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Bennack: Local TV Not ‘Toast'

Frank A. Bennack, Jr., chairman of The Paley Center for Media and vice chairman/CEO of Hearst Corporation, says it has been an extraordinary year for local television.

"Every time you think it's over for television, you have this great year," he said in a session with Paley Center President/CEO Pat Mitchell at the close of its IC 2010 meeting Friday in New York.

Part of 2010's success is the increased revenue from political advertising, but Bennack, whose Hearst owns 29 TV stations, said it's also that auto advertising has rebounded. "It's better at the core than we expected," he said.

Bennack said he doesn't feel badly about the amount of money in politics, it just means stations have to give back, like by sponsoring candidate debates. "You have to ensure real coverage of the process to earn that money," he said.

On the often-predicted death of local TV, Bennack says he doesn't agree with Liberty Media Chairman John Malone declaring TV stations were "toast." "We don't believe that," Bennack said. "If it's toast, it's very nourishing toast."

As with politics, he feels success of local TV relies on giving back to viewers. "They're local businesses, and that's where they're going to win or lose," Bennack said. "It means being player in the community, sponsoring job fairs and forums, things that don't seem to have anything to do with broadcast."

Bennack is also focused on keeping his company innovative, as evidenced by Pearl Mobile DTV, Hearst's joint venture with 11 other broadcast groups. The service is already being tested in a number of markets, although he said there are issues with the networks regarding distribution of content that need to be worked out. "Like everything else, television is going to have major future in mobile," Bennack said.