NBC to Start 24-Hour News Channel in New York
NBC Universal plans to announce Wednesday that it will start a 24-hour local news channel along the lines of cable’s New York One. It will de-emphasize the identity of the NBC network’s flagship station, WNBC, Channel 4 in New York, rechristening it a “content center,” and making it one part of a larger local media effort.
NBC’s plan calls for rebuilding Channel 4’s newsroom and melding its content closely with the coming news channel, the existing local Web site, and out-of-home video displayed in locations like gas pumps and back seats of taxicabs. NBC will even take WNBC’s name off its local news Web site, simply calling it NBC New York.
NBC was breaking the news of the restructuring to employees of WNBC in a staff meeting Wednesday morning, led by John Wallace, who was formerly called the president of NBC’s owned and operated stations but now has the title of president of local media.
Among other things, Mr. Wallace planned to tell the employees that the moves NBC was initiating would not entail layoffs but would mean many producers and other staff members would have to undergo extensive retraining, and would likely be working different shifts.
If the plan is deemed a success — and Mr. Wallace said that should be clear by the second quarter of next year — NBC will begin to take the same steps with the other stations it owns, in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. NBC owns 10 stations; two of them, in Miami and Hartford, Conn., are for sale. The reasons for the reshaping of WNBC are tied to the coming expansion in digital capacity for local broadcasters as well as the sharp decline in profitability for local stations. Stations will soon be able to add a number of separate channels as digitalization will make possible the division of the local broadcast spectrum. (NBC may also add a separate channel devoted to local lifestyle coverage, like real estate listings and restaurant reviews.)
Mr. Wallace said local television “has a perception issue right now as to whether it is a sustainable business long term.” Once a huge generator of cash for media companies, local stations, whose audiences are “eroding and aging,” have become “slow-growth business,” Mr. Wallace said, now averaging between 1 percent and 3 percent revenue growth.
“We look at our content and we believe it’s relevant content,” Mr. Wallace said. “It’s just not convenient because of the way people’s lives have changed with technology.”
WNBC will continue to broadcast local newscasts but Mr. Wallace said the new structure for local news “will be organized around the content, not the show.” The Channel 4 newscasts will be simulcast on the new channel, which will be called New York’s Newschannel. Mr. Wallace said he was hoping for a November start to the channel.
Though it will offer round-the-clock live news, NBC is not planning to employ additional staff on the new channel, relying instead on expanding the duties of its present employees, many of whom will have to be retrained, Mr. Wallace said. He called it “a work-flow change.” He said, “There will be no added staff; we’ll just use them differently.”
Producers, for example, whose previous focus has been “getting the show on the air at the assigned time,” will be re-trained to produce video segments instead of shows, aiming to spread the segments across the various local NBC platforms.
Mr. Wallace said he was unsure how the WNBC employees would react to the redefinition of their roles and the need to be retrained, though he expected “some natural resistance that comes with any type of change.” He said, “It’s exciting but it’s going to take a lot of heavy lifting because it’s a change in culture.”
At the same time, NBC is announcing a plan to relocate its non-NBC operations, including the main offices of cable channels like USA and Bravo, out of the NBC Universal headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center, where it said it was running out of office space, to a new, still unselected, office building.
All NBC operations, like NBC News and “Saturday Night Live,” will remain at Rockefeller Center.