As part of a retransmission consent deal, Time Warner Cable’s statewide 24-hour news channel in North Carolina, is producing three newscasts a day for WXLV Greensboro, Sinclair’s ABC affiliate. Executives on both sides of the agreement say their goal is to use the newscasts to lure and hook more viewers, resulting in ratings for WXLV and subscribers for Time Warner Cable.
Even in this age of news partnerships, the idea of a cable company producing newscasts for a local broadcaster is pretty radical.
Yet, that is exactly what is happening in Greensboro, N.C., (DMA 46) where News14 Carolina, Time Warner Cable’s statewide 24-hour news channel, is producing three newscasts a day for WXLV, the Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate.
The half-hour newscasts, which air weekdays at 6:30 a.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., launched Jan. 2 under the terms of a retransmission consent agreement between Sinclair and Time Warner Cable.
Prior to the newscasts’ debut, WXLV was the only network affiliate in the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem market without local news. Now, it offers news from Raleigh, the capital, and other corners of the state.
“We now have a news organization that can cover the state like no other broadcaster,” says WXLV GM John Hayes. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Hayes says he’s pleased with the newscasts’ early ratings. In its second week on-air, the 6 a.m. newscast garnered a 0.5 household rating, while the 11 p.m. newscast earned a 2.0.
Those numbers trail the other local newscasts, but, as Hayes says, the numbers “are really good considering we started with a zero. Anytime you get ratings points and viewership in a newscast that is new, it is considered a win.”
To ramp up for the new venture, Time Warner hired seven new employees including an anchor, reporter and two producers, all of whom work primarily on the WXLV newscasts, but may pick up work for News14 Carolina as well.
In turn, members of the larger News14 Carolina crew — particularly reporters who work outside the Greensboro market, sports staff and meteorologists — play integral roles on the WXLV newscasts, says Alan Mason, VP and GM of News14.
The WXLV newscasts are created in the manner of traditional, half-hour local news, versus the hourly “news wheel” News14 format, Mason says. Otherwise, there is very little difference between the WXLV newscasts and what Greensboro viewers get on the cable network.
“Our goal was to showcase the News14 product to ABC45 viewers, so our intent has not been to dramatically change the production values or content,” Mason says.
Marti Skold, who is based at Time Warner’s Raleigh production hub, anchors morning newscasts on both WXLV and News14. Evening and latenight anchor Cheryn Stone, who also is in Raleigh, will likely add News14 anchoring to her role as well, Mason says.
The two newscasts share Charlotte-based meteorologists and sportscasts.
Local stories, generated by Time Warner’s on-the-ground news team in Greensboro, often appear on both the TV station and cable channel. “The news of the day is the news of the day,” Mason says.
News14 on ABC 45 broadcast from WXLV sets. Both WXLV and Time Warner promote the newscasts. Time Warner sells ads in the newscasts. WXLV maintains control of the adjacencies.
Executives on both sides of the agreement say their goal is to use the newscasts to lure and hook more viewers, resulting in ratings for WXLV and subscribers for Time Warner Cable.
Using news as a means of luring subscribers is new for the company, says Steve Paulus, SVP of news and local programming at Time Warner Cable. It’s more commonly seen as a customer retention tool than bait.
“We see it as a means of reaching people we don’t have any means of reaching so they eventually can become cable subscribers,” Paulus says. “Fifty percent of the people [in the market] who don’t have Time Warner Cable are now going to see Time Warner News14.”
And, as Hayes puts it: “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t trying to improve the ratings.”
The WXLV/News14 Carolina partnership may be the only one in the country involving a station and a cable operator, but it is not the first.
Earlier attempts at such relationships were less involved and relatively short-lived. In the early 1990s, for example, New England Cable News briefly produced a 10 p.m. newscast for WFXT, the Fox O&O in Boston.
The Greensboro partnership may be the first derived from a retransmission consent agreement. However, in an age when, according to Hofstra University professor Bob Papper, 59% of all news operations are involved in some sort of news sharing arrangements, it is possible that there could be more on the horizon.
“I think you will see more of these kinds of relationships-partnerships in the near future, especially in strong Time Warner Cable news markets like Tampa, where Bay News 9 is very strong, and New York, with NY1,” says Jerry Gumbert, president-CEO of AR&D, a media strategy firm.
“My, are times changing,” he says.
Diana Marszalek writes about local TV news every other week in her Air Check column. You can reach her for comment on this column or with ideas for upcoming ones at [email protected]. For other Air Check stories, click here.