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Fox, NBC Try ‘AP’ Approach to Local TV

Fox and NBC, shedding light on their blockbuster local news partnership, envision the venture (working title: Local News Service, or LNS) playing a role similar to the one the AP plays for newspapers. The video news service will launch in Philadelphia in January. Fox and NBC will then roll it out in the markets where both own a station, and open it up to their affiliates nationwide as well.

The Philadelphia venture will be comprised of 20-25 staffers culled from WCAU and WTXF. An LNS crew would be dispatched to the scene of breaking news. Both stations would receive content from LNS, would edit and package the material in the manner they see fit, and have the option of sending additional resources. LNS will also make the content available to other local media outlets, be it print, radio, websites or even rival stations, for a fee.

NBC Local Media President John Wallace and Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy said LNS will focus on “non-enterprise stories,” freeing up station staffers to chase down in-depth signature reportage. “These are stories that in many cases everyone’s bringing the same video in,” said Abernethy. “The same pieces, the same packages.”

The media giants have been testing the project since May and will soon settle on a manager for the Philadelphia operation. The principals on the venture insisted it was not merely a cost-cutting measure.

Wallace and Abernethy said technological glitches between the two Philadelphia stations, WCAU and WTXF, have thus far been a non-issue, thanks to tapeless newsgathering. They also said “preliminary discussions” have been held with other networks about partnering on LNS, and that they looked forward to subsequent talks down the road.

Fox and NBC are partners on the Web video site Hulu, and Fox recently inked a deal with LIN TV, which has several NBC affiliates, to program their station Websites.

After the Philly launch, Fox and NBC will endeavor to launch local news outlets in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Dallas and Washington (they won’t say which is next), where both own a station. Abernethy and Wallace said Fox and NBC affiliates not owned by the networks will eventually be invited to take part. “We want to use this template to roll it out in all the markets we are in,” said Abernethy. “We want to create a template that works nationally.”

Finally, Abernethy said the cooperative agreement shouldn’t raise eyebrows at the FCC. 

“Our ownership is unchanged and we’re still covering news independently,” he said. “I personally think this allows us to compete more aggressively.”

Affiliates appeared curious to hear more about the project. “We’re in an era where any idea that helps us be more efficient in our newsgathering is worth considering,” says KING/KONG Seattle President/General Manager Ray Heacox (KING is a Belo-owned NBC affiliate), who pointed out that he wasn’t entirely familiar with the project. “But I would have lots of questions about how it balances the competitive needs in local markets.”