that are supported by local advertisers that are committed to their communities.  .

How far can it go?  Can you create a 24-hour  news “channel” for every community you serve?  It might not look like Fox News or CNN, and you probably wouldn’t want it to. The ability to provide on-demand, up-to-date, custom local news was far-fetched just a few years ago.  Now, you can do it and you SHOULD do it before someone else does.

Don’t outsource anything local.  Traffic?  Your people know the area better than anyone.  Why pay someone else to do it?  Instead, offer to sell your traffic service to everyone else–even your staunchest competitor.  The same goes for other commonly-outsourced products.  Don’t pay a stringer for overnight news–do it yourself and sell it to your competitors.  You can even sell weather and certain non-competitive news coverage. Can you quickly aggregate election returns and pump them out on a wire to other media–even sending it directly to their websites?  Sure, you are helping your competitors, but YOU get paid for THEIR success.


Controlling your programming gives you limitless chances to create value for advertisers.

First, you’re controlling all of the inventory.  You’re not limited to the 2-3 minutes of local advertising per hour during network programming. And you no longer give up half of your ad time to barter spots during syndicated programming.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should immediately start loading up with local ads.  There’s a chance to create more value for both advertisers and viewers.  Your channels can stand out by limiting the clutter of commercials.  That means the remaining spots stand out, which is great for advertisers–and you can charge a premium for clutter-free breaks.  It also means fewer interruptions for viewers–and fewer reasons to change channels.

You are also free to experiment with alternative types of advertising, such as title sponsors for shows and PBS-style underwriting.

When you create customized news programs for individual communities in your market, you create great opportunities for businesses to reach people near them.  Those businesses  can target the people who are most likely to become customers.  Those ads can run with your content online–or even on TV through such arrangements as providing a customized feed to the cable companies in those communities.  You can also create custom streams that go directly to set-top boxes such as Roku.

We don’t have to limit new revenue to our TV channels and websites.  When we create community events, we will partner with sponsors who’ll want a presence at the event–and who’ll help make the event a success.

Are there under-performing radio stations in your market?  If you’ve beefed up your news operations, radio can be one more outlet for your product–and one more outlet for your advertisers.  Don’t limit to one station.  Smaller location-niche stations drive more loyal listeners and help advertisers target their customers.  If even more radio signals are available, expand your existing businesses to include formats like business radio and health.

Once your sales team is equipped to serve advertisers, wherever they want to advertise, and you can produce ads in any form, you have yet another business.  It’s an agency that can place ads on properties you don’t own.  Don’t think of it as helping your competitor. Think of it as making money no matter where an ad is running.


All of this requires more people than most traditional TV stations have employed in the past.  That’s okay, since we’re creating new opportunities for revenue. We’re also creating entirely new businesses.  It’ll be a culture shock in an industry accustomed to doing more with less.  Now we’ll do much more with more.

In many stations, that will mean a space crunch.  At first, that could mean renting temporary space or creative solutions like encouraging some employees to work-from-home.  Ultimately, it may mean expansion, moving or even building a new workplace.  What a great problem to have!


Small and medium market stations will be the first to revolutionize local media.  It’s much easier to change quickly at that level.  And small-medium stations already have a more intimate relationship with their viewers and their customers.  Change will come to large markets, but it will take longer.

This is a great opportunity for small ownership groups to build their business rather than sell them to larger group owners.  The possibilities for expanding this business are endless.  Even if you’ve saturated your market, when you own your content, there’s nothing to stop you from expanding into under-served cities in nearby markets.

The first owner to create this new business gets another opportunity:  the chance to sell a franchise.  Stations around the country will need a blueprint to create their own new businesses.

It’s also a great opportunity for someone with money to get into the TV business.  While consolidation has been the trend for several years, we’re at a point where station groups are forced to spin off some stations to stay within federally-mandated limits.  If the network-station relationship deteriorates quickly, we could even see a sell-off of stations at all levels.

It’s inevitable that there will be other ways for local stations to ensure their success and survival into a new age.  What I’ve described is my way, building a business that’s built on creating engaging, relevant content for local viewers and value for local businesses.  In this new world, I see competition as win-win.  We each create unique content and unique business.  That’s great for viewers and advertisers–and local television.


I’ve worked in local television for the last thirty years, through the glory years of local news.  I watched closely as the world changed around us.  From my position in local newsrooms, I witnessed the successes and the missed opportunities.

Through it all, I believed then–and still believe now–that local stations have missed great opportunities to serve their communities well.  They tried to emulate cable networks and think larger and larger. In the process, they left cash on the table from local businesses who needed to reach potential local customers–but couldn’t afford and didn’t need to reach an entire market.  They’ve handed over much of their sales effort to outside agencies.  They’ve all but forgotten how to create local content.  (Go from one city to the next and you’ll see very little variety among TV stations.)

