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Local TV – Intro


By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

One of the few sources of news that continues to be popular, local television news is nevertheless facing the challenges of new technology and new consumer lifestyles.

In 2007, for the second year in a row, local news ratings for evening news and late night news were down, and morning news just held steady. Stations responded, as they have before, by experimenting with their schedules. According to new PEJ analyses, stations in two-thirds of the top 25 markets added or shifted newscasts in 2007.

Financially, though, the business remains robust. The traditional non-election year slowdown had ad revenues dropping only marginally in 2007, but they were still better compared to the previous “odd year” numbers. Local advertising spots continued to earn more than national, and with a closely contested race for the president likely, political advertising is expected to make 2008 a very strong year.

Newsrooms are a big factor in the economic success of local television. They contributed 42% to a station’s total revenue, according to local news directors. And the majority of these news directors say their newsrooms are profitable.

Also helping the industry is the reputation it enjoys on Wall Street. Continuing a trend notable a year earlier, stations were vigorously bought and sold in 2007. Many more stations changed hands than in the previous years, with many private equity funds viewing them as good investments.

Further, the success of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin’s efforts to end the ban on cross-ownership in the country’s largest markets could lead to more transactions.

Within the newsroom, more than half of news directors reported increasing their budgets, with the money going to technology while staffing and salaries were flat. At the same time the amount of local news on-air increased, as did the amount shared with other stations and other platforms – most notably, the station’s Web sites. While business is good, inside the newsroom the trend of stretching people and resources thinner continues. The one place where we find staffing growth is online.

Television stations also geared up for the mandated transition to digital television, which, despite all the hiccups, seems on track to be in place by the February 2009 deadline.

In what could be a trend for the future, dollars and viewers seem to be going to newer distribution platforms, and the promise of additional digital streams is something stations are looking forward to. The future for local television seems to depend on how well it can capitalize on its existing strengths – content and reach – as it adapts to newer technologies.