Few broadcast groups can boast the awards Belo stations have bagged for their investigative work. The FCC's recent report on media,"The Information Needs of Communities," singled out Belo's KHOU Houston, KMOV St. Louis and KING Seattle for investigative work that had a substantial impact on the community.
Peter Diaz has been a rising star since joining KHOU in 1984. He was named Belo's executive VP of television in 2007, and last year was upped to president of media operations. Diaz spoke with B&C Deputy Editor Michael Malone about what it means to "Belocal."
We've seen deadly tornadoes and severe flooding in a number of markets recently. What does that tell you about the role local TV news plays in people's lives?
It's still a very important part of what goes on. Like no other medium, local broadcasters really connect when that happens. In St. Louis, when [flooding] happened, our station [KMOV] was wall to wall in news coverage. The difference now is that we can communicate in many other ways than over the air. We're connecting on Facebook, on Twitter. We're reaching viewers in ways people never thought possible years ago. I think we're a more important part of people's lives, especially in times of breaking news and crisis.
What words come to mind when you describe a Belo station?
People around here laugh when I say this, but it's in our name. If I add â€˜cal' to Belo, it becomes Belocal. The mantra is be local, be the very best in our communities. I got an email from a general manager who wrote to me, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI tell our folks all the time, if we're not contributing to building a stronger community, it's all a waste of time and energy.' We give our general managers a lot of autonomy, and they're guided by the Belocal mantra. That might mean one thing in Boise and another thing in Phoenix, but the principals are all the same.
Is that a recruiting tool? Does that help you attract top talent?
I think it absolutely does. People want to work for quality news organizations. Investigative reporting is expensive and time consuming. Is it harder to commit to it now than it used to be? It might be in the context of trying to become more efficient in news. But those things bring uniqueness to the newscast, so when you look at WFAA Dallas and KING Seattle and the investigative stories they do, it's just different than everywhere else. Newscasts look alike in a lot of places. That's a big differentiator for us. Going back to Belocal, you can help the community. Policies change, laws change, people's lives change due to investigative [reporting].
Will Belo be a seller or a keeper of its spectrum?
We're gonna keep our spectrum. Dunia [Shive, Belo Corp. president and CEO] talks about this a lot. We'd like to see a full inventory of spectrum done before any decisions are made. We want our spectrum to broadcast HD and participate in multicasting and mobile. How other broadcasters approach that is really up to them, but we want our spectrum.
Were you pleased to see NBC keep the Olympics?
Yes, that's good for us -- we certainly know how to sell Olympics. We have four NBC stations, so it's great that it continues. We have not seen all the iterations of [the deal], but the great thing about it, at least my interpretation of it, is that the Olympics remains over the air on broadcast.
NBC is working on a deal to represent affiliates on retrans. Are Belo's NBC affiliates on board with that?
We certainly are, at least from the guidelines we know. The interesting thing to us is Comcast is a significant player in Portland and Seattle, where we have NBC stations.
Are the networks in general being aggressive in terms of getting stations to share retrans? Is it fair play?
Aggressive has a certain connotation. The networks have an understanding of what they [see as] the value of the network, and they are asking for what they believe to be that value.
How's the second half of the year looking business-wise?
It's a little soon to tell. Automotive, with all the manufacturing issues in Japan, has been all over the place. But the feeling is, it's a supply issue, not a demand issue, so we'll see that come back to us in the second half. No one is suggesting Toyota and Honda are not going to spend in the back half when they lost market share in the first. I think that bodes well for television stations.
Having Belo's local news on people's smartphones with mobile DTV-how big an opportunity is that, and what is Belo doing to work toward that initiative?
Like any broadcaster, we're working on it on different fronts. Belo, through the Pearl group, is in lockstep with NBC, Fox and Ion on the entire Mobile Content Venture [MCV]. You don't see lot of headlines from MCV, but we're making significant progress in what I call the vibrant mobile television ecosystem that other broadcasters will able to monetize also.
Like any new venture, there will be speed bumps along the way, some course corrections. But we're moving along. There are a lot of things that have to go on in the background-the devices, how they work, transmission-all those things are being worked on. But it's moving along nicely. Could it be moving faster, maybe, but the progression is good.
What kind of time frame are we looking at for mobile DTV to be deployed en masse?
I would say start looking first quarter 2012. I'm not sure it'll be en masse [then], but you'll start to see more and more of it. There are a lot of things to work out, a lot of moving parts that have to be put together. We have a team in the field working on that; they're smart people and they're moving forward.
Are you concerned about what you're hearing in Washington about broadcasters' spectrum?
We like the part that's voluntary. Their submission about repacking and so on-these things are still so much in the early stages, there's still a lot of work to be done. We're in a wait and see point of view. We support a voluntary plan, which is what the broadband plan proposes, but again, as long as it's voluntary. And we still don't understand the repacking issue.
How's ABC's Live Well network going on some of the Belo stations' digital channels?
I don't have enough information to give you a read out on it. Our multicast strategy is a little different than what you read about at a Sinclair or a Raycom; they may take one network and run it across all the stations. We've been trying different things. We have a few stations with Live Well, we're taking a look at that product and how it runs. We have a few stations with Estrella, we're seeing how that runs, a couple with Cool TV, and some [stations' multicast channels] are local.
As we go through our stations, we look at what's working, what's not working, what's working better-that sort of thing is how we're playing for the long haul. We don't know exactly what the best strategy is right now in terms of multicast.
Would you like to see the other networks, besides NBC, offer to represent their affiliates on retrans?
The overall concept is interesting and appealing. I don't know what the details are, but my general perspective is, yes, it's interesting.
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz
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