Oct. 24, 2003 The last major television network that did not have a local affiliate in the territory has one now now but whether that will translate into more local TV programming remains to be seen.
Starting Dec. 1, the Virgin Islands NBC feed will no longer come out of New York City, but don't think that means another local news station. What it does mean is a new affiliate broadcast station to sell advertising in an already crowded broadcast market.
California entrepreneur Keith Bass, who purchased radio station WVGN-FM in the territory last year and made it the V.I. affiliate for National Public Radio (see "NPR station's first membership drive under way"), will be launching the NBC-TV affiliate station with the same call letters.
The station is currently on the air undergoing tests on local Channel 14, and in December it is to begin operating on Channel 11 through Innovative Cable Television.
Bass is a principal owner of the LKK Group, which manages Tower Communications, both of Los Angeles. The company received its license from the Federal Communications Commission in September 2003 for WVGN-TV, previously owned by Trinity Broadcasting Network.
"We are very pleased to bring a local NBC station to the U.S.V.I.," Bass said in a release. "In addition to providing the nation's top-rated entertainment, sports and news programs, WVGN is tailored to meet local community interests. Our programming has been specifically selected with Virgin Islanders in mind."
Since the new station will not be doing news out of the Big Apple, Virgin Islanders will no longer see WNBC news from New York ("Channel 4 News" in New York City), but Tom Brokaw's "NBC Nightly News" will stay. In the morning, "Today in New York" will be replaced with "The Lion King (5-5:30 a.m.), "John Walsh's America's Most Wanted" (5:30-6:30 a.m.) and "First Business Report" (6:30-7 a.m.).
The new station will not carry any local programming for the first few months, other than a community bulletin board. That's because WVGN does not have a studio in the territory and employs only a sales manager and a producer.
Still, Bass is hopeful that WVGN will televise matters of local interest as well as participate in community outreach programs.
"Right now we can't offer those local programs but down the road will bring it in as the station develops," Bass said, explaining that some production will be done in California and some in the Virgin Islands.
Since NBC is already broadcasting its signals to the territory, "everything was already in place" as far as equipment is concerned, Bass said, except for one key thing: the satellite to feed in the signals from Los Angeles. He declined to say how much money the LKK Group is investing but conceded that the cost of a satellite dish would be a major outlay.
Why purchase a local television station? Bass said it was because of the "opportunity that presented itself" earlier this year, when he discovered the Virgin Islands was one of the few places under the U.S. flag that did not have a local NBC affiliate.
"There are a lot of people here who are not subscribing to cable," Bass said, "and the potential for local advertising is there."
Victoria Squires, is managing sales for WVGN-TV, said the new station provides an opportunity for advertisers to buy air time at an affordable price. Until now, businesses that wanted to advertise on NBC could not do unless they went to a New York brokerage service that charged high rates or went through the local cable-television provider. Squires said she's looking forward to offering local advertisers "their first chance to appear on the No. 1 network reaching adults 18 to 49, at unbeatable rates."
Squires says she does not see the lack of local programming as a disadvantage in selling advertising. "Not when you have the opportunity to be shown on the nation's No. 1 television network," she said. "The 'Whoopi' program alone won its time slot over the other networks, and NBC does have other premium programming, such as 'ER,' 'Frasier,' 'Law & Order,' 'West Wing' and 'Days of Our Lives.' NBC is also heavily geared to the sports-minded person, with some of the biggest sporting events shown only on NBC."
A local advertising expert who spoke on condition of anonymity said he believes the new station will benefit the territory by bringing in more choices for advertisers and will increase the profile of television. "In the past, print advertising was No. 1 one here, followed closely by radio, and television a distant third," he said. "That is changing, especially as the rates for print keep going up."
ABC has a local affiliate on St. Croix, WSVI/Channel 8, which offers four local programs including local news. Alpha Broadcasting owns that station.
TV2, a local cable channel owned by Innovative Communications Corp., has several locally produced programs and its own news division, which has an affiliation with Fox News.
CBS has had a local affiliate, WVXF, owned by Atlantic Broadcasting of the U.S.V.I., since 1999 and has been broadcasting on cable since last year. According to Janice George, president of WVXF-TV 17, the station will soon have two local programs — a talk show and a weekly news show, both to be produced in partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands.
George said WVXF employs a staff of 10 to sell advertsing, run its Community Bulletin Board events calendar and manage the operations from its Mountain Top location on St. Thomas.
PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, has a local affiliate, WTJX, which airs over Channel 12. That station offers five local programs — two talk shows, a fitness show and two educational programs. Unlike the commercial networks, PBS relies on government funding and private donations.
With so much competition for local viewership in such a small market as the Virgin Islands, what are the prospects of success for the new NBC affiliate? Squires enthusiastically replies: "The ratings on cable are very small. When you as an advertiser buy a network, you get a guaranteed audience delivery. We're not looking to supplant anybody, just to give more choices."
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