Monday, June 14, 2010

Why WNBC and WPIX are ready to outsource their sportscasts to SNY

Why WNBC and WPIX are ready to outsource their sportscasts to SNY

MONDAY, 14 JUNE 2010 13:23


A recent story in the New York Post claimed the both WNBC TV and WPIX TV were talking with the New York Mets-Comcast-Time Warner owned Sports Net New York or SNY about having the two stations' sportscasts done by the New York regional sports cable TV network. The story is probably accurate even if it was printed in the New York Post for the following reasons.

Local TV news operations are being slashed throughout the country and New York is no exception. Sports is almost an afterthought on the various newscasts. The entire nature of the newscast should be closely examined. Just what is a local newscast? It can be boiled down to five words.

Murder, Mayhem, Sports, Entertainment and Weather.

Most local newscasts start off with some police story dealing with a murder or mayhem. A lot of newscasts spend many minutes either promoting or reviewing a program that was or will be seen on the same channel. The weatherman or weatherwoman is the house comedian, except he or she is not as funny as Soupy Sales.

Sports is relegated to about two minutes and consists mostly of Chris Berman or Keith Olbermann-types who try to either scream or tell jokes and one liners over videos of sports highlights. There is no real sports reporting by the "anchors." Just highlights narration. It was Olbermann who took one time Channel 11 sports reader Jerry Girard's one liners to another level. Girard is just a footnote in the evolution of sportscasts into jokefests.

News directors don't have much use for sports according to Matt Seyfred, a former Sports Director at WETM-TV, Elmira, New York who told a story about how his news director in Elmira felt about sports and how he expected Seyfried to broaden out his sportscasts in the early part of the 21st century.

"Research has indicated that roughly only 20 percent of local news viewers care about sports," said Seyfried who is a professor at SUNY Cortland Sports Media Department. "Eighty percent of our viewers don't care about sports — you need to appeal to those 80 percent--people like human interest stories."

Seyfried didn't agree with his news director about the 80 percent number. "Relative to weather, people care less about sports. Sports is a good balance to news, daily news is hard news tragic, negative, sports is about achievement."

Whether it is the largest media market in the United States, New York, or in Elmira, local sportscasters on over-the air TV stations are a dying breed.

The possible takeover of the two minutes sports slot on WNBC and WPIX newscasts parallels what was a seismologic shift in New York radio about a decade ago. WCBS radio dropped their sportscasters and outsourced the two hourly sportscasters, which lasted about two minutes, to Shadow Sports which also supplied WINS with newscasts.

Today, WFAN, whose parent company owns WCBS and WINS — New York's two all-news radio stations — along with other stations in the market, supplies WINS with one of the radio station's sports readers.

Both radio and TV have outsourced traffic reports for years to either Metro Source or Shadow Traffic, both entities are also owned by WFAN's parent company, CBS.
The average listener has no idea that WCBS and WINS outsources both sportscasts and traffic reports. It has been the radio model for years.

On television, Rupert Murdoch owns both WNYW (Channel 5) and WWOR (Channel 9) and both stations have the same news desks although there might be different faces on both stations newscasts. But Murdoch has not outsourced his sports desks. Traffic reports though on New York stations have been outsourced. In smaller cities around the country, TV stations have reached deals whereby the strong news operations in the market are doing newscasts for competing outlets which eliminates a major expense for the weaker station. In Philadelphia, NBC's WCAU, Channel 10 provides news for WPHL Channel 17. WPHL got rid of the station's news department in December 2005. In Elmira, WETM is part of a news operation that features two Binghamton, N.Y. stations, WIVT and WBGH.

Television newscasts are evolving.

In Channel 4's case, the possible deal between SNY and General Electric -- the owner of the license for WNBC — is understandable. One of SNY's owners, Comcast, is buying a sizeable chunk of NBC from GE and the cross pollination of the two companies could start with SNY providing sports coverage for WNBC. The station let go of sports reader Len Berman and his large salary and cutback on sports content during the 5 p.m. "newscast" and then replaced the newscast with something called LX New York.

The program features content featuring fashion, cooking, gossip, celebrities and general entertainment tales. The show seems more like the Kelly Bundy Show on Married With Children than a place where news is delivered and is targeted for suburban woman demographic. That demo is not a sports audience.

Should SNY and WNBC become partners what will happen to Mike Francesa's Sunday night show? Francesa's WFAN afternoon radio sports talk show is simulcast by SNY's cable TV sports competitor, the YES Network (which is owned in part by the New York Yankees). There is a subplot here, will SNY's management tell WNBC to boot Francesa off the air on Sunday nights or will SNY allow a person from a competitor to remain on Channel 4?

Francesa rules the roost at WFAN, so much so that the station's operations director Mark Chernoff cowers at the thought of getting Francesa upset. Chernoff is supposed to be the boss but Francesa's presence makes Chernoff tell prospective freelance employees at the radio station that they better not appear on Sirius XM's Mad Dog Radio because Francesa is obsessed with his former partner Christopher Russo and Russo's Mad Dog Radio and apparently there is resentment. Chernoff really doesn't want his freelancers and part timers to pick up any extra work on Mad Dog Radio for fear of incurring Francesa's wrath.

Chernoff isn't exactly dealing with Edward R. Murrow here with Francesa who is just a sports talkie, nothing more, nothing less although to Chernoff, Francesa seems to have come down from Mount Sinai. Will SNY feel the same about Francesa or just view him as a competitor?

The Channel 11 angle is a bit more cut and dried. Channel 11's owner, Sam Zell and his Tribune Company, is in bankruptcy. The station parted ways with veteran New York sports reader Sal Marciano a while ago and continues to make cuts to the news department. SNY's prime product, Mets baseball, shows up on Channel 11 every once in a while so the two entities have worked together. Channel 11's news like all other news has a tight two minute spot for sports and no one will notice if it is a WPIX employee or an SNY reader delivering highlights and scores.

If the radio model is an indication, the stations could trade commercials in exchange for the sportscasts. That is how traffic reports work on New York radio. The stations give up a number of spots in exchange for the traffic reports and don't have to pay the talent delivering the information.

Sports used to be an important part of over-the-air TV in New York. Both Channel 9 (WOR) and Channel 11 (WPIX) have long histories of doing baseball (the Giants, Dodgers, Yankees and Mets), basketball (Knicks and Nets), hockey (Rangers and Islanders) and college basketball. In the 1970s, sports began to migrate to cable TV and by the 1990s, a good many local over-the-air TV stations no longer had sports content. Cable TV gets revenues from two streams, subscriber dollars and advertising money. Over-the-air TV just gets subscriber dollars and that is not enough to justify going after sports rights fees. It was just a matter of time before over-the-air news operations began to ditch sports. In New York, both SNY and the Madison Square Garden Network have long form sports shows, in Southern New Jersey, Comcast's CSN is better equipped to cover sports than Channels 3, 6, 10, 17 (although Channel 17 news/sports/weather is really Channel 10) and 29. Phillies baseball is a major part of CSN. Not Channel 6 or 17 anymore although Channel 17 carries Phillies game on occasion, same holds true with the Flyers and 76ers as the Comcast owned teams are cable TV programming.

Over-the-air local television news is more and more operating on the cheap, WNBC and WPIX may replace their local sportscasters with cable TV sports readers, the questions are will anybody notice and will anybody care?

Evan Weiner is an author, TV and radio commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

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