Update on January 2008 TCA Tour

From Dave Walker, TCA president:

Summary:

NBC’s out, but other broadcast networks are keeping their options open
while expressing varying levels of uncertainty about staging effective
tour presentations if the WGA strike isn’t settled by January. The TCA
is working on two possible footprints for the January tour – one for a
strike tour centered around presentation days and nights by cable and
PBS, who are the only firm commitments at this point, the other to
quickly execute in case the strike ends before January. And we need
another headcount.

The note:

I and several TCA board members participated in a conference call
Monday morning with network representatives, including PBS and CTAM,
to further discuss options for the January 2008 TV tour.

Unfortunately, the results were not conclusive. The TCA’s position
remains that some kind of tour will occur, though its shape is still
undecided.

One broadcast network – NBC – declared that it would not participate
in the tour if the WGA strike is still underway in January. The others
expressed concerns about staging adequate presentations if the strike
continues, but didn’t rule out participation. I’m proceeding as if the
broadcast networks who haven’t officially dropped out are still
attempting to figure out a way to have a tour presence.

Though some questions still remain to be answered for PBS and cable –
primarily harder TCA member attendance numbers for a strike-shortened
tour, see below – both of those entities remain committed to
participating in January. (Cable may reduce its days by one, from four
to three.)

During the call, I reported the results of our poll last week, which
were that 40-50 traveling members are committed to attending some or
all of a strike tour. (As you recall, we didn’t poll LA-based members
on their interest, but the presumption is that it will be high –
perhaps higher than a normal January tour due to the tour’s heightened
news value during a strike.) That total is down from a typical January
tour (peak in-hotel attendance in recent years has been 60-70), but
substantial nonetheless, and likely a satisfactory turnout for
presenting networks when combined with in-town attendees.

So we’ll continue to plan a tour around cable and PBS, which we know
intend to participate. We’ll probably fold TCA-organized panel
programming — panels both related to the strike and centered around
other pertinent topics, see below — into PBS’s second day. We’ll also
attempt to preserve our room rate for two or three days after the end
of PBS’s days to allow for broadcast networks who want to present,
either at the hotel or on their own property, or to accommodate
traveling members who intend to spend time in Los Angeles on post-tour
enterprise reporting. That’s Plan A, which we’ll execute if the strike
is still in effect in January. Consider the dates tentative, but:
Cable on Jan. 9, 10 and 11. PBS on Jan. 12. PBS and TCA on January 13.

Should the strike be settled before the tour, Plan B is the same as
Plan A except slightly longer, perhaps on both ends. During Monday’s
call, there were questions raised by some networks about their ability
to re-organize full days even if the strike is settled before the
tour. Holding our room rate for a few days post-PBS allows for
post-strike presentation days of some kind – perhaps at the hotel,
perhaps on their own property — by all the broadcast networks who
want to participate in some fashion if the strike is settled by then.

Later Monday, I did a conference call with managers of the Hilton Los
Angeles/Universal City, who continued to take the most supportive
position possible during these uncertain days for the TCA. A shortened
tour’s impact on the hotel is significant, and yet the Universal
Hilton remains an unwavering partner in helping engineer an emergency
tour. Without that cooperation, we’d all be making plans to attend
our respective Snow Carnivals. (Or, in my case, just plain Carnival.)

However, the hotel can’t wait indefinitely for the networks to decide.
At some point, perhaps as soon as next Monday, I’ll have to OK the
hotel’s release on the ballroom space and room nights that the
broadcast networks would otherwise occupy during a tour, strike or
not. Based on our Plan B, that wouldn’t nix the possibility of a
quickly-cobbled post-strike tour.

I understand that the ongoing uncertainty over the January tour
composition creates difficulty for members who need to make advance
travel plans. Accordingly, it would be helpful to have a better idea
of the dates by which most traveling members will need to book their
flights. Please contact me here – tca.davewalker@gmail.com – with that
information.

Our room-reservations account at the hotel is open, and reservations
can be changed or canceled without penalty for the time being, so I
encourage all members who plan to attend the January tour to make your
hotel reservations now (contact info was included in the past
newsletter, which is still posted at www.tvcritics.org).

As for the panels we’d present: We’ve been tentatively planning a
panel on digital TV distribution — since at least July, so the idea
predates the strike, which largely hinges on the issues the panel
would address – and our wish list of panelists will aim high. The
tour’s proximity to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – both
on the calendar and on the map – leads us to believe we can assemble a
compelling lineup.

Another prospective panel will address the February 2009 broadcast
transition from analog to digital – just in time for one-year-out
stories. Should the strike still be active, we’ll also invite
broadcast network programmers whose networks aren’t presenting during
their portion of the tour to discuss their second-season strategies.
We’ll also invite key players on both sides of the strike to
participate in a panel or panels.

One last important request: If you responded to our poll last week,
contact me (tca.davewalker@gmail.com) to report whether a Plan A tour
would significantly change your commitment to attend. I’ve promised a
second headcount to PBS and cable. Based on the earlier replies we
received – and thanks to all for participating – I don’t expect a
significant dip.

In every communication I’ve had with network representatives,
including Monday’s call, I repeat all of the points that TCA members
have been making to me and other board members about the high news
value of staging a January tour, preferably with full network
participation, whether there’s a strike on or not.

I have no way of predicting if those points are persuasive, given the
current pressures on the industry, but be assured that the networks
know where we stand.

Thanks for your patience,

Dave Walker
TCA president

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