The cost of Leno

In the echo chamber that is today’s media landscape, media-on-media crime is the biggest ratings getter. news-leno

Watching FOX mug MSNBC, or Jay and Conan assault NBC has become ratings gold. Heck, it’s cheaper than producing real content.

While all this may entertain and delight the national audience and provide buzz to the networks, it does nothing for local affiliates who crave stable ratings success as a lead in to their late local news where they promote their people as reliable members of the community, not entertainers who are the subjects of “news.”

That simple cultural disconnect is one example of the different worlds networks and their affiliates inhabit. Locals hold their noses in exchange for solid programming and a little inventory, but the value proposition of being an affiliate is starting to fade as compensation schemes change and the advent of getting TV on the web becomes reality.

How much did the Leno experiment cost local TV? Harmelin Media figures the nation’s 210 NBC affiliates, like KING TV here in Seattle, saw audiences decline by about 25-percent in the coveted 25-54 demo. Some markets, like New York, LA and Philly took hits approaching 50-percent!

That’s enough to take a #1 rated late local newscast off the podium. Wow.

Harmelin figures the three month Leno experiment cost the affiliates $22 million. I’m surprised that number is as low as it is. NBC’s ten O&O’s lost about $570,000 per week according to Harmelin’s extrapolation of the numbers.

When you take the Leno hit, add it to the demise of the auto industry and throw some reverse compensation into the deal – it really makes you wonder what local stations are going to do.

I think for well-equipped blow torches like KING, especially with NWCN already built, the answer might be to go big and go local 24-7. But what if there are a couple of big time operators in town? Who goes first to stake out the turf? Does it yet make economic sense, or do you ride the broadcast model all the way to the bottom before you do the next thing with your spectrum?

I don’t envy those who have to make those choices with millions of dollars, careers, families, local brands built over decades and shareholder value all at stake.