On the morning of September 1, WTHR-13 went dark for DirecTV customers in Indianapolis. The local NBC affiliate tried to gin up its local customers in the days leading up to the blackout to no avail. DirecTV did not cave in to the demands of the local station by the midnight deadline, and Labor Day morning became Black Monday for Angela Buchman and company. So much for the “face of leadership.”
How did this happen and why does it really matter? Let us get past the fact that the channel is available on the air, the internet and several other cable/satellite outlets. Let us also skip over the arguments about who is right and wrong in the contract dispute itself. When we conclude that it really comes down to who has clout and who doesn’t, we are left with the most sobering part of it all: local TV just isn’t important any more. Now that’s a topic custom fit for a Contrarian rant (as a pal pointed out a few days ago). So here we go.
This isn’t all about WTHR/DirecTV. Let’s not forget the WISH/CBS thing from a few weeks ago that still has the local media world rocked. Let’s also not forget the weird FCC infatuation with media ownership and regulatory oversight that is a big assist in neutering local clout in favor of national players (see March 31 Ruling on Media Ownership). What this is about is that it is officially time for Indy’s TV market to start figuring out a way to play the hand that it has been dealt.
First, local TV stations are only as important as the unique programming they provide. In the Indy market, the list of local offerings is pretty short. Ninety percent of it revolves around the news teams. To be honest, and this is across the board, local news coverage in Indianapolis sucks. The morning local news shows cover the following: fires, crime highlights, weather and weather related closings and delays, and my favorite–traffic. Traffic? Here’s what’s happening in traffic Monday through Friday: congestion inbound on I-69 South, and a potpourri of wrecks scattered around town that should be cleared by the time you get dressed, turn off your tv and drive 20 minutes on the route you never deviate from no matter what. TV traffic reports are about as useful as carrier pigeons.
Minus sports programming, there is nothing intimidating to DirecTV about losing ANY local station. It just doesn’t have to be that way in a market like Indianapolis. Envision a station that was designed to be the best local station Indy could have. The formula all of our local stations use would get tossed. The best of what’s out there would be combined into an all star channel that no satellite or cable provider would needlessly screw with. Everyone in town would have to have it. What would that look like?
If I could design a local station that featured all of the local media personalities that are true “brands” within their niche, it would look something like this (for a start):
Julia Moffitt would be in charge because she is perfect.
Mason King would be the news director. Never heard of him? He’s the guy that puts together the IBJ Eight@8 email blast Monday through Friday. The best real news source in town.
Bob Kravitz would be sports director and double as the on air color commentator. The sports news department would focus on all of the stuff ESPN doesn’t already beat into the ground. For example, high school sports (and not just football and boys basketball), amatuer sports (of which our town is a capital), in depth coverage of our state’s universities, and it would become THE source of the Colts and Pacers. The “Racing Capital of the World” is not even armed with the top coverage of itself. I could go on and on here, but this department needs to create content that can’t be found anywhere else.
Jim Shella heads the political and government department. The hirings and firings of his team would be fun to watch in and of itself. And maybe, just maybe, our civic involvement would grow.
John Ketzenberger runs the business department, but only because signing him is demanded by Jolene Ketzenberger who starts a real food and restaurant show that our town needs and of which she is already the established czar.
Lou Harry of the IBJ and David Lindquist of the Star will run an Arts and Entertainment department that will make every art fair, IRT season, and speed metal concert playing HERE a news item.
The weather department would contract their services out to The Weather Channel.
Traffic would be cancelled. Or if after odd public outcry to bring it back, the new and improved traffic department would include bicycle traffic, bus schedules and a feature “Pothole Report” every week.
All crime, auto accidents and house fires would be run by the intern department and be limited to five minutes per day.
To summarize, this is ONE channel in Indianapolis. One good one. One that matters and dominates here. Not one of identical quadruplets that means nothing to carriers any more. We have all but lost our daily paper, and it is my belief that without a move like the one above, our local TV will also be gone forever shortly.
The 12th largest city in the country shouldn’t give away its clout so easily. Don’t whine to the viewers when you get pushed around by carriers. Make your viewership big enough and loyal enough so that carriers know better than to try.