Sad Day for Local TV?

I just went to the ABC News website and watched a little Robert Krulwich piece on “ABC News Now,” a digital scheme they’re using to distribute gavel-to-gavel coverage during the conventions. Just log onto your computer and you’ve got it.

Judging by Krulwich’s piece, the video quality is quite good. As I’ve said here before, you don’t need or want full screen video when you’re watching TV on a computer.

What’s scary about this is that it might be the seminal moment in the dissolution of the 50+ year bond between networks and their local affiliates. That’s huge.

Let’s face it – local TV stations are an expensive method of distributing national programs. However, they come with built in pull. They have (usually) good cable position and the draw of local news and other non-duplicated programming. In other words, until now, they’ve been worth it.

A program of equal value will get a higher audience on a local broadcast station than it will on a pure cable channel. Network television has been predicated on that assumption for 20 years or more.

World News Now seems to operate on the assumption that ABC can get away with a smaller audience because they have lower distribution costs, the ability to run commercials and also charge a subscription fee to see the feed. If it works they can slowly but surely eliminate the middle man.

That may not be such a terrible thing for me, because it will demand more local programming – and I can do that. For viewers, it will help continue the downward spiral for production costs and values in free over-the-air television.

You would think local TV station owners would be concerned about this – and maybe they are… they don’t talk with me.

There are precedents for this kind of thing happening. Years ago, broadcast television was where movies went after the theater. Then pay channels like HBO got first dibs. It’s too late to put that horse back in the barn, but when the original deals were made to give first run rights to pay cable, broadcasters had loads of leverage. As far as I can see they never used it and allowed the value of their movie investment to tumble.

Is the same thing happening today? Check back in 5 years. By then, we’ll know.

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