Local TV stations might temper expectations for big national growth -- a bit. But in the future? Mull over this longtime loaded media word: network.
Current FCC regulations dictate TV stations cannot own entities representing more than 39% of U.S. TV homes. A group of big TV station groups now say 50% will do.
Hearst Television, Scripps Media, Raycom Media, Gray Television, Graham Media, Quincy Media, Dispatch Broadcast Group and Morgan Murphy Media have told the FCC this. (Their proposal also eliminates the UHF TV stations discount under certain conditions.)
Getting access to more U.S. TV homes is key for TV stations that feel under pressure from digital local media platforms.
For their own part, TV stations groups also have their own digital media businesses. But this isn’t going well.
With only 5% of TV stations' overall revenues coming from digital media, Pat LaPlatney, president/CEO of Raycom Media, said at an NAB panel: “As an industry, I would say we’re behind where we should be, and it probably reflects a lack of investment.”
Additionally, they confront advertising challenges, such as how to make it easier for major media agencies to programmatically/automatically buy local TV advertising inventory in an easily scaleable way.
If that doesn’t happen, many will continue to rely on higher retrans fee revs -- as long as these growing fees continue to last.
This industry-TV station group push comes as Sinclair Broadcast Group is trying to get federal approval for its Tribune Media deal. The initial parameters would have given Sinclair access to more than 70% of U.S. TV households.
Many believe Sinclair wants to be a network of some sort -- perhaps to compete with Fox News Channel. This is something many TV stations groups have mulled for decades.
Even without network status, all big TV station groups will always need more scale -- 60%, 70% or whatever -- to achieve their growth goals.
Also, they are pursuing a more frictionless way for local TV advertising planning and buying. The support of the new TV transmission standard technology -- ATSC 3.0 will get TV stations here -- will help, as well as provide an even playing field for digital media competitors.
But maybe one’s vision of local TV stations needs a bigger canvas, however "network" is defined now. That combination -- network and local TV -- seems tempting.
Will this give TV stations any real competitive advantage among fast-moving new digital media players? Or is this just an idea that has come and gone?