What’s it worth?
The notion of ‘on air talent’ represents an interesting dilema for local and network news, particularly as video heads for the non-linear web.
Up until now, ‘talent’ has been the sacred cow of television news.
There is an inherent belief that the ‘talent’ attracts the audience.
I am not so sure this is true.
But let’s look at the pure economics of this, lets call it ‘the talent trap’.
A relative unknown comes to station A to work as on air talent. (A blog on Medialine today noted that a large percentage of on-air talent had been cheerleaders in High School).
In any event, the ‘talent’ signs a contract, at a reasonable (let’s say) rate of pay.
Because there is a belief that the talent draws and holds the audience, the station now invests many millions in advertising and sheer on-air face time to build the talent as a recognizable entity in the community.
Soon the talent become an entity in the community in his or her own right. They are instantly recognizable – such is the power of television. And there does not have to be any inherent skill or value in their ‘journalistic skills’; the recognition and familiarity factor is enough.
When the talent’s contract comes up for renewal, the station has put the talent into a very powerful position – they can not extract pretty much what they want from the station – they are well known in the community; the station has invested millions to ‘create’ the talent. Now, they cannot afford to lose them. To start again is far too difficult, and to release them to a competitor in the community is to write off the investment. Worse, it is to have made a direct investment with the competitor!
Management has no choice but to acceed to the demands of the talent – no matter how gross they are.
They have to pay whatever the talent demands because they now have to protect themselves from the very creature that they have created!
It’s a kind of blackmail.
And who pays the bill for this blackmail?
It’s the newsroom, and everyone in it. Because the news budget is a fixed number, and that which goes into the anchor’s salary does not go into the cameraman’s salary, or new gear, or the truck or newsgathering.
Is this an intelligent way to run a news organization?
It’s called The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.
But it’s not called The New York Times With Tom Friedman.
Why is that?