Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Hard Candy Christmas

Merry Christmas! You're fired! It seems like that's what more and more people are hearing in so many industries, and the TV Biz is no exception. Many local stations , including WMC in Memphis are cutting their news staffs, again, and nationally, NBC is laying off, including some big name correspondents. A generation of local TV anchors are being shown the door, and the list goes on and on. Of course, newspapers, including several in our region, are also feeling the pinch, and folks are getting their walking papers. All, just in time for Jesus' birthday.

The most troubling part, for many, is more than the loss of jobs. It's the loss of experience. From one of the articles, "When the anchors depart, they take decades of experience and insight with them. “Basically, you replace someone who knows City Hall with someone who can’t find it,” said John Beard, who lost his job at KTTV last December after 26 years as a news anchor in Los Angeles." Of course, consumers notice a difference, no matter the product.

The tough part for today's newspapers and television stations is trying to attract the younger consumers. That's another reason many of the "old" anchors, reporters and meteorologists are put out to pasture. The thinking is that younger viewers don't want to see "old" personalities, and TV and newspapers are desperately trying to find new viewers and readers to replace the ones who have defected to the internet and cable/satellite TV. In many cases, they risk alienating the viewers they still have left. On the other hand, with the economy in it's current state, it doesn't matter how many viewers or readers you have, if your advertisers don't have the money to advertise.

Longtime newsman Joe Larkins, of Memphis, reported on his blog he received a note from the General Manager of one of the Memphis TV Stations:

It is as ugly as I have ever seen it — down right scary. TV gets 20% of its ad revenue from auto advertising. The Big Three are on the Hill with their hand out and as of yet, it is still out there, empty. What does that mean? Lower ad revenue. Not just auto but the housing bust takes its toll on furniture and everything else that a homeowner might buy.

Many, many media companies are over leveraged. When they took on that debt, the lenders put covenants into the agreement that said the debt to revenue ratio couldn’t exceed a certain amount. Well no one anticipated a drop in revenue like we are seeing across the board. Those ratios are not being met, which means default.

Not only will you see hiring freezes and layoffs, I predict within two years you will see many markets with only the top two stations producing a newscast — this will be particularly true in markets 50+. There is just not enough of a news pie to justify three or four stations producing news. Losing money is not an option.

So, there’s my Christmas Cheer for the day. Feel better?

Focus on being efficient and effective in your job because your company is doing the same.

The GM

Of course the same premise holds true for all industries these days. The higher salaried people are most at risk, especially if someone can step in and assume their duties rather easily , improving the bottom line. That IS the bottom line. Gas may have gone down, but apprehension is still running high, and we're all in "hunker down" mode. Keep your fingers crossed. My forecast calls for it to get even colder after Christmas. If you're looking for good news out of this, it's that more and more of the incompetent media/print managers might soon find themselves in the unemployment line.

I think local TV and newspapers will survive, but it won't be the same as it was, even 5 years ago. Gone are the days of the Media Czars. That's good and bad. Although you'll have more choices for your news, there will be fewer, if any, with the resources and experienced personnel to do the best job possible. That's not good news for us.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Lew,
Again I agree with you 100%. Well, said young man...and too true!! And many of these people have families depending on their jobs...that is the worst part.