On top of all of that, they tried to cut their way to success, budget wise.  They found they could put on several hours of news a day with the same staff that used to produce one hour.  They found they could run two or even three stations for the price of one.  In the process, they gave up much of their ability to create content and serve their communities.

I kept my ideas to myself, thinking surely I’d find the reason I was wrong about all of this.  But time is proving me to be right about most, if not all of it.

Now it’s time to create my vision..  Now is the time for a broadcasting company–or someone who wants to buy local stations–to enlist my help to create the new golden age of local media.






Don’t believe everything you read, Number 1

I get a lot of email from people who mean well. They find what looks like it would be useful to others, and they pass it on. Sometimes it’s household tips. Sometimes it’s a warning.

Some of those emails are true. Some are not. Usually a quick search will determine whether the email is valid.

Like this one I got recently:


1. Budweiser beer conditions the hair
Pam cooking spray will dry finger nail polish
Cool whip will condition your hair in 15 minutes
Mayonnaise will KILL LICE, it will also condition your hair
Elmer’s Glue – paint on your face, allow it to dry, peel off and see the dead skin and blackheads if any

6. Shiny Hair – use brewed Lipton Tea
7. Sunburn – empty a large jar of
Nestea into your bath water
8. Minor burn –
Colgate or Crest toothpaste
9. Burn your tongue? Put
sugar on it!
10. Arthritis?
WD-40 Spray and rub in, kill insect stings too

11 Bee stings – meat tenderizer
12. Chigger bite – Preparation H
13. Puffy eyes – Preparation H
14. Paper cut – crazy glue or chap stick (glue is used instead of sutures at most hospitals)
15. Stinky feet –
Jello !

16. Athletes feet – cornstarch
17. Fungus on toenails or fingernails –
Vicks vapor rub
Kool aid to clean dishwasher pipes. Just put in the detergent section and run a cycle, it will also clean a toilet. (Wow, and we drink this stuff)
Kool Aid can be used as a dye in paint also Kool Aid in Dannon plain yogurt as a finger paint, your kids will love it and it won’t hurt them if they eat it!
Peanut butter – will get scratches out of CD’s! Wipe off with a coffee filter paper

21. Sticking bicycle chain – Pam no-stick cooking spray
Pam will also remove paint, and grease from your hands! Keep a can in your garage for your hubby
Peanut butter will remove ink from the face of dolls
24. When the doll clothes are hard to put on, sprinkle with
corn starch and watch them slide on
25. Heavy dandruff – pour on the
vinegar !

26. Body paint – Crisco mixed with food coloring. Heat the Crisco in the microwave, pour in to an empty film container and mix with the food color of your choice!
27 Tie Dye T-shirt – mix a solution of
Kool Aid in a container, tie a rubber band around a section of the T-shirt and soak
28. Preserving a newspaper clipping – large bottle of
club soda and cup of milk of magnesia , soak for 20 min. and let dry, will last for many years!
29. A Slinky will hold toast and CD’s!
30. To keep goggles and glasses from fogging, coat with
Colgate toothpaste

31. Wine stains, pour on the
Morton salt and watch it absorb into the salt.
32. To remove wax – Take a paper towel and iron it over the wax stain, it will absorb into the towel.
33. Remove labels off glassware etc. rub with
Peanut butter!
34. Baked on food – fill container with water, get a
Bounce paper softener and the static from the Bounce towel will cause the baked on food to adhere to it. Soak overnight. Also; you can use 2 Efferdent tablets , soak overnight!
35. Crayon on the wall –
Colgate toothpaste and brush it!

36. Dirty grout – Listerine
37. Stains on clothes –
Colgate toothpaste
38. Grass stains – Karo Syrup
39. Grease Stains –
Coca Cola , it will also remove grease stains from the driveway overnight. We know it will take corrosion from car batteries!
40. Fleas in your carpet?
20 Mule Team Borax– sprinkle and let stand for 24 hours. Maybe this will work if you get them back again.
41. To keep FRESH FLOWERS longer Add a little
Clorox , or 2 Bayer aspirin , or just use 7-up instead of water.

