The size and never-ending sprawl of Southern California can often make small-scale communication difficult, undermining efforts to create a sense of community. So Comcast’s Southern California system decided to adapt a program started by some of its East Coast brethren that could help foster stronger ties among residents, their politicians and local organizations.
Comcast’s Local Edition is produced in five-minute segments to provide an opportunity for elected officials and community groups to explain who they are and what they do. The segments are inserted into CNN Headline News, where they run numerous times throughout a news cycle. Since kicking it off in the third quarter last year, Comcast has produced 150 segments.
“We really liked the concept because we have a big DMA here that is carved up by five MSOs, so the opportunity for the mayor of a smaller town to get on the news is remote,” says VP of Communications Patti Rockenwagner. “This is a tool for local officials and organizations to get in the news and tell their story.”
There are plenty of things that aren’t dramatic enough to warrant airtime in the local broadcast news shows on the market’s major TV outlets. The politicians from Los Angeles and Orange and Riverside counties explain everything from a new bill in Sacramento that they expect to be hotly contested to specific items in the local budget, such as a traffic-abatement program. Sometimes, they just publicize a hometown festival. (Comcast runs some spots throughout the DMA and others on a more local basis.)
Comcast makes no effort to exert editorial control, other than avoiding giving airtime to politicians running for office during that particular election cycle. And it isn’t just politicians reaching out to the community; it is also local organizations.
Local Edition is uniquely Southern Californian. Because the area is so spread out, Comcast had to decentralize its approach, utilizing four separate studios throughout its region.
Rockenwagner says her staff has also created a specific online sign-up system to manage the scheduling logistics of such a far-flung operation.
As in other public-interest projects, there are additional motivations: Local Edition helps the cable system, too—especially since this one directly involves the operator with local public officials. Comcast also offers these spots up in video-on-demand in an easily accessible community folder that will showcase the cable company’s technology. “There is a real value here to the public but to us as well,” Rockenwagner says. “We see this as giving us a competitive advantage.”
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Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.