Los Angeles stations lost money covering riots

May 06, 1992|By Ed Van Herik | Ed Van Herik,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles television stations are watching revenues dwindle and costs mount as they pre-empt shows and commercials to provide full coverage of area disturbances.

While declining to provide specific figures on his station's losses, John Riedl, general sales manager for KABC (Channel 7), said that an average day's revenue for the top seven stations in Los Angeles is around $3 million, much of which was bumped to provide extensive riot coverage.

"As this goes on, we're losing more and more revenue but we feel it's important to our viewers to provide this kind of coverage," said Regina Miyamoto, a spokeswoman for KNBC (Channel 4).

The situation is complicated because May is a sweeps month -- a period when television stations are rated according to the audiences they draw. Stations heavily promote their programming schedules in an effort to enhance ratings and thus advertising rates.

Channel 7 returned to regular programming Friday morning but continued to break in as new story angles developed, and Channel 4 broadcast "The Cosby Show" at 8 p.m. Thursday night.

Saying that a return to regular programming should have a calming effect on residents of the city, Mr. Riedl said, "I think we did exactly the right thing."

Channel 4 decided to run the final episode of "Cosby" after Mayor Tom Bradley urged residents to stay home Thursday night to watch it.

The station made the decision to broadcast the popular program about 15 minutes before air time at 8 p.m., after determining that there were no significant breaking riot developments.

Some stations said they received calls complaining about pre-empted programming. "We were swamped with calls about the country-western [music] awards," Ms.Miyamoto said. The station has rescheduled the 27th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

Channel 7 news director Roger Bell estimated that the station has spent well over $10,000 in overtime expenses and increased production costs so far to cover the riots.

Most stations, though, say they don't have any firm idea of what constant live coverage is costing. "We're covering the news first and we'll worry about the money later," said Sandra Cho, a spokeswoman for Fox station KTTV (Channel 11).

Station executives say they'll try to recoup some of the lost revenue by placing bumped advertising on at a later date, starting with news shows this weekend.

Television news budgets have been stretched by the recession, but executives at KABC said the added cost of riot coverage won't affect their budget later in the year.

"When you have a big story, you cover it, period," said KABC general manager Terry Crofoot.

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