‘We Are the First Responders’: Station Group Heads Discuss Health of Local TV

By Kevin Eck 

TVSpy sat in on two of the TV Summit panel discussions at the “NYC TV Week” event this afternoon.

While the panel with Peter Liguori, president and CEO of Tribune Company, was held earlier than the lunchtime discussion with Valari Staab, president of NBC owned stations and Rebecca Campbell, president of ABC owned stations, much of the discussion revolved around the health of local stations.

“I actually had someone approach me who said ‘No one watches local news,'” said Liguori. “And they actually couldn’t be more wrong. This morning in LA, KTLA drew about 150,000 viewers. CNN probably drew 10,000. We’re so accustomed and trained to look at cable news on a national basis and never on a local basis. KTLA out delivered CNN ten times this morning. That’s incredibly powerful.”

While Staab took it one step further by discussing a local station’s role in its community. “Journalists that are actually focused on holding people accountable have been severely reduced,” said Staab, pointing out the loss of local papers in the San Francisco Bay Area market while she was GM of ABC owned KGO. “Part of our big investment we made in our stations are investigative units,” she said now that she’s head of NBC owned stations. “If you put an investigative unit in a newsroom, it makes all the journalists become enterprise journalists. It creates a culture of enterprise journalism.”

“We are the first responders,” added Campbell, who talked about stations like WABC keeping viewers up-to-date on weather conditions during Hurricane Sandy.

“If you look at what happened in Oklahoma, 96 percent of televisions that were on when the Oklahoma tornadoes hit were tuned into local news,” said Liguori. “So there is a relationship that we have. There is a credibility with those local stations. And the 4 percent that weren’t tuned in, were tuned in to the Weather Channel and CNN who were using our local reporters to report the incident.”

Campbell added that the death knell for local TV has been ringing for some time, “Everybody has these national numbers,” said Campbell. “Every time Pew comes out with a study ‘local news is dying’, we’re not seeing that. I think it’s an exciting time for broadcasters because we have interaction and engagement with viewers that we’ve never had before.”