NATPE 2011

Demand For Solid Syndie Fare Still Strong

Station group executives say that with growing multiplatform opportunities for stations, the need for compelling, creative syndicated programming is growing in importance. Said Post-Newsweek Stations' Alan Frank: “No one does it like television. No one sells emotion like we do.”

Despite TV stations grappling with transformative times, success — and opportunity — in the business still largely boils down to giving consumers what they want to watch, a panel of big-league broadcast executives said Tuesday.

Speaking at a TVNewsCheck-sponsored panel at the NATPE conference in Miami, the heads of the Gannett, Fisher, Post-Newsweek and Hearst television groups said compelling content is key to luring viewers and honing station individuality, especially with stations going multiplatform.

The conversation about content and syndication, and what they mean to stations, was part of the panel’s larger, more sweeping, look at where broadcasting goes from here in the face of corporate mergers, new technology, economics and, naturally, the perennial quest for innovative programming.

“The challenge is in the invention of creative ideas,” said Colleen Brown, Fisher’s president-CEO. “Now more than ever there’s a great need, “ Brown continued. “There are multiplatform opportunities. There are multichannel opportunities.”

Brown and her fellow panelists — who together oversee stations covering about 30% of U.S. homes — weighed whether the relatively few first-run programs being offered for syndication this year represent the wave of the future, or if the business could return to times when syndicators offered up to a dozen new shows per season.

As a group, the executives said they still hold out hope of having more programming choices — maybe even options based on new concepts, like regional or interactive content.


As for the glory days of having up to a dozen options from which to choose?

“I think everything is cyclical,” said Alan Frank, president-CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations, “but despite what we think, nothing ever goes back to where it was.”

Frank said that without quality syndicated content, stations are at a disadvantage in distinguishing themselves as brands with personalities in their own right.

At the same time, however, syndicated content doesn’t get the same attention as other departments at some stations, simply because it doesn’t make as much money as other departments.

David Barrett, president-CEO of Hearst Television, said he’s more likely to invest in local news, which delivers 40% of his company’s revenue. Network programming contributes between 24% and 30% of revenue, with syndicated shows earning the rest, he said.

“The challenge for every industry, not just ours, is innovation,” Barrett added. Hearst, he said, is making its greatest investment in the year ahead in building its stations’ news departments, fueling the kind of operations today’s consumers demand.

“We’re investing in ‘next-generation’ news tools, we’re still building out HD local news production … and we are investing in mobile,” he said, adding: “We try to be a leader on-air, online and on the move.”

The importance of equipping stations with new, more efficient technology — and moving into the DTV era in a methodical way that is embraced by the industry as a whole — was also stressed by panelists as a means for keeping traditional television robust.

At the same time, the discussion highlighted television stations’ longstanding role as being part and parcel of the communities they serve, insisting that needs to be preserved even as broadcasters adopt new media.

Brown, for instance, said Fisher’s success in operating online, hyperlocal news sites is a testament to communities still wanting neighborhood outlets of which they can take ownership. “I do believe that it makes for an almost impenetrable relationship with consumers,” she said.

Dave Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting, said broadcasters can maximize their offerings even further by reallocating resources to operate with efficiency while taking advantage of the burgeoning multimedia opportunities.

“This industry still doesn’t allocate resources the way [it would] if you were starting today,” he said. “We can have a lot more content in our core product with our current resource base.”

As they weighed the evolution, and challenges, facing broadcasters, panelists said they still believe the medium is on a rebound, thanks to concrete factors like the economy, but also because of consumers’ and advertisers’ fundamental realization that TV delivers, continuing .

Regardless of such challenges, the panelists agreed that traditional TV is, in fact, on a comeback, not just because the economy is improving but also because the medium continues to prove its value even in light of competition from newer media.

“People came back to us,” Frank said, adding that advertisers are returning to traditional TV because it reaps results. “No one does it like television,” he said. “No one sells emotion like we do.”

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