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Local TV – Intro


By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Local television stations usually can’t wait for presidential election years.

In normal times, they get a windfall from political advertising revenue. The Olympics are an added boost for stations affiliated with the network carrying the Games. And, typically, more stations are sold in the early months of such years, adding cash for the sellers. If the campaigns are interesting, news viewership might perk up, too.

Given the intensity of interest in the race, 2008 might have been an especially good year.

These, however, are not normal times.

The year just passed was a difficult one for local television and its newsrooms on almost every front.

The coming year looks even grimmer.

And not all of the problems can be chalked up to the weakening economy.

To begin with, viewership was flat or declined for most newscasts across all time slots.

Revenue projections kept being revised downward as the year went on and the final numbers were probably lower than in 2007, a non-election year. The local ad market was particularly hard hit, especially for cars, the industry’s biggest revenue source.  By some estimates, profit margins were cut in half.

In newsrooms, by the fourth quarter, cost cutting touched nearly everything and everyone, including some of the best known and most experienced on-air news people.
The delay in the switch to digital transmission from February 2009 to June added to financial strain; stations had to pay to keep analog equipment working and delay some digital upgrades. (See News Investment)

And looming, not at all far in the distance, is a potential shift in the relationship between networks and their affiliates that could effectively blow up the model of the local television business.

No, these are not normal times.