Did Tribune Think About the Future Before Doing TV Deal?


Did Tribune really only look at the short term when they decided to buy up all the Local LLC stations? 

One TV expert thinks do. 

The Chicago Business Journal writes that San-Francisco-based media consultant and blogger (and former Chicago Sun-Times city editor) Alan D. Mutter isn't convinced the Tribune Co.'s big local TV station acquisition deal will prove such a wise move over the long term. But he's also pretty sure the recently-announced move by ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 to launch a digital-only local newscast in Chicago in September, will help position the station for what's coming in local TV broadcasting.

A former newspaper man, Mutter got into the broadcast industry later in his career. In particular he has become an expert on how technology is changing the journalism and media businesses. Which is why he has doubts about whether Tribune Co.'s $2.7 billion acquisition of 19 local TV outlets owned by Newport, KY.-based Local TV will prove as lucrative over the long haul as it undoubtedly will in the short term.

In an interview Friday, Mutter conceded that right now local TV stations are still quite profitable. "They are making plenty of money now and will for some time," said Mutter. But down the line Mutter believes local TV almost inevitably will fall victim to the same forces that have crushed the newspaper industry and threatened to turn the daily newspaper into something akin to a dinosaur.

"It took about 10 years for the newspaper industry to see what a huge impact the Internet would have on that business," noted Mutter. And by the time a significant percentage of the population had Internet connection and newspaper executives realized what was happening, many in the newspaper business simply couldn't move fast enough to deal with the collapsing world of print journalism.

Mutter sees a similar fate for local TV outlets, though he refused to predict how many years away it might be. But he is convinced that younger people simply don't view local TV and what it has to offer, including local newscasts, in the same way that people of older generations might "They would just as soon watch something on their mobile phone as they would a TV," explained Mutter.

Which means local TV executives are going to have to figure out how to cater to those young people who didn't come of age with local TV (and cable) being pretty much the only option available. And that is why Mutter thinks Channel 7's recently-announced plan to produce a digital-only newscast could have huge favorable ramifications for the station and the rest of the local TV business.

Not only will the newscast be distributed in a way that fits with rapidly-evolving trends in content distribution. But even in the near term, Mutter thinks the station's digital newscast could yield a lot of useful information to help Channel 7 better tailor its traditional over-the-air afternoon and evening newscasts.

Channel 7 General Manager John Idler was unavailable for an interview today, but issued this statement about the future of local TV: "As long as people still care about their communities, local TV will remain relevant and will serve their needs for news and information." No doubt true. But for how long? Even Idler appears acutely aware that local TV can only remain relevant by recognizing how much and how rapidly the broadcast industry, like the newspaper business, is changing.

Read more from the Chicago Business Journal