When Fred Silverman talks about television, you listen. Silverman is the
legendary TV executive who programmed each of the Big Three broadcast networks, airing series including All in the
Family, Charlie’s Angels and Roots. He
then became one of the industry’s most
prolific producers of TV series and movies.
Why This Matters
Now, with the networks under siege
from technologies ranging from the DVR
to streaming video, Silverman sees local
stations as the survivors in the broadcast
world, and he’s pitching what he calls a “new localism.”
Going back to the future, Silverman has put together
what could be his last big project: CTY/VU TV, or
City View, a service featuring live original, local entertainment
programming that the 76-year-old executive
would help stations produce. The shows would air on
the digital sub-channels that stations broadcast.
The series are variations on genres including talent
competition, talk, dating and home shopping. To bring
the idea into the 21st century, CTY/VU includes an
app that creates a second-screen experience to make
shows interactive and create digital ad opportunities.
Instead of depending on ratings and selling spots,
the shows and apps would be sponsored, especially
by local retailers that represent a growing part of stations’
ad base and can judge for themselves whether
their advertising investments are paying off in store
traffic and sales.
Silverman says that with fewer hits in the pipeline,
stations can’t depend on networks or syndicators for
programming. Local morning shows that beat Good
Morning America and Today prove localism works.
And he says that station managers know they need
shows that are more engaging and interactive
to attract younger viewers.
Silverman and his partner, former NBC
radio executive Walter Sabo, began pitching
the concept last week to station groups,
including Post-Newsweek and Tribune Co.
Silverman says one station group is already
interested, and he’s hoping a channel gets
launched in the second half of 2014.
“We would actually be serving as their program
department. A lot of the stations don’t have program
departments now,” says Silverman, who worked at
stations in Chicago and New York early in his career
and became known as The Man With the Golden Gut
for his programming prowess. “And they couldn’t hire
a better program department than Walter and I and
the people that are going to be working with us.”
Hundreds of stations are running networks like Me
TV or This TV composed of old movies and programming
on their digital sub-channels. A few other national
networks, such as Bounce TV and Live Well, have
found a home on digital channels. But Silverman says
the throwback channels are just placeholders. “One of
my favorite channels is Me TV,” he says. “A lot of those
shows I put on their air. But there’s only so many Dick
Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore shows available. You
reach the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly.”
“I thought the concept was interesting. I’m looking
at it with an open mind,” says Sean Compton, president
of programming at Tribune Broadcasting. Tribune
is interested in hyper-local media online, but its digital
channel business is already making money with Antenna
TV and This TV. “They don’t do well enough to
justify throwing a million dollars in expense at local
programming,” Compton says. “I think that’s the hurdle.
You don’t want to put cheap television on the air.”
A Good Time to Invest
Silverman says this is a good time for local stations
to look to do something new. “Next year is going to
be a great year for TV stations. They’re going to make
a fortune on political advertising,” he says. And with
retransmission revenue rising, “that’s why we think
we’re coming along at exactly the right time. So if
there was ever a time to invest in the future, it’s now.”
Silverman says CTY/VU doesn’t require a huge investment
by stations; the cost is less that a $1 million.
There’s an annual fee once a station gets on the air,
plus a royalty that kicks in if the concept gets renewed.
Silverman says he has more than a dozen shows
planned for the service. “We know how we’re going
to produce them. We know what’s involved in terms
of personnel,” he says. Part of the plan is to use existing
station resources including equipment and talent.
Local weathermen are personalities who could host
other shows, he notes. He also sees augmenting station
staffs with kids a year or two out of schools specializing
in media and journalism who know how to
write, edit and produce.
Silverman sees the effort as “guerilla broadcasting,”
partly to keep costs down and partly because “in a
situation like this you can do things of an experimental
nature you wouldn’t dare to do if you were a network.”
While travelling to individual markets to get channels
launched will be a challenge, “it will be a lot of
fun. It will be a lot more fun doing this than producing
Matlock,” Silverman says. “I think this would be a
great way to complete a career.”