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When Fred Silverman talks about television, you listen. Silverman is the legendary TV executive who programmed each of the Big Three broadcast networks, airing series including All in the Family, Charlie’s Angels and Roots. He then became one of the industry’s most prolific producers of TV series and movies.
Now, with the networks under siege from technologies ranging from the DVR to streaming video, Silverman sees local stations as the survivors in the broadcast world, and he’s pitching what he calls a “new localism.”
Going back to the future, Silverman has put together what could be his last big project: CTY/VU TV, or City View, a service featuring live original, local entertainment programming that the 76-year-old executive would help stations produce. The shows would air on the digital sub-channels that stations broadcast.
The series are variations on genres including talent competition, talk, dating and home shopping. To bring the idea into the 21st century, CTY/VU includes an app that creates a second-screen experience to make shows interactive and create digital ad opportunities.
Instead of depending on ratings and selling spots, the shows and apps would be sponsored, especially by local retailers that represent a growing part of stations’ ad base and can judge for themselves whether their advertising investments are paying off in store traffic and sales.
Silverman says that with fewer hits in the pipeline, stations can’t depend on networks or syndicators for programming. Local morning shows that beat Good Morning America and Today prove localism works. And he says that station managers know they need shows that are more engaging and interactive to attract younger viewers.
Silverman and his partner, former NBC radio executive Walter Sabo, began pitching the concept last week to station groups, including Post-Newsweek and Tribune Co. Silverman says one station group is already interested, and he’s hoping a channel gets launched in the second half of 2014.
“We would actually be serving as their program department. A lot of the stations don’t have program departments now,” says Silverman, who worked at stations in Chicago and New York early in his career and became known as The Man With the Golden Gut for his programming prowess. “And they couldn’t hire a better program department than Walter and I and the people that are going to be working with us.”
Hundreds of stations are running networks like Me TV or This TV composed of old movies and programming on their digital sub-channels. A few other national networks, such as Bounce TV and Live Well, have found a home on digital channels. But Silverman says the throwback channels are just placeholders. “One of my favorite channels is Me TV,” he says. “A lot of those shows I put on their air. But there’s only so many Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore shows available. You reach the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly.”
“I thought the concept was interesting. I’m looking at it with an open mind,” says Sean Compton, president of programming at Tribune Broadcasting. Tribune is interested in hyper-local media online, but its digital channel business is already making money with Antenna TV and This TV. “They don’t do well enough to justify throwing a million dollars in expense at local programming,” Compton says. “I think that’s the hurdle. You don’t want to put cheap television on the air.”
A Good Time to Invest
Silverman says this is a good time for local stations to look to do something new. “Next year is going to be a great year for TV stations. They’re going to make a fortune on political advertising,” he says. And with retransmission revenue rising, “that’s why we think we’re coming along at exactly the right time. So if there was ever a time to invest in the future, it’s now.”
Silverman says CTY/VU doesn’t require a huge investment by stations; the cost is less that a $1 million. There’s an annual fee once a station gets on the air, plus a royalty that kicks in if the concept gets renewed.
Silverman says he has more than a dozen shows planned for the service. “We know how we’re going to produce them. We know what’s involved in terms of personnel,” he says. Part of the plan is to use existing station resources including equipment and talent. Local weathermen are personalities who could host other shows, he notes. He also sees augmenting station staffs with kids a year or two out of schools specializing in media and journalism who know how to write, edit and produce.
Silverman sees the effort as “guerilla broadcasting,” partly to keep costs down and partly because “in a situation like this you can do things of an experimental nature you wouldn’t dare to do if you were a network.”
While travelling to individual markets to get channels launched will be a challenge, “it will be a lot of fun. It will be a lot more fun doing this than producing Matlock,” Silverman says. “I think this would be a great way to complete a career.”
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