WNBC New York has found high-quality local programming in an unlikely place–city-owned WNYE-TV–and is airing it on its analog and digital channels. Is this a model that can work in other markets?
A partnership between a public and a private broadcaster shows that commercial TV stations can make a real commitment to localism while maintaining fiscal responsibility.
In August, WNBC New York General Manager Frank Comerford announced that the NBC flagship would air five local programs produced by city-owned WNYE, aka NYC-TV, at 11 a.m. each weekday until the launch of the new iVillage program in December.
The arrangement also includes airing the five programs, plus two others, on WNBC’s digital multicast channel, WNBC 4.4, which is carried on major cable systems in the market.
Under the deal, NYC-TV retains four minutes of advertising avails in the shows with the remainder going to WNBC.
Many station owners and GMs truly want to do more locally-focused programming, but lament that it is time consuming and expensive.
With most bottom lines under increasing pressure these days, it’s difficult to make heightened localism a reality. As a result, most stations’ localism defaults to local news and some Sunday morning public affairs shows, but not much else.
So, how do broadcasters make more of an impact in their local markets among numerous competitors, take advantage of valuable brands and, most important, do so without breaking the bank? Following the lead of Frank Comerford is one way.
The genius of his plan is that it provides the station with exactly what it wants. Faced with the prospect of filling yet another time slot with often unsatisfactory syndicated products, and having expanded local news to a saturation point, WNBC found an option that provides it with award-winning, locally-produced content that costs nothing to produce or air.
The four minutes of avails WNBC gives NYC-TV is nothing more than a simple barter deal without cash—with no syndicator in the middle.
This unique locally oriented programming gives WNBC’s sales staff an opportunity to approach any number of local businesses for advertising and sponsorship opportunities that might not currently use local television.
With no real expense for the station, revenues generated by these shows go right to WNBC’s bottom line. So far, the ratings on the shows have been mixed, but these programs do not have to deliver blockbuster numbers to be deemed commercially successful.
The deal is the latest success for NYC-TV under the Bloomberg administration and the leadership of General Manager Arick Wierson. NYC-TV’s much troubled past as part of the city’s Board of Education has been completely erased in the past three years as the station has won numerous creative awards for its local content.
NYC-TV has truly become a pioneer in its production of some of the best locally focused work. These programs are produced at no cost to the citizens of New York City because they are underwritten through product integration contracts with the sponsors of the programs. The additional airtime provided by WNBC simply offers Wierson’s staff more bundling opportunities for sponsors.
We’ve seen how product placement and integration has worked at the network level, but this is one of those times where a local operation has taken advantage of them to benefit the market and the city’s taxpayers.
On the WNBC side, Comerford has indicated that he sees this deal with NYC-TV lasting long after the initial agreement ends later this year.
Is this a model that can work in other markets besides New York? Has a public broadcast entity shown the commercial broadcaster a way to responsibly underwrite quality local programming? Let’s hope.
Steve Passwaiter is vice president, business development, BIA Financial Network. You can contact him at 703-818-2425 or [email protected]. BIA has provided services to WNBC and WNYE, but not in connection with their local programming arrangement.