What was formerly unprecedented in the local TV news business (TV groups partnering to gather news), is fast becoming standard practice in today’s rocky economy. On Wednesday (April 1), Fox Television Stations and The E.W. Scripps Company announced they have created a local news service for their stations in Detroit, Phoenix and Tampa.
Beginning this month, the two sets of stations will begin pooling content-gathering resources at general market events, while continuing to operate independently in all other respects.
With 2009 forecasts calling for revenue declines between 15 percent and 20 percent, TV stations are taking a number of measures to save costs and cut expenses. Last summer Fox and NBC Local Media began pooling some of their news operations in Philadelphia in an experiment that led to the formation last fall of a Local News Service in five additional markets where both own stations.
“We are pleased to be working with Scripps, a company that faces reality, makes quick decisions and understands what it takes to keep local television robust and independent,” said Jack Abernethy, CEO of Fox Television Stations.
With the Scripps partnership, Fox owned-and-operated stations now have partnerships in nine of its 16 markets and is seeking out partnerships for the others.
“This is the most challenging time in our industry that we’ve ever seen and everyone is looking to take proactive steps to create a new model,” said Sharri Berg, senior vp of news operations for Fox Television Stations. “Instead of just cutting, we’re looking for smart ways to embrace the future.”
Although the idea of the local news service was born out of a necessity to save costs and avoid duplication of effort, it also frees up stations to focus their resources on investigative reporting and exclusive news.
“This news service will allow our existing staff to cover even more local news across multiple platforms,” said Brian Lawlor, senior vp of television for Scripps. “We’ll now have the resources to deliver that content with deeper storytelling and richer context.”
The LNS pilot in Philadelphia proved to be almost an immediate success, Berg said. “LNS started covering eight stories a day. That’s grown to 30 pieces of shared video each day. Our stations continue to break news with investigative pieces. If anything the viewer is getting more,” Berg said.
It’s hard to quantify just how much has been saved, but in Dallas, where Fox and NBC share a helicopter, each is only paying half of what it would cost to operate independently.