42. When you go to buy bread in the grocery store, have you ever wondered which is the freshest, so you ‘squeeze’ for freshness or softness? Did you know that bread is delivered fresh to the stores five days a week? Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each day has a different color twist tie.
They are:

Monday = Blue,
Tuesday = Green,
Thursday = Red
Friday = White
Saturday = Yellow.
So if today was Thursday, you would want red twist tie; not white which is Fridays (almost a week old)! The colors go alphabetically by color Blue- Green – Red – White – Yellow, Monday through Saturday. Very easy to remember. I thought this was interesting. I looked in the grocery store and the bread wrappers DO have different twist ties, and even the ones with the plastic clips have different colors. You learn something new everyday! Enjoy fresh bread when you buy bread with the right color on the day you are shopping.

Don’t forget Gatorade for Migraine Headaches. PowerAde won’t work. Pass this information on to friends so they can be informed.
I immediately focused on number 10: using WD-40 to treat arthritis or insect stings. Most of the others I read seemed relatively harmless, but this one struck me as something that could be dangerous. I was right.

This article from finds that the treatment is ineffective and potentially dangerous.

One dangerous item like this is enough to tell me to disregard the whole list. Besides, who wants to try to get peanut butter off of a CD?

And Prep-H for puffy eyes? If it works, I don’t care. I know where it’s supposed to go.

Got an email you want me to check out? Send it to And let me know if you’d prefer not to be identified in the blog!

TV Station Fire Sale

A bunch of companies are getting out of the local TV business.

The New York Times recently sold its stations to a private equity firm. Clear Channel and LIN are selling their stations across the country. Nexstar is considering the sale of some or all of its stations in small markets. Stockholders are pressuring Gannett to sell its stations as well.

All of this activity makes it a bad time to sell TV stations. Supply goes up, prices go down.

Note to someone with money: this is a great time to buy TV stations. They’re still not cheap, but this may be the best time in years to get into this industry.

But before you buy, you need to look at why so many companies are selling.

The conventional wisdom is there’s one tried-and-true way to run a TV station.

(1) Affiliate with one of the big three major networks. The network will fill up most of your broadcast day. You get to sell a minute (give or take) of commercials every half hour.

(2) Program local news during a few traditional time periods, hiring as few people as possible and fill most of that newscast with stories from your network feed, consultant driven stories and whatever your small staff can cover from the police scanner and the newspaper.

(3) Program the remaining time slots with programs you buy from syndicators. You pay the syndicators for their programs and they also take some of the commercial time during those shows.

There’s a slight adjustment to this formula for affiliates of Fox and other “second-tier” networks. Your network will only fill 2-4 hours of your broadcast day. You may have a very small news department, and you’ll need many more syndicated programs to fill up the day.

Stations began operating this way because it allowed them to spend the least money up front and have the smallest payrolls. This formula has worked fairly well for more than 30 years.

It won’t work much longer.

If you’ve read my other blog entries, or watched television, you already know why. Most of the “second tier” stations already look a lot like cable channels. From a viewer’s standpoint, what’s the difference between watching Seinfeld on your local station and Seinfeld on TBS? As much as local stations don’t want to admit it, there is no difference.

Network affiliates look a lot like cable channels for much of their broadcast day as well, but they face another challenge: networks no longer need local affiliates. They send programs directly to viewers online and through video on demand and on cable channels.

All of this happens as technology allows stations to offer multiple streams of programming on one digital signal.

The situation creates a big black hole in the schedules for local TV stations. It also presents a big opportunity.

Local TV stations need to take charge of their own programming. There will be a new “conventional wisdom” for local broadcasters:

(1) Strengthen your news department. It’s time for TV stations to add employees to news. Think in terms of newspaper staffing rather than traditional TV station staffing. These people can generate hours of LOCAL programming that’s unlike anything on the dial now: traditional newscasts, specialty newscasts, an all-local news channel, an all-local weather channel.

(2) Create news/information programs: A court show. Current events phone-in shows. Sports talk. Ask the doctor. Ask the gardener. Ask the veterinarian. Ask the computer geek.

(3) Get back in the production business. There are sporting events and entertainment venues near you that would make great television.

(4) Beef up and retrain your sales staff. Encourage them to be creative. Your local programs will be unique in your market and advertising time will be in demand. Charge a premium for ads that run in an less-cluttered environment. Sell sponsorships for shows with limited (or no) commercial interruption. Sell ads on your digital subchannels to local businesses who’ve never been able to afford television. Let viewers upload their photos and type in their copy for video classifieds.

Within a few years, many local TV stations will operate like this. The ones who start now will be the leaders. The rest will play catchup. Which will you be?

TV Takeover

This is an open letter to anyone buying, or considering buying, one or more TV stations, particularly if you are part of a private equity group. This can be a moneymaking venture for you.

Full disclosure: I work for a company that has been the target of buyout offers from private equity firms. As of this writing it appears those offers will be turned down.

