THIS JUST IN: WKYC/TWC Akron/Canton News Shutting Down

WKYC and Time Warner Cable announced today that “Akron/Canton News”, the WKYC-produced weekday news broadcast airing on Time Warner Cable’s “NEON” local programming channel at 6:30 and 10 PM, will close up shop on May 30th.

Channel 3 senior director and Friend of OMW Frank Macek has an item on the end of “ACN” on his “Director’s Cut” blog this evening, with a quote from WKYC general manager Brooke Spectorsky. The station blames poor economic conditions for the end of the newscast.

And the anchor and face of the newscast, WKYC Akron bureau chief Eric Mansfield, has his thoughts on his own blog here.

WKYC says that the station’s Akron/Canton Bureau at the corner of Main and Market in downtown Akron will remain, and Mansfield will continue to report news from the region to air during the regular Cleveland-based editions of “Channel 3 News”.

It’s been a long road for Eric and the gang.

The newscast sprouted originally on the station which was always known for Akron/Canton television news, the former WAKC/23.

After the original WAKC news was discontinued by the PAX TV network under its ownership, the Akron-licensed station again picked up the torch as the home of “PAX 23 News”…in an agreement between the city of Akron (former WAKC anchor Mark Williamson is now spokesman for Akron mayor Don Plusquellic), PAX TV (now Ion Television), and the newscast’s new producer, WKYC.

It was all made easier by the fact that WKYC owner Gannett was part of a chainwide agreement to operate the then-PAX TV stations in markets around the country, including Cleveland(/Akron [Canton]). And it was easy for Gannett/WKYC to graft a “2” next to their existing “3” logo.

When that local marketing agreement expired, and the PAX network’s future came into question, the newscast quickly left the 5-million watt signal of now-WVPX/23, and ended up on another channel 23…the cable position Time Warner Cable had already dedicated to local programming.

It’s been tough since then.

The visiblity of the newscast was reduced drastically, with very few non-“public service” type programs on the local origination channel that wasn’t available to non-cable subscribers.

Recent efforts by TWC to “spruce up” the channel now known as the “Northeast Ohio Network” (NEON) came too late to raise the profile of the “station around the newscast”, and significantly impact its future prospects.

Even after the addition of new, well-produced local programming (“Three Squares”, “Made Here”, etc.), and the move to finally establish an identity, “NEON” is still not the equivalent of a true “local cable channel”.

And for one, it’s still split in channel numbering even now – 23 in the legacy Akron/Canton areas, 15 in Cleveland’s former Adelphia areas, etc.

If we were pushing the buttons, “NEON” would realign with the same channel number throughout the region, a channel that can be promoted to all viewers in all of Northeast Ohio.

Even in the “ACN” territory, those in former Adelphia territories in western Summit County welcomed the newscast on cable channel 15 instead of 23, and due to local access channel congestion, former Adelphia viewers in the Macedonia/Hudson area didn’t ever get the newscast on any channel.

And an unfortunate time slot clash meant that for TWC Akron-area viewers, another of “NEON’s” high-profile programs got cut in half in its live airing – the “More Sports and Les Levine” show with the long-time area sportscaster and sports writer.

Even if all this were “fixed”, and even if the Time Warner folks even more significantly upgraded “NEON” than they have now, it’s still not a broadcast channel – and even surrounded by “Mama’s Family” reruns and shopping game shows, “Akron/Canton News” had a better shot at viewers with a must-carry full-power over-air signal.

And…in better economic conditions.

But…is there a future?

Time Warner’s Bill Jasso tells OMW:

“Channel 3 came to us and said they could not continue the newscast for financial reasons. This was a partnership and we lost our partner. Time Warner is still very interested in continuing the Akron Canton News. If another qualified partner would present themselves, we would certainly be interested in discussing a new partnership to provide the Greater Akron and Canton communities with a nightly newscast.”

This is actually not a surprise.

Remember, we’d heard before that TWC had been interested in some sort of local news programming even before Eric and company brought their newscast over from WVPX.

There is a need for the product. Can someone make it happen and still not lose a lot of money?

The problems we mention above will still exist, as will the shaky economy at least for the time being. But we’ll be watching to see if anyone else – “another qualified partner” – steps in…

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