By Brian Stetler (NY Times)
A long-brewing business plan between Univision and the Walt Disney Company’s ABC News division to start an English-language cable news channelhas been made public. Though no announcement appears to be imminent, the television-news industry is now abuzz over the possibilities.
Here’s why the deal might make sense:
- The demographics are favorable. The channel would be geared toward English-speaking Hispanics in the United States, whose numbers are growing. Many advertisers want more ways to reach Hispanics, and big media companies want to help.
- It would give Univision an English-language foothold. The Spanish-language broadcasting giant wants to expand its footprint with English-language programming. First-generation Hispanics in the United States tend to watch shows in Spanish, but many second- and third-generation Hispanics gravitate toward shows in English.
- It would give ABC News a cable outlet. The network news division has long wanted one, and its top competitor, NBC, already has one, MSNBC.
- It would bolster Univision’s news division. A tie-up of some sort with ABC News would lend prestige to the news division of Univision, which isn’t nearly as well known as the English-language news divisions of NBC, ABC and CBS.
- The cost savings could be significant. Network news divisions like ABC have been under financial pressure for some time now. By sharing some resources with Univision, ABC could trim some of the news gathering costs it incurs.
- The subscriber fees could be significant, too. Someday. ABC would love a piece of the per-subscriber fees that cable channels receive. Again, NBC already benefits greatly from the fees that MSNBC receives.
- We’re in the midst of a busy news cycle. If the channel begins this year, it could benefit from interest in the presidential election.
- It would be a jolt of diversity for TV news. The news channel is likely to employ a significantly more diverse group of anchors and reporters than other channels currently do. It might also cover Central America and South America more thoroughly than others.
- It’s advertiser-friendly. Because the channel will be in English, companies who want to reach Hispanics do not need to have separate Spanish-language ads.
- It makes a statement about innovation. Ben Sherwood, the president of ABC News, is eager to make deals and move the news division into the digital age.
And here’s why it might not make sense:
- Running a 24-hour cable news channel is really hard. That’s what the men and women who run the established cablers will tell you.
- There are already a lot of them. There’s CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; and CNN’s lighter sister channel, HLN; and three business-news channels, CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg; and a progressive upstart, Current. The international-news channels BBC World and Al Jazeera English are trying to get broader cable carriage, as well.
- Distributors are reluctant to add more channels. They’ll point to the number of existing cable news channels as a reason not to add this one. But Disney has a lot of leverage in negotiations because it distributes ESPN.
- Disney’s affiliate sales teams might not be eager, either. This is an unknown, but the affiliate sales side of the house may be less excited about the prospect of a new channel than the editorial side of the house.
- ABC News has tried and failed before. It conceived a cable news channel in 1996 at the same time that MSNBC and Fox News were starting, but the plan was scrapped. It started a smaller-scale channel, ABC News Now, in 2004, but it was never made a priority of the news division and didn’t get widespread carriage.
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