The ABCs of Local TV

Rebecca Campbell has ambitious plans for her first full year as president of the ABC station group

Why This Matters

At a Glance:  ABC Owned Television Stations Group

Top Execs:Robert Iger, president/CEO, Walt Disney Co.;
Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks, and president, Disney/ABC Television Group;
Rebecca Campbell, president, Television Stations Group

Public or Private:

U.S. Coverage:
23.3% Number of Stations: 10 (8, after sale of WJRT Flint and WTVG Toledo closes in early ‘11)

Mostly top 10 markets, including KABC Los Angeles, WABC New York and WLS Chicago

After close to three years atop New York powerhouse
WABC, Rebecca Campbell was named president of ABC’s owned
station group in May 2010, succeeding the retiring Walter Liss.

Campbell fairly bristles when the stations on her watch are referred
to as “O&Os,” believing that the moniker doesn’t
reflect how the outlets are operated from within
their communities—not from corporate headquarters.
“There’s a huge difference,” says Campbell
from her new West Coast base. “Even though
we are owned by the Walt Disney Co., every one
of our stations is operated locally.”

Campbell takes that concept of localism seriously.
She discusses what 2011 holds for the ABC
group with B&C Deputy Editor Michael Malone:

Which words come to mind when you think
about an ABC-owned station?

Our local commitment to our viewers. Trust and
accountability, and certainly leadership. We’re
local broadcasters—we have a civic responsibility
to all our viewers in the communities. We’re
committed to do that in every decision we make.
Our viewers depend on us and trust us and hold
us accountable. I think they recognize the commitment.
And as a result, we’ve become market
leaders. Nine out of 10 of our stations are No. 1
sign-on to sign-off, and the majority [seven] are
No. 1 in market share.

[Recently] we’ve done so many innovative
things, whether it be Live Well [the ABC station
group’s multicast channel] and our digital platforms, a state of the art
studio we built at WPVI [Philadelphia] and being in more than 50% of
the cabs in New York City. So I would include being an innovator on
that list.

If you take political advertising out of the equation, do you
think business will be flat, or up a little bit, over last year?

We’re cautiously optimistic. It’s still early, but our pacing is up. Automakers
are launching new vehicles, and I think the consumer demand for
that product is back. Retail, telco and financial were also really strong in
2010, and we expect them to be strong in 2011.

What does Oprah leaving broadcast TV mean to the group?

Each of the markets needed to decide individually what they were going
to do with that time period. Many of our stations are going to replace
Oprah with local news…add another hour of news and go [local] from
4 to 6:30 p.m. It’s really what we do best.

L.A. is already doing news from 4 to 6:30, so they decided to purchase Dr. Oz at 3 p.m. Chicago also has a unique situation with [Oprah’s] 9
[a.m.] time period. They’re going to launch a live show at 9. It’ll be
completely local and highlight Chicago; it will originate from the same
studio Oprah launched in 25 years ago.

We’ve been wonderful partners with Oprah
and the people who work on her staff. As sad as
we are to see that end, we’re excited to continue
serving viewers through another hour of local
news on most of our stations.

ABC’s Inventory Exchange with affiliates
has been a big hit. What role does the ABC
group play in the exchange?

There is a committee with people from the network
and the owned station group and our affiliates.
It’s really a collaborative effort. You’re right,
it’s been a huge success—it’s an innovative idea.
For so many years, it’s been, the network kept
their inventory and we kept our inventory. Now
there’s the opportunity for all parties to sit down
and really discuss pricing differentials. There are
so many moving dynamics going on in both the
local marketplace and nationally; I’m thrilled we
are having the conversations and are able to work
together to provide this opportunity.

ABC is selling WJRT Flint and WTVG Toledo.
Is the group looking to sell more stations
this year?

The answer is no, we have absolutely no plans
to sell any of our other stations. If you look at our eight remaining stations
from a strategic standpoint, our focus is on larger markets. [KFSN]
Fresno plays a role—it’s one of [our] three stations in California, it’s really
our engineering center where we do a lot of our testing.

