The general managers of the Bay Area’s TV and radio news stations spoke to about 50 people last night about the issues facing their businesses — the fractionalization of their audience, the need for shows to generate revenue and their desire to reach younger demos with news programming.
The panel was moderated by former anchor Suzanne Shaw (standing), who observed that in the 1970s ratings were much higher for local news shows. She recalled how back then, the 11 p.m. news on Channel 7, anchored by Van Amberg and the late Jerry Jensen, often pulled a 50 share. Today, with hundreds of channels, programs can stay on the air even if they only garner a 1 rating, the panelists said. “The ratings are so much smaller than they used to be,” said Tim McVay, KTVU 2 vp and gm. “It is shocking to us.” KRON 4 gm Mark Antonitis said ratings are less important than the revenue shows generate for stations. “We have to make money,” Antonitis said.
Highlights of the discussion:
- • KGO 7 has begun using an automated studio and control room system called Ignite which combines four technical positions into one, said General Manager Valari Staab. However, Staab said nobody has been laid off due to the new technology. Instead, while the system was being customized over an 18-month period, employees who retired or quit were replaced with temps until Ignite went online. “It is expensive, but it pays for itself in two or three years,” Staab said. KTVU’s McVay said his station will switch to Ignite soon.
• KGO-AM 810 saw an immediate boost in its ratings when it replaced the noon news with an hour-long legal advice show hosted by Len Tillem, said station GM Mickey Luckoff. He said nobody on the station’s news staff was let go when the show was cancelled — they were reassigned to the morning or afternoon newscasts.
• KCBS-AM 740 executive Doug Harvill said his station will be expanding as it prepares to deliver news on new “platforms.” He wouldn’t say what those platforms were, probably out of fear of tipping his hand to Luckoff who was sitting a few seats away, but he said, “We’re going to need more talent.”
• KGO’s Luckoff said broadcasters have to seek revenue in nontraditional ways, such as his station’s recent Eco Live festival, which he said brought in an “ungodly” amount of money from the sale of sponsorships. “It was amazing,” Luckoff said. He said such an event is a good fit with the environmentally-aware Bay Area audience, but when he tells executives at ABC stations in other cities about the event, “they think we’re from outer space.”
• Tom Raponi, vp and gm of KICU and sales manager of co-owned KTVU, said that despite fractionalized audiences, “When we put something on the air that’s compelling, people come to the TV set.” Examples include “American Idol” and local pro sports.
• KRON 4’s VJ initiative (where reporters carry cameras in the field and photographers added reporting to their duties) has “worked very well, but we’re still going through growing pains,” said GM Mark Antonitis. “We’re still trying to get it right.” He said the station has about half the staff it did three or four years ago. In 2002, KRON lost its NBC affiliation and became an independent. He said KRON’s goal is to create more content — cover more news — “because there is a huge appetite.” Also, the station has lengthened its early newscast, which now airs from 4 to 10 a.m.
Wednesday’s panel discussion took place at the ABC Broadcast Center on Front Street and was hosted by the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Northern California. (Photo credit: Dave Price)