Texas Loses News Nets


Time Warner Cable and Belo Corp. are shutting down the local news channels they jointly own in Houston and San Antonio, Texas, with nearly 200 employees losing their jobs, officials said Friday.

Those two Texas cable networks were part of a Time Warner-Belo joint venture that is being discontinued, because its channels couldn’t get traction.

Time Warner Cable said a third local news channel that had been included in that joint venture — News 14 Carolina in Charlotte, N.C. — will remain on the air and become part of the MSO.

Time Warner operates six other local news channels, including one in Raleigh, N.C., and the company said “both the Charlotte and Raleigh News 14 Carolina operations will work together to create greater efficiencies.”

It hasn’t exactly been determined, but that could mean merging the Charlotte news-channel operation into Raleigh’s, or turning the Charlotte operation into a bureau, according to Time Warner spokesman Mark Harrad.

“They’re going to look at the two operations — they both are branded News 14 Carolina — and figure out a way that they can keep the product robust, but probably do it more efficiently,” Harrad said. “Whether that’s going to end up to be a merger, whether it will be a bureau setup or some super-bureau set up or some other kind of configuration … they don’t know yet.”

The immediate shutdown of News 24 Houston and News 9 San Antonio, due to the competitive nature of their markets, will result in the termination of 190 full-time and part-time employees.

Even with last week’s closings, Belo still remains a significant player in the cable-news network business, as does Time Warner. Belo owns two regional services: NorthWest Cable News, with 2.3 million subscribers, and Texas Cable News, which reaches 1.5 million homes. In addition, Belo operates four local news channels in partnership with Cox Communications, in Phoenix, Hampton/Norfolk, Va., and New Orleans. Finally, Belo wholly owns a local news channel in Boise, Idaho.

Belo spokesman Scott Baradell said those networks economically healthy and are not in jeopardy, including those run in partnership with Cox.

“The dynamics are really different channel to channel and market to market,” Baradell, referring to the local news channels Belo was doing with Time Warner versus those with Cox.

The economics are different, as well, since the Cox local news channels repurpose a lot of content from Belo-owned TV stations, according to Baradell.

Belo released its second-quarter results Friday, and said that since the joint venture started — it was announced in September 2000 — Belo has incurred $18.7 million in losses through June 30.

Belo has contributed $37.8 million to the joint venture, resulting in a net investment of $19.1 million as of the end of the second quarter.

Harrad and other Time Warner officials said the MSO remains committed to local news, despite the closing of the channels in Houston and San Antonio.

“We look at local news as an important community service and a way to distinguish ourselves from the competition,” chief operating officer John Billock said. “While the joint-venture channels delivered a quality product, they were not able to achieve the kind of sustainable audience growth on a standalone basis which is required for long-term viability.”

Ironically, the Houston and San Antonio channels’ toughest competitors were TV stations owned by Belo.

“Each of these markets has well-established competitors, including Belo’s own broadcast stations, that made it difficult for a new brand to gain a foothold,” Belo president of media operations Jack Sander said in a prepared statement. “Belo continues to provide outstanding news leadership to its local communities through KHOU-TV in Houston, WCNC-TV in Charlotte, and KENS-TV in San Antonio.”

Distribution for the Houston news channel was estimated at about 724,000 homes, with the San Antonio network at about 339,000 and Charlotte at 389,000 subscribers.

In addition to Charlotte and Raleigh, Time Warner operates local news channels in New York City, Rochester, N.Y., Austin, Texas, Albany, N.Y., and Syracuse, N.Y.