Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

ABC: Don’t you know that I’m still in love with news?

November 30, 2009

I asked ABC TV chief Anne Sweeney at our Global Media Summit on Monday whether the nightly news broadcast will go away someday soon. Everyone who follows the broadcast TV business has wondered this at some time or another, particularly as fewer people tune in.

Here’s a bit of that conversation, where I got Sweeney to firmly say… not much. If you’re in a rush, the general message appears to be:

  • News is changing along with the changing times
  • We believe in our news operation
  • Budgets may change (likely for the worse), but news is worth paying for
  • We’re more than our evening news broadcast (where Charles Gibson is ceding the anchor slot to Diane Sawyer), but we’re not going to say one way or the other whether we’ll keep it going.
  • Me: News operation is often a big cost. Some say that evening news is losing its relevance as people get their news elsewhere. Is it possible that ABC would get rid of its evening newscast?

Sweeney: I think world news is not just about 6:30. I think World News is about being ready to provide the news whenever it happens. It’s not just limited to that half hour. It’s actually on all day. The ABC broadcast day opens, the network day opens with Good Morning America. …  So we always have the ability to come in with breaking news. … And then shows like 20/20 provide us with an opportunity to go a bit broader. And then of course there’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, which gives us the Washington beat, which again can appear in the other shows throughout the week. So it’s really a manner of managing the assets rather than focusing on (the 6:30 news)

Me: How much will you preserve ABC’s news budget when the returns in this fragmenting news media landscape are lesser than ever?

Sweeney: The budgets are always going to change, just as they have in the other parts and certainly in our other businesses.

Me: I take it the budgets are going to keep shrinking.

Sweeney: The budgets are gonna keep changing. You can no more predict when the next great national emergency is going to happen, and you’re going to have to deploy those resources because people are counting on you. One of the things that distinguishes ABC News from a lot of people that are providing opinion out there is really their standard of excellence. Their standards of journalism are very, very high. … And I think it is well worth the money.

(Photo: ABC News’s Sam Donaldson, like many journalists, loves to poke a little fun at Corporate, but ABC still loves its news operation. Reuters)

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