Is this the end of locally-produced, small-market television news?
The FCC eliminates the Main Studio Rule
TV Technology explains:
The new FCC rule eliminating a nearly 80-year old requirement that each AM, FM and TV station maintain a main studio in its community of license will take effect Jan. 8, 2018.
The effective date—30 days after publication of the rule in the Federal Register, which occurred Dec. 8.—also applies to other elements of the new rule, including the elimination of the requirement that the main studio have full-time management and staff on hand locally during normal business hours and that the studio have the ability to originate programming.
For those of us who are very pessimistic about the future of local broadcast news, the FCC did try to accommodate us:
Broadcasters, however, must continue to maintain a local or toll free telephone number.
(Wow, talk about meeting the needs of local communities – a toll free number!)
According to the FCC, broadcasters and consumers will benefit:
the agency said eliminating the rule should “produce substantial cost-saving benefits for broadcasters. . . .”
I think that sums it up but the FCC went on to suggest that these savings
could be used for programming, equipment upgrades, newsgathering and other services that benefit consumers.
But will they? I would guess not -- look at Sinclair Broadcasting (owner of local station WTOV) who will be a major beneficiary of this rule change. Their record, before the elimination of the rule, doesn’t inspire confidence:
As the country's largest owner of local TV stations, Sinclair's acquisition history is littered with employee layoffs. In locations where it owns more than one station, Sinclair has merged local news staffs, even sharing the same anchors. Examples include Columbus, Ohio, and Asheville, N.C.
What will happen to local news production at WTRF Wheeling and WTOV Steubenville?
I don’t know but I’m not very optimistic. The Wheeling station (part of Nexstar Media Group) already has its 5:30 news originating in Charleston as part of a statewide network and its weekend news is done with a very small staff. It would not surprise me to eventually see all its local news emanating from Charleston with maybe a couple of reporters based in Wheeling to cover some Ohio Valley news and sports.
Despite what looks to be a larger production team than the Wheeling station, local Steubenville Sinclair affiliate (WTOV) could also eliminate its main studio. The nearest Sinclair station, WPGH in Pittsburgh, already shares its newscasts with Pittsburgh’s WIIC. Sinclair, as previously noted, is “littered with employee layoffs” and cutting some of its staff would surely help the concern for the bottom line that appears in everything they do. Wall Street may already have realized that: yesterday morning’s headline in NY Stock News asks:
”Is Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc (SBGI) Getting Ready to Skyrocket in Value?”
Some final thoughts
If this comes to pass, where will Ohio Valley residents get their local news? From TV stations located in other cities or from the biased Ogden “newspapers” that monopolize the region? That’s not much of a choice. How then are we as citizens supposed to make knowledgeable choices in this supposed “age of information”?
Excuse the pessimism (and hopefully none of the above will happen) but I’ve lived through the deregulation of the Reagan years and the handouts to the cable industries during the Bush presidency. All came with the same tired promise that we’re hearing now: the action would “give the consumer more choices” at cheaper prices while promoting industry innovation. Yeah, right. (Bruce Springsteen’s 1992 prophetic “57 Channels and Nothings On” quickly comes to mind.) And right around the corner is an AT&T/Time Warner merger, a Disney/Fox merger, and my personal favorite, the end of net neutrality.