Extended Interview: Hank Price
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TERENCE SMITH: Tell me why you have decided on this new approach at 10 o’clock.
HANK PRICE: Well, we’ve done it for a lot of reasons. We’ve done it for journalistic reasons, we’ve done it for business reasons. I think, in a sense, many of us who have been in the business for a long time have done it because it’s something we believe in and we want to see happen. So there’s no one, single answer as to why we’ve done it.
Carol Marin has done it because she believes in quality journalism, and I believe in that, too, but I also believe in a business case for it.
TERENCE SMITH: I have heard it said, critically, but not rancorously, by the people in this town that the real reason was that WBBM had nowhere to go but up.
HANK PRICE: Well, I think that’s true too. We did have a great opportunity. You know, when your ratings are not what you want them to be, that’s the opportunity to do something differently. And we had to do something, but I think what we did was something we wanted to do and something we believe in. A lot of people over the years here have tried things that they didn’t believe in, and they haven’t worked, so maybe it’s time to do something you believe in.
TERENCE SMITH: What’s been the response so far?
HANK PRICE: It’s been terrific. People who like this broadcast like it a lot. Not everyone likes it. It’s not something that will be number one immediately or that people will stop watching traditional local news for. But the people who like this broadcast, like it a lot.
TERENCE SMITH: What, in fact, has happened to the ratings?
HANK PRICE: The demographic ratings, which is the measurement of the ages and–of the people who watch–the demographic ratings have increased, in fact, almost a rating point in February, which is quite significant.
TERENCE SMITH: What is that worth to you, to this station, in terms of dollars and cents?
HANK PRICE: Oh, it’s worth many millions of dollars over the course of a year. And then if you’ve got continued growth, then obviously the money continues. But we’re talking in terms of millions of dollars.
TERENCE SMITH: Because news is a big business for television stations like yours.
HANK PRICE: News is the biggest business that a local television station is in. It’s the one thing that we control, it’s the one thing that we produce, it’s the thing that has the most advertising in it. That and prime time are the two biggest business–are the two biggest businesses we’re in.
TERENCE SMITH: The biggest source of revenue.
HANK PRICE: Yes, the biggest source of revenue is local news.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. And yet over the years, if you’d put this in a little context for me, this station, like many others around the country, have been losing audience. Why?
HANK PRICE: I think that as we look at our society and the choices that they have, they go home at night, and they have cable, they have satellites, they have VCRs, they also have books. Look at what’s happening with book reading increasing in the United States. There are a lot of things for people to do. There are many sources of information, as well as entertainment. And naturally that does create something. It means we don’t have a lock on people any more. So if we don’t have a lock on people, we really have to stop and think what really should and can we do to serve our viewers?
TERENCE SMITH: When you started this experiment, you were fifth at 10 o’clock.
HANK PRICE: That’s right.
TERENCE SMITH: Among those five. Fifth out of five.
HANK PRICE: Right.
TERENCE SMITH: And you’re still fifth out of five.
HANK PRICE: Sure.
TERENCE SMITH: Disappointing?
HANK PRICE: No, not at all. The thing that we’re trying to do is look ourselves in the face every day and say, “Are we doing what we said we would do or are we not?” And so far we’ve been able to say that, and that’s what matters. What is important is that we do a great job. If we can do a great job, then people will watch. And if we don’t do a great job, then we don’t deserve for them to watch.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. But we all live in a real world.
HANK PRICE: Right.
TERENCE SMITH: And there’s money to be made here, and I assume pressure is on you from the network to make some of that money.
HANK PRICE: Well, we are making money, and we have had demographic growth, and so we are selling our advertising for more money than we were before. But that’s different from saying that we’re number one or that we’re even number two or number three.
TERENCE SMITH: What I’m asking you is, if it remains as it is today, fifth out of five, can it go on?
HANK PRICE: This broadcast has to have a certain level of viewer support in order to succeed. People have to like it enough to watch it on a regular basis. And if they do it, we’ll succeed. But that has to happen.
TERENCE SMITH: What have you done in terms of resources for this show, this 10 o’clock show? Have you added resources, personnel, budget?
HANK PRICE: We have added some resources. But you’ve got to remember, we’re not doing all of the resource-intensive things that other stations do just to bring viewers. I was in another city the other day, and I saw an advertisement for a news piece on elevators, “Is it dangerous to be in an elevator?” Well, you know what, we don’t do that kind of story. We don’t think that’s a news story. So we have converted resources that we were using for other things and put them strictly into news coverage.
So the answer is: Have we added a lot of resources? No. Have we converted resources? Absolutely.
TERENCE SMITH: What’s your–let’s look to the future here. What do you expect? What do you hope for?
HANK PRICE: What I expect is that the broadcast will continue to grow very slowly. We also have to continue to refine the broadcast. We’ve got to make it better over time. Remember, we’re still learning about some of these things. We’re breaking the mold, and that takes a long time. I watch it and see it get a little bit better. My only goal is that it continue to get better. Then we’ll be fine. That’s the goal.
TERENCE SMITH: I heard a slogan, “PBS on CBS.”
HANK PRICE: You know, people call us–the people who call us PBS on CBS are the people at the other television stations. That’s not what we call ourselves. We’ve got respect for PBS, but that’s not who we are. We’re a commercial television station doing a commercial newscast. That’s what we do.