FitzSimons says local TV lives

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Las Vegas - Ten years ago, during the last recession and the last really bad year for the television business, "the so-called experts" were ringing the death knell for the industry, said Dennis FitzSimons, president, Tribune Broadcasting. And now they're at it again he said.

"And I don't know about you but I'm tired of it. Local Broadcasting is one of the great and resilient businesses of our time." And it will remain so because of its focus on localism, he said.
FitzSimons made his remarks at the TVB conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Obviously, he said, the medium is not without its current challenges including first and foremost, a soft ad economy, coupled with increasing competition.

Back in 1991, FitzSimons noted that even the vaunted stock picker Warren Buffett lost his appetite for the broadcasting business. And those who lost faith "missed out on an enormous run-up in asset values."

Increasing competition has always been a fact of life for the media business going back to the newspaper era. Technology is always creating new "hordes" of media competitors who hope to conquer the world but end up getting a slice of the pie like everyone else, FitzSimons said.

But new competitors will always need the mass media to get their marketing messages out. And smart bets on new media can pay off handsomely. Witness Tribune's initial $6 million investment in AOL: it earned Tribune $1.8 billion over time, FitzSimons said.

Going forward, FitzSimons said broadcasters have to be more aggressive on the sales front: "Get on the offense and recognize that local cable interconnects are getting credit for audience that they aren't delivering." Sales people generally need to be better trained, he said.

He also said TV stations have to focus on transaction and back office issues and make the medium easier to buy. And despite the high price tag, broadcasters must continue the digital rollout. "It's only expense now, but our digital signals will provide not only HDTV to customers, but a high capacity digital pipe able to transmit all types of data and content." - Steve McClellan

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