I don’t know much about private equity firms, but the prevailing fear is that they simply want to buy something, cut costs to a bare minimum to make the bottom line look good, then sell it, either whole or in pieces. The problem with that approach is that most local TV stations are lean operations already. Anything you cut could hurt the value of your station.

If you want to make money via financial tools, local TV is probably not the business for you. If you want to make money operating TV stations, you should know it is a changing business and that change creates opportunity.

I’m sure there are many ways to make a lot of money by investing in local TV. Here’s one of them:

Buy a group of underperforming (ratings-wise) stations in the same region, in small to medium markets.

There may actually be a few ways to cut costs, but in general, you’ll need to spend money. Provide these stations the infrastructure to create and produce good local programs. News is one of those programs, but there are many other programs waiting to be created.

The stations may be able to share some elements of their programs. Or better yet, create a program at one station. If it works, use that program as a blueprint for other stations.

One goal should be to reduce or eliminate syndicated programming in favor of locally-created programs.

There’s a good fiscal reason to do this: for every syndicated program on your air, you pay thousands of dollars to the syndicator. You also give up much of the advertising time to that syndicator. For every local program you produce, you save the syndication fee and get to sell all of your advertising time. A local show with moderate ratings can be as financially successful as a syndication hit–and let’s face it, there aren’t many new syndication hits.

The other reason is exclusivity. Many syndicated shows also appear on cable or satellite. Your potential audience with those shows is immediately reduced. You could also spend years and lots of money building an audience for that syndicated program, only to have another station outbid you for it next year and take that audience from you.

Now if you’re in the lucky position of owning the rights to syndicated hits like Oprah or Wheel of Fortune, I’m not saying you should dump them. Stick with what works. But don’t buy any new shows.

It’s much smarter at this stage of the game to control your own destiny with your own programs. You’ll create a new identity for a struggling station. You’ll build a great reputation in the local community. And you’ll make a lot of money. There are risks, but the rewards are much greater.

My Christmas wreath is for the bird

As I went home the other night, I stuck my key in the lock and something moved in my Christmas wreath. A small bird had apparently decided my fake wreath looked like a good home, until some non-flying creature came along and opened the door.

The first time it happened, I was merely surprised. It happened again last night, and I won’t go into details about how much it startled me. The evidence of how much the bird was started, however, remains on my door.

I should really wash that off.

But while we’re on the subject, I have a word of warning for the health-conscious among you: don’t buy sugar-free peppermint, thinking you can have all you want, since it’s sugar-free.

Large amounts of sucralose (Splenda) apparently have a side effect. Without going into details, I’ll just say that I fully expected the Coast Guard to show up asking who was setting off the foghorn. I was setting records for decibel level and hang time.

You should also know that many sugar free cough drops contain Sorbitol, which can also cause the storm within.

Out, damned spots

Now’s a really good time for me to tell you that most of what I write is not based on research or polls. If I’m basing something on specific research, I’ll certainly tell you.

Most of the TV-related subjects I write about here are based on:

(1) my own observations and experience
(2) what viewers, friends and relatives tell me, and
(3) what seems like common sense to me.

What I’m about to say fits into all three categories: TV stations run too many commercials.

That thud you just heard was a TV salesperson hitting the floor after fainting.

A consultant (yes, they do sometimes offer valid information) told me years ago that, in the case of a newscast, people see signposts telling them that commercials are coming. Viewers know that a commercial break could be anywhere from 2 minutes to nearly 5 minutes. In those days, people would start flipping channels when they knew a break was coming. Now, many people hit fast-forward. We’ve trained them well.

But what if we made breaks much shorter? Some could be as short as 30 seconds or a minute. Maybe the longest breaks could be 90 seconds. Viewers would quickly learn they can’t start flipping channels because they’ll miss something. And it wouldn’t be worth the effort to fast-forward through such a short break.

The ripple effect could be tremendous. Less commercial clutter could make a station much more enjoyable to watch. Viewers who don’t have a strong preference for one station’s newscast will start to choose the station that gives them more content and fewer commercials. What happens when a station has more viewers? The cost of commercials goes up.

Then, figure in the law of supply and demand. If fewer commercials are available, the demand goes up and the rates go up even more. If it’s done properly, a TV station could actually make more money, not less, by selling fewer commercials. The other stations will notice the trend and cut their own commercial time. That increases the demand even more.

I don’t see any losers here. Viewers get more content. Advertisers get a more attentive audience and don’t have to fight as much clutter. Stations get more money.

So why isn’t anyone doing this? No one wants to tell the sales folks they have less time to sell, even if it means making more money.

Less is more!