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LOCAL TV STATIONS FACE A FUZZY FUTURE

(The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 10, 2009)
(PDF of original; Link to story on wsj.com)



By SAM SCHECHNER and REBECCA DANA

LAS VEGAS -- Lisa Howfield, general manager of KVBC, the NBC affiliate here, watched last year as the broadcast-television business began to shrink. She started cutting. She combined departments. She made do with old equipment, and did away with luxuries like yearly sales getaways.

In December and January, she laid off 15 employees, or 6% of her staff. After the weatherman left last month, one of the morning news anchors took on both jobs. "It's like a bad roller-coaster ride," says Ms. Howfield. Her station's full-day viewership is down 7.7% this TV season from the same period last year, according to Nielsen Co., and Ms. Howfield expects her ad revenue in 2009 will be down 30% from 2008.

Local television stations like Ms. Howfield's dominated the TV business for more than half a century. They inspired the term "network": a web of Channel 7s and 11s that delivered shows from ABC, CBS, NBC -- and later, Fox -- plus local news, syndicated reruns and talk shows. Because the stations owned the licenses to the airwaves that broadcast TV signals, big networks couldn't distribute content without them. In turn, local stations became the vehicles for the greatest mass-market advertising blitz in history.

Now, with their viewership in decline and ad revenue on a downward spiral, many local TV stations face the prospect of being cut out of the picture. Executives at some major networks are beginning to ...

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