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How news is business

Accompanying a thorough and detailed (and well written) account of how ABC nearly stole David Letterman from CBS, the New York Times offers an extensive analysis of the business of TV network news.

One thing I didn't know: According to the Times, local TV network affiliates "can make more than 40 percent of their revenues on news." And strong national news programs improve viewership for local news on the same network.

One thing I did: Respected national news programs and recognizable news anchors can distinguish the TV networks from each other, and lend credibility to their news divisions (and the networks as a whole).

There's also a thing I haven't heard discussed anywhere. Not only do people turn to the TV for breaking news on events of national importance, we've come to expect being informed of anything critical, any time we're watching. I remember being irked at missing the end of an NBA playoff game because every single bleeping TV network simply had to show a now-infamous white Ford Bronco roll across the L.A. freeway system, but today I expect the TV to let me know anything big happens, even if I'm watching something else. And a network needs a news division in order to do that.

In the end, economics will rule. And it's clear that, head-to-head, hour-for-hour, entertainment programming brings in more revenue than news programming. But providing the news to its viewers is a critical service for a TV network — and sacrificing that service would ultimately hurt a network's bottom line.

March 19, 2002 12:04 AM


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