Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who's Buying PBS Newshour?

One of the biggest pieces of prime real estate in the television news industry is up for sale for the first time. PBS NewsHour, a newscast which is contracted to PBS by MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, is looking for a new owner for the first time in it's existence. All indications are that WETA, PBS's DC affiliate, will take over ownership rights but officials say that there are still a couple of things which need to be worked on. In case that were to fall through, here are some other options for who should take over ownership and funding for the NewsHour.
  • CBS News - CBS has the most watched news program in the country, 60 Minutes as well as an evening newscast, weekend newscasts and a morning newscast; so for the most part, journalists at the network have time to cover what they want. At the same time, the amount of time each story is given on CBS may not be as much as what it could be on NewsHour. CBS also already has a working relationship with PBS through Charlie Rose. Some of CBS' news stories are used during Charlie Rose's Friday PBS newscast and PBS/CBS share access to Rose's biggest interviews (i.e. Assad interview, which worked to both CBS and PBS' benefit. CBS got first dibs and then PBS went more in depth). The only reason why this might not work is because NewsHour and CBS Evening News share similar timeslots. In most areas, NewsHour begins at 6pm or 6:30pm, while CBS Evening News airs at either 6:30pm or 7pm in most markets.
  • ABC News - ABC faces the same exact problem as CBS. A lot of stories to tell but not enough time to tell them. ABC also has some unique news shows at unique times such as Nightline and World News Now, which sort of fill the void for not having a cable news network, but those programs are not on at times which are convenient for the viewer. Now, ABC does have a cable channel launching soon with Univision, but the network will only focus on Latino and millenial issues. The only problem facing this kind of arraignment would be the same as CBS, NewsHour and ABC World News are on competing timeslots. Maybe CBS and ABC can team up to fund NewsHour, move it to 7pm and have it focus on indepth stories and feature longer interviews with newsmakers which they've already taped but can't air on their own newscasts.
  • Bloomberg - Bloomberg already has a relationship with PBS since they replay Charlie Rose's PBS show on their network and Charlie Rose uses Bloomberg's studios. Through this potential partnership, Bloomberg could become a more recognizable brand among normal Americans because for the first time ever, they would have access to a very large percentage of America. The thing which works against this possible move is that it might be awkward for a Bloomberg funded newscast to lead into Nightly Business Report, which is aired on many PBS affiliates following NewsHour and is funded by CNBC.
  • Al Jazeera America - AJA is always looking for ways to get themselves out into the public realm and there's no better way to prove to consumers that you're news product is worth it than to fund and produce NewsHour, which as mentioned before, is accessible to a very large percentage of Americans.
  • The Next Jeff Bezos - Maybe there's a millionaire or billionaire out there who is pissed off at the way television news is currently presented and he or she decides to fund and relaunch NewsHour as a major news enterprise with an increased online presence, better technology, more investigative journalism and more high tech studios? Maybe this millionaire or billionaire is even able to hire away big journalists from other networks to make NewsHour, a news hour with breaking news from reporters with sources. And maybe, this donor will able to transform PBS as a whole into more of a straight news network, similar to BBC, which has more news than all the other broadcast networks, goes more in depth than everyone, and relies less on the government and more on consumers who appreciate the news product and are willing to donate to help fund the efforts?
I would love it if PBS turned into a straight news network with a more in depth look at news which was unbiased while at the same time it kept it's quirky mix of British shows and programs which only old people watch. If they made their news programming more eye-appeasing and provided viewers with more options to watch news other than 6pm then I would be more inclined to watch. 

For example, many people who normally don't watch PBS, watched the Assad interview in full on a Monday at 9pm on PBS because they found it more in depth than the bits and pieces which CBS was airing. If PBS was able to continue to get those type of high profile newsmaker interviews and show them in full, that could attract more viewers who normally wouldn't watch.

In terms of being more eye-appeasing, News Hour Weekend is a perfect example of this. The studios are eye-catching and the stories are fast-paced but still more in depth than you would find on one of the big networks. Unfortunately, the weekend edition doesn't get much distribution or promotion because not all affiliates are on board yet.

My personal preference for NewsHour's newest owner and a potential partner to build PBS' news division would be CBS because they don't have a cable network and they seem to be the most serious in the industry about solely covering hard news. A newsmaker might be more inclined to give their story or sit down for an interview with NBC instead of CBS because NBC can instantly distribute that story and/or interview to CNBC and MSNBC (see CNBC's recent Obama interview which simultaneously aired on NBC/MSNBC). 

But, if CBS was able to have the resource of PBS, then more arraignments like the Assad interview could happen (Assad wasn't going to agree to an interview with CBS unless it was shown in full. Obviously CBS didn't have the space to do that but PBS did). Bits and pieces of a news story/investigation/interview etc. could appear on CBS' major programs and then the more in depth look could appear on NewsHour as well as potentially PBS primetime, which doesn't have the constraints of being interrupted for news that CBS' primetime schedule has.

Vice versa, some of PBS' NewsHour's original reports could use more promotion and CBS This Morning, whose audience is more newsy than it's counterparts, would be the perfect place to seek cross-promotion. At the end of the day, it's most likely that WETA takes over NewsHour, but there's a slim chance that someone else could be waiting in the wings.

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