Another Local TV Crisis

The network-station relationship that has dominated local TV for decades is doomed.

Local network-affiliated stations used to be the only places to see network shows. That’s changing quickly. Networks are airing their soap operas on SoapNet, sharing shows with cable networks, making programs available on Video on Demand and even selling programs to viewers directly on the internet.

The networks clearly know something the stations don’t. Keep in mind that networks usually make more money by owning some of their stations than from the network itself. They wouldn’t cut out the stations if they didn’t know they’d make money some other way. They’ve made some concessions to local stations, in some cases giving them a cut of the sales in their regions.

Right now, you could add all of those “alternate” viewings together and they still wouldn’t compete with the number of viewers watching on local TV stations. But the new technology is starting to eat away at local station viewership–and revenue.

As more viewers become accustomed to downloading a show and watching whenever they want, how will a local station keep its audience? Why watch “24” on Monday night if you can download it straight to your settop box and watch whenever you want?

The solution for local stations’ survival is to come up with exclusive content. Virtually every station must create its own content. For most stations, the only local program is news. They must do more.

If it’s done right, this will mean a new round of hiring for TV stations, instead of the layoffs and cutbacks that are so common now. The current thinking, “do more with less,” will give way to a new thinking, “do much more with more.”

Surely the network-station relationship will continue in some form. But stations will run far more locally-produced shows instead of the mix of network and syndicated programming that fills the schedule now.