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NATPE 2011: Broadcasters Looking Forward to Better Times

Things are looking up for broadcasters after slogging through one of the toughest periods in their 80-plus year history, said station executives on a panel at NATPE in Miami on Tuesday (Jan. 25).

Broadcasters cited several factors that are improving their fortunes, among them: retransmission consent fees; the return of automotive advertising; new technologies, such as mobile broadcasting and social media; and a return to local broadcasting advertising after a period of experimenting with other platforms.

"I think that television has been undervalued, and local television in particular has been undervalued. Advertisers came back to us not because we are nice guys, although of course we are, but because we deliver. We work to sell products, we work hard in our communities, and we help people sell their wares," said Alan Frank, president and CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations.

"Retransmission consent fees help us a lot," said David Barrett, president and CEO of Hearst Television. "To some extent, it replaces network compensation. Last Thursday night in Boston our 6 p.m. news had a 9.6 rating; only American Idol was a higher-rated show the whole night in that market. In Sacramento, last Thursday night their 6 pm had an 8.5, which was the third highest rating in the entire market for the day. If we tell that story well, the audience will gravitate to us. We overindex dramatically in our local markets versus what the networks do."

Fisher's Colleen Brown says her group is focusing on the "hyperlocal" when it comes to increasing her group's value.

"From the grassroots up, you can create an incredible very sticky relationship with your neighborhood - -through your coverage, with vendors and with neighborhoods," said Brown. "That changes the way you look at your business and your community, and makes for an almost inpenetrable relationship with consumers."

Perhaps contrary to expectations, group owners are enthusiastic about Comcast's acquisition of NBC, giving new Comcast COO Steve Burke high marks.

"Burke will be the key," said David Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting. "He has broadcasting in his genes."

"Burke understands what it takes to run good stations and a good network," said Barrett, president and CEO of Hearst Television, which is one of the country's largest owners of NBC affiliates. "New leadership is desperately needed at NBC. At the end of the day, I come out on the side that Comcast will be a good steward."

The broadcasters also emphasized the importance of their relationships with syndicators, imploring programmers to bring them creative shows that they can air and monetize across platforms.

"Syndication is very important for the future, and very important for those of us who want to be local," said Frank.

"Syndication gives us another way to help create personality, and help create who we are."

"The challenge for every industry, not just ours, is innovation," said Barrett. "We have an environment that stimulates innovation right now. My message to syndicators: Drive innovation, and invest in creativity."