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For Time Warner, News Is Local

Making a difference locally has been the guiding principle behind Time Warner Cable's news operations over the past decade.

"Good news programming and reporting makes us vital to the communities that we serve," said senior vice president of local programming John Newton, who oversees TWC's regional news channels. "Viewers habituate rapidly to our presentation and we become part of their lives.

"In some ways, our editorial model, with its wheel format, is kind of like news-on-demand. Viewers know when to tune in to catch certain kinds of stories."

Customers appreciate the way Time Warner Cable's operations approach the news, said Newton.

Not about hairstyles

"Our emphasis has always been on the reporting within the communities we serve. Our people have strong credentials and strong personalities, but it's not like with the local broadcast affiliates where it's often 'Bob's Sports, Betty's Weather and 'Dave's News,' " he said. "For us, it's not about the hairstyles, but about getting to the bottom of stories and finding stories others wouldn't cover."

Time Warner Cable's news operation — the MSO is poised to bow a service in Houston next month and three other markets by mid-2004 — has also taken advantage of opportunities to superserve communities, launching local weather channels in nine markets.

And in Tampa, Fla., the operator addressed the needs of the growing Cuban community. In March, it introduced Bay News 9 en Español, which management claims is the nation's first 24-hour local Spanish-language news service.

Meanwhile, New York News 1 plans to reach out more strongly to the Hispanic community in the Big Apple, with plans for a 24-hour Spanish news diginet early next year.

For its community commitment — and for having the foresight to capitalize on other attendant opportunities therein — Time Warner Cable's news operation is the recipient of Multichannel News
Innovator Award for local programming.

Business traditions

The expansion of news services upholds a company tradition, Newton noted.

"This business adds to AOL Time Warner's strong news heritage" which includes the likes of Time, Fortune, Cable News Network and CNN Headline News, he said.

But that doesn't mean these enterprises are rooted in altruism.

"It's becoming a more important part of our business every year," he said. "Good journalism is good business. We're growing our ad-revenue base, and news is something we need to compete against satellite in terms of customer acquisition and retention."

The news operations also serve as an effective vehicle for covering and trumpeting Time Warner Cable events and initiatives, as well as a promotional home for national programming from sister networks.

Starting with New York 1 News — the acclaimed cable news progenitor that celebrated its 10th anniversary in September — Time Warner Cable no has eight news channels on the air. It turned the lights on at Capital News 9, serving the Albany, N.Y. market, on Oct. 11.

TWC also runs Our News in Rochester, N.Y.; News 8 in Austin, Texas; News 14 in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; CFN 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa, Fla.

In addition to a news service in Houston — set to bow on Dec. 11 —Time Warner Cable will debut a channel in San Antonio sometime in the first quarter. A news net is also scheduled to go to air in Syracuse, N.Y. next year, and one is slated to premiere in Milwaukee in June 2004.

CNF 13 is a joint venture with The Orlando Sentinel, while Time Warner partners with Belo Corp. for its current news operation in Charlotte, and will have a similar relationship with that company in Houston and San Antonio.

Hispanic, weather opportunities

While an official launch date has not been announced, New York 1 News is readying a 24-hour Spanish-language spin-off to launch next year, near the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second. NY1 senior vice president and general manager Steve Paulus is presently in the process of recruitment and is expected to add several dedicated staffers.

Paulus and staff are expected to take some cues from TWC's Bay News 9 en Español, which was spun off from the Bay News 9 service in Tampa-St. Petersburg. Bay News 9 en Español has its own anchors, but repurposes some video from its sister news operation.

Meanwhile, a Spanish-language, around-the-clock weather service will bow in Austin before year's end, according to Brian Benschacter, general manager of News 8.

Through a partnership with WSI — the weather data and presentation systems unit of Landmark Communications Inc., which also owns The Weather Channel — Time Warner Cable currently has 24-hour digital weather services in nine markets.

At the corporate level, Time Warner Cable is pushing for more weather in both English and Spanish: A half-dozen such services are on tap for 2003.

"As prosaic as it is, weather is very powerful, something people can't seem to get enough of. WSI has been very effective in providing radar and other information services for us," said Newton, noting that in some markets WSI may supply on-air meteorologists.

The upcoming additions in Houston and Austin aside, Time Warner Cable's news roster also will be revamped when Advance/Newhouse takes control of Bay News 9, sister network Bay News 9 en Español and CFN 13, plus digital weather channels in those markets. A/N will assume full control of those and some other TWC systems next year.

On the news horizon

As the news operation has grown, so too has its staffing, which will reach the 1,000-employee mark next year. But personnel management remains a challenge, as budgetary constraints lead to continuous change in the talent roster.

"It's a source of pride and pain in virtually all of our markets," Newton said. "We'll give someone a $5,000 raise, but people come in with offers that double their salaries. That's not part of our business model."

Looking ahead, Newton envisions the sharing of on-air resources in clustered areas like New York (which will have four services); Texas (which will have three); and the Carolinas (which already have a pair).

"We want to syndicate some of our programming, whether on stories of national or regional importance," he said.

Long-term, Time Warner Cable will commit even more resources to news.

"We expect that all of bigger system clusters will eventually have it," said Newton, noting that critical mass is important relative to journalistic resources, ad revenues and subscriber fees. Currently, News 8 Austin is the smallest news operation, reaching some 300,000 customers.

"With all due respect, I'm not sure that our Portland [Me.] system is quite big enough to support a news channel," Newton said.