"It's a joint venture," Wells says, "and we have created a separate entity, with Cox, that handles ad sales." Bill Geppert, Cox's vice president and general manager, says the joint venture is "cofunded" by both parties, but he won't say whether expenses and revenue are split 50-50. "We have a formula with which it works out, and we're both pleased with it," he says. Geppert does say, however, that Cox handles all ad sales and puts all the proceeds back into the project. Thirty-second spots on "San Diego's News Channel 15" range from $50 to $200, as opposed to an average of $1500 for the regular Channel 10 newscast at 11:00 p.m. Cox sources further say that Cox has agreed to pay for any additional staffers required to put the show on the air.
At this point, extra staffing cost is negligible because News Channel 15, for the time being, consists of repeats of earlier Channel 10 newscasts. The hour-long 9:00 a.m. newscast repeats until the noon news, also an hour long, which repeats until the 5:00 p.m. newscast, and so on. And while Wells says that "over the next few years, we will be looking for ways to update stories so there's less and less rebroadcast," SDSU's Real maintains true 24-hour news coverage is the only way to go.
"CNN really found its stride with the Gulf War and with the discovery that when a major story is breaking, you can go there and stay with it continuously and people will watch it and find it useful," Real says. "That can happen locally, too, but there has to be a crew, and you have to get that out in the field. And while there is a convenience factor in rerunning the same news show at different times, it doesn't extend the range of news coverage in the city at all. It's being lazy."
Channel 10's Wells counters that a move into true 24-hour news coverage "is just not feasible from an economic standpoint." But Real insists 24-hour news coverage doesn't have to be expensive to be effective. "There are precedents," he says. "In New York City, for example, there is Cable One, an around-the-clock news channel that was built on a shoestring. It began with a one-person news crew. He went out with a camera, shot his own standup, and then came back to the studio."
Other local TV stations have also cut deals with cable providers. Channel 8 news director Steve Ramsey says his station for the last five years has provided Cox with material for a 10:00 p.m. newscast on Cox Cable Channel 4 but is ending that arrangement now to provide local news "inserts" to CNN's Headline News - something Channel 10 had been doing prior to San Diego's News Channel 15. His competitor's loss is his gain, Ramsey asserts. "The Headline News is one of those things people all over the city tune in for maybe 15 minutes, and I'd rather be there at a source you're used to seeing," Ramsey says.
Why are cablers so willing to do business with their broadcast cousins? Local TV stations, particularly network affiliates, garner the most viewers. Also, local news shows have proven a boon for cable providers who are fighting competition from direct-broadcast satellite systems, which also allow viewers to receive 100 or more channels - but whose menu doesn't include local programming.
In New York City three years ago, Charles Dolan, the owner of Cablevision Systems Corporation, turned down a $2 billion buyout offer from Time Warner. According to the New York Times, "He is building a fortress of loyal subscribers by giving them something that all the high technology in the world can't: Local news in the vast suburban ring around New York City," the Times reports. "Over the years, he has quietly assembled the biggest television news team in the metropolitan area to cover everything from drunken-driving arrests to school-board meetings in towns across Long Island and Connecticut.... News 12 has never turned a profit and Dolan doesn't expect it to anytime soon. But that's beside the point, he says; its purpose is to woo - and to keep - subscribers."