What New Owners of Channel 6 Need To Do - Analysis

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

 

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First off, part of my broadcast career in TV news was at Channel 6. So I speak from experience here. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of that TV station.

From the hard-working people over the years desperately trying to raise the station out of a constant 3rd-place ratings position, to the small and cramped set, news room, editing rooms etc.

Citadel Communications out of Bronxville, NY has now been named the new owner of Channel 6. Their $4-million dollar bid won court approval over 3-other bidders. So now the job for Citadel is to try to and do what has been tried but NOT done before. By the way, Citadel owns 4-other TV stations around the country. They are all in small markets – places like Des Moines, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska. Hardly TV Mecca as far as anyone is concerned. Channel 6 will be the biggest TV station they own in terms of market size.
And remember, Providence, Rhode Island “aint” Nebraska folks.

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So, what’s the plan guys?


Let me guess. You’ll have some “consultant” come in first and look at all the talent. He or she will help decide who stays and goes. Anchor teams are first with the bull’s eye on their back. “Consultants”, many of them mind you have never worked in a TV station in their lives, never mind gather facts, construct stories or break news in any way shape or form will all of a sudden have a strong voice in the newsroom. I have dealt with many of them and nearly all of them are jokers. And these new owners should be careful about how much stock they put in to what they say. Instead go to Warwick Mall, or Cindy’s Diner in Scituate to find out what “real people” say about your station and why.

The next area the owners will look at is the set. The place where the main anchors and the sports and weather people sit. They’ll be discussions about changing the set. Lots of talk about that. I remember one station literally taking months and months to decide what color of blue the background of the set would be. And if these new guys think the color of the set, the graphics, the music will change Channel 6 – they could not be more wrong.

Here’s why.

Over the history of Channel 6 – while Truman Taylor and George Allen were becoming local TV news stars – it was all tried. From logos to slogans. Change for the sake of change – that’s how previous owners and management thought they would beat Channel 10. Please. Let’s be real here folks. Try and count how many reincarnations Channel 6 has gone through. Here is a little look at all the different station slogans over the years that in some way failed to get what the station has always needed: Viewers.

Station Slogans – through the years

6 Country is Your Country and 6 Country is You (mid to late-1970s)
We Love New England at WLNE (early to mid-1980s)
We've Got the Touch, WLNE (1983–1984, localized version of CBS ad campaign)
Share the Spirit on WLNE (1986–1987, localized version of CBS ad campaign)
Share the Experience (early 1990s)
Your Nonstop News Source (2004–2008)
New England's Fastest Growing News (2008-2008)
Fast. Accurate. Reliable. (2008–2009)
Honest. Fair. Everywhere. (2010–present

Hijacking Talent – Another Bad Idea

If these new owners are thinking “hey, let’s get some really popular talent from Channel’s 10 & 12” they should think again. Remember, when GoLocal’s ace meteorologist John Ghiorse was hired away from Channel 10 to go to Channel 6. That was huge news back in the day. To John’s credit, he certainly raised the bar on weather forecasting and coverage for the station and gave them respect they never had before he walked in the door. But, John himself was not enough to raise the station from the basement of ratings. The problems with Channel 6 have been wider and deeper. A signal problem over the years with the placement of their broadcast tower did not help matters at all. They also positioned themselves as “Providence-New Bedford” too much and that confused the viewer. People would often ask “do you guys cover Providence too?” Channel 6’s building used to be outside of RI, again, confusing to the viewers. In years past, the station also tried to bring on former Channel 10 alum Larry Estepa with his signature ties and cufflinks. Larry enjoyed great name recognition in the market – but – again as a whole the station failed to thrive even with well known talent.

What to do?

The only shot Citadel has to make a run at Channel 10 and Channel 12 is to follow a similar model that made WHDH-TV/Channel 7 in Boston a huge success. They too were once a 3rd-rated station in Boston behind the (at the time) mighty WBZ-TV and WCVB. Then one day, a man named Ed Ansin who ran a news station in South Florida blew into town and re-named, and most importantly, re-branded WHDH to “7 News”. It was high-powered, aggressive TV news. I was part of that explosion at 7-News from 1997 to 2003 and I can tell you first hand it worked. Some called it “too in your face” or “tabloid” but Ansin as an owner completely transformed television news in Boston. How did he do it? By basically “blowing up” the old station. And above all – spending money on resources like talent, equipment, live trucks, satellite trucks, helicopters you name it that station did it. It branded itself as the BREAKING NEWS station and it worked.

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Channel 6 has to brand itself as something and keeping the same status quo of shoe-string resources won’t do it.

Here are some quick ideas:

1. Resources, Resources, Resources – cover the news in this town from morning till night – 7 days a week
2. Get out of the office building you are in with low ceilings, horrible lighting etc Get out of the office building you are in with low ceilings, horrible lighting etc
3. Move into one of the huge buildings in Providence or maybe a mill building
4. Re-brand into a station that people can turn to for relevant news in their lives
5. Focus efforts on the incredible franchise that has been downgraded – the “You Paid For It” franchise was at one time one of the best know assets Channel 6 had
6. Did I mention resources? I’ll mention it again because it can’t be overstated. Look at the gains Channel 12 has made – a lot of that comes from committing resources to stories. It pays off for sure.

If Citadel is not committed to spending a lot of money to try and jump start 6 – they are doomed to fail. By the way, even with a huge influx of cash there are no guarantees the ratings will rise because of the perception of Channel 6.

But, to think viewers here are like viewers in Nebraska or Iowa where Citadel has other stations is a big mistake. Run Channel 6 like a small time TV station and get ready for more of the same.


Jeff Derderian is a former television news reporter and anchor both in Providence and Boston. He is one of the founders of the Station Education Fund. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

 
 

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