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Cable News Hits Broadcast

Steve Paulus, Time Warner Cable regional VP, is set to visit North Carolina from his New York base this week to help push forward the operator’s plans to have local news up and running on Sinclair’s WXLV Greensboro at this time next year. The ABC affiliate’s new newscasts—at 6:30 a.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.—will be produced by Time Warner Cable’s North Carolina news operation, News 14, and will bear the News 14 brand.

While more stations with low-rated news outfits are outsourcing news to a broadcast rival in their market, tapping a cable news channel to produce newscasts is exceedingly uncommon. “Such deals are not unheard of,” says Paulus. “But it’s nothing we’ve done before.”

The Sinclair–Time Warner Cable (TWC) idea sprang from a retransmission consent agreement announced earlier this month. The deal covers 28 Sinclair stations in 17 markets, including Milwaukee, Raleigh and Pittsburgh, prompting some to wonder if WXLV–TWC is the first of many news partnerships between the two.

Calls to Sinclair headquarters and to WXLV were not returned, and terms of the news-producing deal were not revealed. Paulus says no talks regarding expanding the news pact with Sinclair have taken place—yet. “If it turns out to be a good thing,” he says, “we’re open to exploring more deals.”

According to Greensboro TV veterans, WXLV had a lowrated news operation until it pulled the plug on news in the early 2000s. After that, the station tried Sinclair’s hubbed News Central product during its short duration.

ABC compelled WXLV to re-enter the local news game as part of its affiliate agreement. “We believe that the consumer is best served by a network/affiliate relationship which is strengthened through local, national and international news coverage,” John Rouse, ABC senior VP of affiliate relations, said in a statement. “We are pleased that ABC News programming will soon be complimented by WXLV providing local coverage to the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem market.”

TWC operates four local news channels across North Carolina. Paulus says News 14 will add employees to its Greensboro operation, which has about 20.

The competition in DMA No. 47 is dominated by stations owned by Gannett, Hearst TV and Local TV. The rivals don’t seem concerned to have another player in news come January 2012, due to WXLV’s weak news history and the belief among some that cable news isn’t of the same quality as broadcast content.

“I’d be very surprised if they did a rating,” says one local station veteran. “But it’s a creative solution, and it will be interesting to see.”

Cable news channels have produced segments, such as sports, for broadcast stations before, but there are few examples of them producing full newscasts for stations. NECN created newscasts for Boston’s Fox and UPN affiliates in the early ’90s. But the concept might become more common as stations that lose money on local news search for cheaper alternatives. Earlier this month, Comcast execs met with managers of the NBC owned station group the operator now controls, and likely discussed how Comcast’s regional sports nets might enhance— or replace—the stations’ sports departments.

“Everybody’s searching for the right business arrangement,” says Bill Hague, senior VP of Frank N. Magid Associates. “It’s the continued morphing of the business—people are adapting to the marketplace and trying new models.”

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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.