Really Bad News For Local TV

The plight of the American newspaper is well documented, on this blog and plenty of other places online.  Now, in the past week, many of the actions we have seen newspaper corporate owners take are starting to take place in TV news, once the most cash-rich segment of media.

It used to be that an FCC license to broadcast TV in a local market was considered “a license to print money.”  Not anymore.  Due to years of increased competition, a collective news product that has soured many viewers, a schedule that was devised in the 1950s – before modern commutes and lifestyles, and, significantly, a huge drop in advertising from “bread and butter” sales clients like hard-hit car dealers and furniture stores, these are tough times in local TV.

We are starting to see stories from across the country of jobs being lost, even at highly-rated, big market local TV stations.  Nobody is immune – anchors, reporters, producers – just about anyone in a news department.  Newscasts are being eliminated, after an era of expanding news blocks (even with stagnant employment levels).  Most vulnerable, it seems, are local sports reports – a common budget casualty.  The TV sportscast seems to be going the way of the newspaper classified section.

Once local TV station General Manager told me this week that calls for cuts in expenses are coming literally every day from corporate ownership.  

When I worked in TV news in the ’90s, it was certainly during a cost conscious era.  Back then, I heard that major market stations were operating under corporate mandates to turn 30% profit margins.  That was a tall order, even then, achieved often by frugality.  But what’s happening now is something different.  News reports in New York City say TV stations in that market are “all losing money.”  If that’s the case, these are unprecedented times for this business.