Where’s the demand? Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

If ONN is such a great idea, why is the Dispatch having to push so hard to sell it? And why aren’t Time Warner’s customers begging to have the channel added?

Nobody likes being told what to do — especially in business dealings. As a business owner, you should be capable of making decisions about what products and services will best meet your customers’ needs, either by directly consulting those customers or by watching industry trends.

When you make a bad decision, your customers let you know, primarily by not buying a particular product or service you offer.

Seems to me, that’s what’s happening to the Dispatch Printing Co., owner of the Ohio News Network. Executives there are pushing mighty hard — some might say bullying — to get their fledgling news station aired alongside Time Warner Communications’ regular cable programming.

Not only is Time Warner saying, ‘No thanks,’ to the concept, but apparently its subscribers are equally disinterested. Why can’t the Dispatch get the message that sends? Instead, the Dispatch folks are trying to strong-arm Time Warner by threatening to not renew the cable company’s contract to broadcast WBNS 10-TV — which the Dispatch also owns — unless ONN is picked up as a standard cable offering.

Perhaps a more appropriate response would be entertaining the possibility that ONN may not be such a great business idea after all. If it were, and ONN were garnering wonderful ratings in the other markets and on the other cable services where it’s offered now, Time Warner would be foolish to pass on the opportunity to add another high-demand channel. Clearly that’s not the case — which is why the Dispatch ought to revisit the entire concept of a statewide news channel.

Sure, the Dispatch has invested quite a bit in launching ONN. But it may have more to lose by trying to stare down Time Warner than by letting go of it at this point — at least in Columbus.

Consider this: Time Warner serves roughly half of the 2.8 million cable households in the state and a similar percentage in the Columbus metro area. If the Dispatch withholds permission for Time Warner to rebroadcast WBNS in Columbus, it has essentially cut Channel 10’s viewing audience by as much as 50 percent, too.

That’s going to hurt Channel 10’s advertising revenues. It has to. What prudent advertiser would pay the same rate for a smaller potential audience? Granted, Time Warner customers will still be able to access Channel 10, but only if they go to the trouble of either disconnecting their cable to watch a particular show or switching cable services.

Most people won’t bother. And even if they do, will it happen in time to keep Channel 10’s ratings high during February sweeps week? I think not. That could have an even longer-lasting impact on WBNS’s ad sales.

Given all that, one has to wonder what price the Dispatch folks are putting on their pride at this point. That seems to be the only reason to continue forcing the issue — and risk losing so much revenue from advertisers as well as good will from cable customers who resent being caught in the middle of this ridiculous fight.

The Dispatch ought to stop trying to force-feed Ohioans ONN and move on. After all, the only way to learn from a mistake is to recognize you’ve made one.

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Columbus.