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Alive and Clicking

The message out of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week was clear: Traditional television operators will do whatever they need to do to ride the mobile-phone, iPod-toting, Net-surfing media wave.

The show was filled with programmers demonstrating to tech companies—and to their own shareholders—that they are eager to become partners in exploring the possibilities of a broadband world. “Crossplatform” has become the new baseline buzzword for any media endeavor.

At CES, Leslie Moonves, president/CEO of media giant CBS, used his keynote speech to buddy up with Slingbox and announce a new deal with YouTube. Everything old (even CBS) is new again.

If last week was all about that rush of tech initiatives, this week's National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) Vegas confab is about a video craze that was last called “newfangled” 60 years ago. At its heart, NATPE is all about local broadcast television. And stations, powered by new technology, can still be a sturdy content force to be reckoned with, Moonves knows their worth. He has repeatedly declared to cable operators that TV stations are valuable commodities and that cable systems need to start paying for the privilege of retransmitting them.

Sinclair Broadcasting knows. On the eve of the NFL playoffs and the college national championship football game, the group pulled 22 of its stations off Mediacom cable systems over retransmission issues. Sinclair says its stations should get fees in line with cable networks with similar ratings. We doubt that there is a city in this country where the top-viewed “cable channels” are not the local broadcast stations.

Why are stations still such hot commodities even as their audiences decline? The Oprah Winfrey Show and CSI do their part, of course. But it comes down to localism. Despite the beating TV stations took last week at a conference of media activists in Memphis, stations' connections to their communities run deep.

It's that localism that was demonstrated last weekend when the duPont-Columbia Awards winners for news went to WWL New Orleans; WLOX Biloxi, Miss.; WBAL Baltimore; and WRAL, Raleigh, N.C. NBC was the only network to get a news award.

And as B&C's Top 25 Stations Group special report (p. 32) notes, stations increasingly are making their own programs rather than depending solely on syndication.

Broadcasters are part of the new wave, of course. Their future is to provide unique local content—and make seeing it anywhere in the world as easy as carrying a cellphone or logging on to a computer. The world has changed for broadcasters as it has for everyone else in this business. But in one way, it hasn't: Good programming always wins.