A year ago, Time Warner Cable’s plans for a 24/7 local news channel in Milwaukee were moving full-speed ahead. The system, which serves about 430,000 subscribers and is the 28th largest in the country, had just hired Wayne Lynch, a founding news director of Allbritton Communications’ News Channel 8 in Washington, D.C., to be its general manager. In an October 2002 article in The Business Journal of Milwaukee, Time Warner Cable Southeastern Wisconsin division president Carol Hevey said, “The news channel will employ state-of-the-art television equipment and adhere to the highest journalistic standards.” Now it’s looking like Milwaukeeans may never see a TWC-branded local news channel, although both the division and a spokesman for TWC corporate deny the plug has been pulled altogether. “It’s not like we killed it,” says TWC’s Keith Cocozza. “It’s on an indefinite hold.” He cited findings from marketplace research, which he declined to disclose, for the decision not to go ahead with the channel. He held up Time Warner’s news operation in Syracuse, N.Y., which launched Nov. 8, as an example of the company’s continued commitment to local news. Including Syracuse, Time Warner operates nine local news operations. According to an executive close to the company, spiraling costs—especially technological costs—within Time Warner’s local news division, combined with the desire to put financial resources elsewhere, such as revenue-generating VoIP telephony and other advanced services, have virtually dashed the prospects for a local cable news channel in Milwaukee. Construction of a new studio, meanwhile, had already been under way. The Milwaukee division expects to launch VoIP in 2004. “It’s cooked,” the executive says, referring to the news channel. “And it’s a shame. People in Milwaukee were dying for it.”
Despite its generally low ratings, MSOs tout local news as a value-added service for customers, evidence of their commitment to the community and as a way to differentiate cable from satellite. “While we locally are disappointed, we are very excited about a new channel that has been launched,” says Bev Greenberg, a spokeswoman for the division, referring Wisconsin on Demand, which launched in October. That Wisconsin-oriented channel, free to the division’s 200,000 digital customers, features arts and entertainment, sports (including a high school football game of the week and pro tips for amateur athletes), community news, education and community events. It came in No. 1 in customer hits in its first ten days in the free-on-demand category, Greenberg says. As for Milwaukee news junkies, TWC is looking into negotiating with local broadcasters to include news on demand on the channel. Housed in a landmark 1937 limestone building that once served as the home of the New York Central train station, TWC’s Syracuse operation cost as much as $18 to $20 million to launch, including cleanup and environmental remediation. Last year TWC completed the refurbishment of a 50,000-square-foot state-of-the-art studio for NY1, its flagship local news operation in New York.

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