The coming battle over local, local news video

NBC is going to start a 24-hour local TV channel in New York, competing with lots of other players: Time Warner’s NY1 and Cablevision’s News12s, not to mention newspaper video — see Rachel Sterne’s argument that newspapers are starting to steal the beat on live video from TV — and lots of independent comers — see Josh Wolf’s experiment in a live video network covering the Olympics torch protests on the West Coast using mobile phones, Qik, Twitter, and more.

It’s crowded turf, local. But this is exactly where local broadcast must seek its future — its survival — while its value of a distributor diminishes to zero.

Steve Safran lectures broadcasters, telling them that their salvation is not technology but local. I think the mistake is for broadcasters to think media at all: It’s about real reporting (of which local TV news does precious little, let’s remember — nobody needs fires 24/7), real service, a real connection with the community across any and all media. It’s not about channels or even web sites or mobile. It’s about service and a meaningful connection with the community.

And it’s about finding ways to serve many more, much smaller advertisers in many ways. There, local broadcasters will battle with local newspapers and with local cable MSOs and there’s no way to predict the winner. The war is on.

The Wall Street Journal says of the NBC project:

NBC is investing several million dollars in the venture, building a “content center” that will house local TV staff and operations. NBC doesn’t plan to hire a new staff for the channel, but instead said it will retrain its existing staff to produce news for the regular affiliate broadcasts, the 24-hour network and a new version of WNBC’s Web site, to be called NBC New York.

If successful, the New York channel will serve as a model for other markets, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago, where NBC owns the NBC-branded local station. In most smaller markets, the NBC-branded affiliate is owned by another affiliate group.

“We think this will be better for advertisers,” said WNBC General Manager Tom O’Brien. “We’ll be able to aggregate different audiences and create a bigger audience, and that gives us a lot more opportunities to go to the advertising marketplace.”