We didn’t have a for-sale sign out [for WJRT and WTVG]. But George
Lilly and SJL Broadcasting came to us. They held those television stations
previously—they have a strong history with them. They asked if they
could buy them back. The timing was right, and strategically it made
sense. [But] we have no plans to sell other stations.

What about being a buyer?

If the right station or group came along that would fit our strategic plan,
we would certainly take a look at it. It’s all about what opportunity
presents itself.

You're almost eight months into
the group president job. What are you most proud of?

It's been an
incredible eight months. I got to go see all of the stations, and the people I
work with and the company I work for, I believe we have the best and the
brightest. As I traveled around the country, I saw that every one of those
stations cares so much about its viewers. I feel so privileged to have this
opportunity to work with this group of people.

I'm proud to have
the opportunity to work with Walter [Liss] for so many ears and for Bob [Iger].
It validates what I always knew about our owned TV station group; looking at
all the employees, the viewers are No. 1 in their minds each and every day.

You had a few high-profile
retransmission showdowns last year. How is 2011 shaping up in terms of retrans?

Our stations and
our network create tremendous value. That's pretty much what the message was in
the Cablevision negotiation-we see tremendous value in our stations, we have
great strength in our content. It was needed that providers saw that value as
well. I know lot of people would like see government get involved. But I think
that people now understand the value that we bring, and think that we should be
paid a fair market price for that value.

I think the
first time out is the most difficult, and it should be easier [negotiating
deals] as we continue through this. All the broadcasters have a vested interest
in making this work.

In terms of FCC talk out of
Washington regarding spectrum, are you concerned with what you're hearing?

I think all
broadcasters are waiting to see what develops. Over the air broadcasting has
been around for a long time and it's a really, really valuable resource for the
country and for all the local communities in which local broadcasters serve.
Whatever spectrum policy the FCC pursues should definitely be one that
maintains that future for over the air stations. We play a vital role in the
community, and they need to make sure they maintain that.

What's on for the ABC
station group's Live Well Network for 2011?

We started this,
as we like to say, from whole cloth. Local content is what stations do best,
and so in the heat of a recession we launched this new network, 24 hours day,
seven days a week. We looked to all our owned stations and said, you have the
resources and the people, wouldn't it be great if you all contribute shows? And
so we did, using our existing facilities and equipment and manpower. It's up
and running and we have a website []. We recently signed
five Belo stations [to air Live Well] and now are in more than 30% of the

As we move
forward, our priority is to take the network out and see what opportunities we
have with other major groups, which is very exciting.

I'll also
mention that we have an iPad app in the iTunes store for all eight stations. We
believe we're the first group to have iPad apps for all their stations in

What are you watching on TV
this season?

I have an
11-year-old daughter who watches only the Disney Channel, I have a son and a
husband who watch ESPN, and I'm an ABC viewer, so I work for the right company.

I still love my
Sunday nights-Desperate Housewives
and Brothers and Sisters. Modern Family, we watch all the time.
And now that I'm not in New York I can't see Live with Regis and Kelly because usually I'm in meetings by the
time it comes on out here. So I tape it every day.

Do you miss New York?

I've worked in
local television for so many years, and I'm not sitting in a television station
per se any more, but that's also why I love to travel from station to station,
because there's such a dynamic and an energy inside the walls of a TV station
and especially the newsroom. When I watched WABC's coverage of the [Dec. 26
blizzard], there it was, the holiday, and so many people were called back in,
and they all stepped up to the plate with continuous coverage. It was a true
testament to what we all do best.

I miss walking
in to a television station every day, but I look at my role now, which is really
to help provide the resources to all the stations, and National Television
Sales, our sales organization in New York. And I didn't miss New York when it
was snowing, I'll tell you that much. I love 75 and sunny, actually. 

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