Plugging in for promotion and profit 


The Sentinel dumps Channel 9, the "news leader," for TWC and a news channel all its own;;The Orlando Sentinel and Time Warner Cable announced a mini CNN this week, a joint venture between the two media giants to launch a 24-hour news cable channel in Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Brevard counties by this fall.;;The new station promises to tighten the two companies' grip on local advertising dollars while blazing a trail into the future, where newspaper reporters become television correspondents and "interactive journalists.";;The venture has no name as yet, and TWC brass could not predict which channel will carry the station. But the new venture definitely jilted WFTV- Channel 9, the ABC affiliate and current local television news ratings leader. The Sentinel has maintained a close relationship with WFTV, running a 5:30 a.m business report daily on the station and contributing a preview of the next day's newspaper on the 11 p.m. broadcast. WFTV's most recent election night coverage also featured reports from the Sentinel newsroom, from which print journalists shared opinion and analysis with Channel 9's TV audience. Not surprisingly, the Sentinel's front-page news release heralding the project did not note that severed tie, or mention WFTV at all. ;;While Sentinel Editor John Haile said that he had not told WFTV of the TWC deal until the morning of the Jan. 13 announcement, the Sentinel's parent company has been planning such a move for years -- and up until recently had apparently planned to include WFTV. "With advice from Tribune Regional Programming, The Orlando Sentinel is partnering with a local ABC affiliate, WFTV-TV, to cross-promote news reports and provide news on demand for The News Exchange, Time Warner's interactive cable TV news service," says a 1996 Tribune Co. report.;;A Channel 9 newsroom employee, not speaking for attribution, says originally the station was going to be a partner in the cable news business but "we just decided not to do it, under the terms." WFTV General Manager Dave Lippoff was in New Orleans and unavailable for comment.;;"They now have to decide how we'll interrelate on the broadcasting," says Jim DeSimone, a Sentinel spokesman. "This is now the next round. I will say that our main focus is now the news channel.";;The Sentinel is well-equipped to supply news for the cable channel, with some 350 reporters, editors and staff and a working partnership with the cable company. The newspaper's owner, The Tribune Co., also has a template for the service in its Chicago backyard called "Chicagoland Television News." Launched in 1993 at a cost of about $7 million, the 24-hour cable news channel now reaches about 1.4 million homes and is projected to break even this year. Tribune wants to expand the system as quickly as possible.;;"Continuing to share news-gathering resources with Tribune's other Chicago-based business units, CLTV has cameras in the Chicago Tribune city newsroom and two of its suburban bureaus, allowing for live interviews with the newspaper's reporters and editors," says the 1996 report. "Similar in concept to CLTV, South Florida NewsChannel (SFN) is expected to launch in 1997. Drawing on the resources of Tribune's (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel newspaper and WPLG-TV, a non-Tribune television station, it will be the first South Florida cable service to offer comprehensive local news around the clock." But the South Florida effort is not as far along as the Orlando deal.;;The Chicago startup was rocky because the newspaper did not have a cable industry partner, a problem the company has handily solved here. "It took me two years to sell the project to two of the nine cable operators [in the Chicago area], then another year to get the other seven," says Bob Gremillion, CLTV's general manager. ;;Gremillion has been working toward an Orlando system for five years, he says, and will play a big part in the TWC venture. The major difference between the Florida station and Chicagoland will be the news format, which will be a "news wheel" in which stories are repeated several times during the day, in a set order. That format is used by TWC's "New York 1" news channel, and relies on a recent technological innovation called the digital server, which allows for faster videotape editing. The Sentinel installed a digital server last year for its other venture with TWC, the Full Service Network, which is an interactive experiment currently reaching 4,000 homes in Seminole County.;;The new channel will begin with about 400,000 households in Central Florida and expand to another 150,000 on the coast within a couple of years, company officials say. They would not say how much the venture will cost -- each company is in for 50 percent -- but it will have a projected 75 new employees and be based in a newly renovated building next to the Sentinel's downtown offices. ;;Although the newspaper likens the new station's format to "CNN Headline News," and touts its ability to "stay with a story as long as is warranted," Chicagoland is somewhat less ambitious in its day-to-day coverage.;;That station runs a talk show during the 6 p.m. news hour and affords large blocks of time, up to 210 minutes each, for a format of news briefs. Although the station has won several regional Emmy awards, the newspaper's on-line television listings do not inspire. A typical listing: "6:30 p.m. Evening Edition, Miscellaneous. No description provided. 150 minutes.";;There are weather and traffic reports, cooking features which refer to the newspaper's food section, and Chicago Cubs baseball (the team is also owned by the Tribune). A half-hour on Sunday morning is devoted to a "parade of homes" style infomercial. "If the mayor has a major press conference, or the governor is doing his state of the state address, we're there," says Gremillion.;;But, then, so are all the other news outlets.;;The new venture is really designed as an advertising vehicle, allowing the Tribune to sell space and time to its advertisers in all media. The company's multimedia strategy is considered to be among the most forward-thinking in the newspaper industry. It has invested in America Online and set up a "Digital City" page that seems designed to take on Microsoft's "Cityscape" project. Both systems offer Internet users basic information and listings, restaurant reviews, hotel reservation services and the like keyed to geographical areas. ;;But the Tribune's real interest has long been television broadcasting, and now the company is the second-largest television broadcaster in the country, with a reach into the nation's homes that places it just behind Westinghouse-CBS and ahead of Disney's ABC. As a large broadcaster, Tribune lobbied heavily for passage of the Communications Act of 1996, which greatly loosened anti-trust restrictions on media ownership. "We feel that the fewer rules and restrictions there are, the better it will be for consumers and for the industry," the company said in its 1994 annual report. "Most of the rules are antiquated and were the outgrowth of situations in very small markets where certain interests enjoyed a dominant influence. These situations don't exist in the major markets where we operate today.;;"We think the rules restricting cross-ownership between newspapers and broadcasting should be eliminated. We also think the cap on TV households that can be served by any one company should be raised. By eliminating these types of restrictions, the consumer comes out the winner in the form of more choice and better programming.";;This is hogwash, of course.;;The rules on cross-ownership were designed to protect against monopoly, as when a dominant newspaper might own all area television stations, thus guaranteeing that only a single editorial viewpoint would reach most citizens -- and also making it impossible for any furniture store owner who wanted to advertise his wares to shop around for a better price for his ads. ;;The new rules don't allow that. Not quite. But don't expect any in-depth news about the implications of corporate media control to air in the local daily. Or on the new cable news channel. The cooking show, at least, is said to be pretty good.;;"The business mantra is ‘creation and control of content,'" notes Jeff Borden, a media reporter for Crain's Chicago Business who follows the Tribune Co. "Then offer content to as many possible users as they could.";;Which the Sentinel and TWC certainly will do -- at a price, of course.

More by Ericson, Edward Jr.

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

© 2016 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation