Q: I would like to know why registered dietician Leslie Bonci is no longer a regular contributor on “Pittsburgh Today Live.” Also Chef Anthony Marino from Don’s Appliances is no longer there.
Rob: Years ago there were suggestions that KDKA-TV’s “Pittsburgh Today Live” had sold segments inside the broadcast but station management said that was not the case. That has since changed.
“I was informed by KDKA in January 2019 that it would be pay-for-play only so unless I had a sponsor I would no longer be a guest on the show,” Bonci said in response to Nancy’s question. “Makes me quite sad as food, eating habits and good nutrition are so necessary to help us eat well, live well and stay well. Thanks for asking. After 12 years I was sad to see it end. They said that ‘PTL’ was moving to a new format with sponsored segments only.”
It’s one thing to sell ads around a show – that’s the norm with commercial news programming – but to sell off what’s happening in a show, especially a show hosted by employees from the news department, is more concerning.
Yes, it was done long ago in the past in local news (Bill Burns had a sponsor’s logo on his anchor desk) and is still done today in other markets and nationally (see: sponsored segments like “CBS This Morning’s” Eye Opener and Green Room, once sponsored by Toyota). And, granted, this is a difficult financial time for media companies due to the pandemic, but this pre-dates the pandemic and it’s a practice frowned upon by news ethicists even as it’s become more prevasive. The late KDKA news anchor Patti Burns made a documentary about the ethical dilemmas of TV news as it transformed from public service to profit center: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP_w6M2WtY4.
KDKA general manager Chris Cotugno said advertisers paying to be featured on “Pittsburgh Today Live” began under the tenure of his predecessor, Jay Howell. Cotugno says it’s not a “pay to play” situation because plenty of people and companies appear without paying to be on “PTL,” which he said is its own division and not produced by KDKA’s news department.
“There’s no possible way everybody on there, with all the content created, [we can] have everybody pay for everything,” Cotugno said, noting that segments that are paid for are fronted by Mikey Hood, not newsroom employees Heather Abraham and David Highfield. Cotugno said sponsored segments are identified as sponsored both in video and audio.
“Anytime there is a paid sponsor it’s clearly stated in audio and video that it’s sponsored,” Cotugno said. “There’s no such thing as ‘pay to play.’ CBS would never allow that, neither would we.”
Cotugno gave the example of segments on Tall Ships on Lake Erie in August 2019.
“They bought a regular ad campaign of 30-second commercials and had appearances on the show and Mikey went up to Lake Erie” to report segments for “PTL,” Cotugno said. Hood also does non-paid segments, like one where she and Celina Pompeani played soccer with the Riverhounds.
“It’s just another service we bring to advertisers and services,” Cotugno said. “Some are paid for and some are not paid for, it depend s on what their budgets allow and what they want to do.”
Anthony Marino did not respond to queries sent to his Facebook account. Cotugno said Marino worked for Don’s Appliances which provided the previous kitchen set for “PTL.” Cotugno said Don’s opted not to use Marino anymore. The current kitchen set was provided by a different sponsor.
Q: With KDKA-TV adding a 7:30 p.m. newscast, I wonder what that means for the Sports show they are running on Friday's at 7:30?
—SCOTT VIA FACEBOOK
Rob: “Living Room Sports” will cease to exist. Instead KDKA-TV will create a new local program, “Fan Nation,” which will air at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays beginning in mid-September. “Fan Nation,” which like “PTL” will not be produced by the news department, will be hosted by Rich Walsh and Daisy Jade and will feature fans, sports stars and celebrities.
Q: Why is there no traffic report on the KDKA morning news? This started during the lockdown. Channel 4 and 11 have had traffic reports the whole time.
-DIANE VIA EMAIL
Rob: “We hit ‘pause’ on traffic in the mornings because of the shutdowns and significant reduction in morning commutes,” explained KDKA-TV news director Kathy Hostetter. “It seemed counter-productive and redundant to go on every morning to tell viewers there’s no traffic on which to report. We plan to bring traffic back once commutes start to pick up again, and that will likely tie in with how schools roll out their bussing and back to school plans. Meantime, Celina’s been doing feature reporting in our morning newscasts.”
Q: What happened to Jeff Verszyla? He isn’t on Channel 4 anymore on the Sunday news?
-TONY VIA FACEBOOK
Rob: His role at WTAE was announced as a fill-in freelancer so there should be no expectation that he’ll be on every week. He is not a WTAE employee.
“I did not work [July 25-26] (my decision). I worked [8/1]. I will not work next weekend (my decision)...but will be back the following weekend and every weekend through the end of August, including a weekday shift or two,” Verszyla said. “As is the case with freelance, they ask me to work as needed...and I am usually able to accommodate. However, there are days when I’m not available. The gig is still going through, at least, the end of August.”
Q: Is WQED in horrible financial shape? It seems that they are having fundraisers nearly every night .
-FRANK VIA FACEBOOK
Rob: Hmmm, I wonder if Frank is watching WQED’s Showcase channel, which is always in pledge, rather than the primary WQED channel.
Last week PBS president Paula Kerger confirmed my suspicion that PBS member stations have fared better than commercial outlets during the pandemic since commercial outlets are dependent on advertisers who pulled their commercials when everyone was staying home.
“I know that a lot of organizations have seen special pressures, particularly media organizations that rely heavily on advertising revenue, and that's not our model,” Kerger said last week during a PBS panel at the virtual TCA press tour. “We do get a little bit of sponsorship revenue, some corporate support, but the lion's share of money comes from viewers like you. As we look across the country, we see that many of our stations
have done recently well with membership this year. People are home and watching more PBS than any other time. So that's very good news.”
WQED spokesman George Hazimanolis confirmed that what Kerger said does apply to WQED: “WQED’s finances are holding steady so far during the pandemic. Although there has been a decline in corporate support since March, individual giving has stayed strong and has enabled WQED to bridge the revenue gap. We thank our loyal supporters.
“Additionally, we are giving exposure to local arts organizations on WQED-FM during the pandemic. WQED Education is providing a wide array of educational instruction and support for kids and families while schools are closed.
Over the last two years, WQED has decreased pledge on WQED-TV by more than 20 percent. On WQED FM, pledge has been decreased by 50 percent over the last eight years. The viewer may have been watching the WQED Showcase Channel, a digital channel that airs fundraising programming 24 hours a day.
“WQED board meetings are open to the public via Zoom and the schedule is on our website at https://wqed.org/about/board. Our annual audit is posted on our website at https://wqed.org/legal. The annual meeting of the board is scheduled for October 1 at 6pm and a Zoom link will be posted to our website.”
I tried to get a count of pledge days in 2020 vs. 2019 but was told, “We don’t count ‘days’ anymore, since it is not a good measure and we don’t always pledge all day. For example, WQED only pledges from 8 pm to 11 pm on weekdays during a typical pledge period, with more hours pledged on weekends. Sometimes only one program is pledged in a whole day. We count pledge programs and within those programs, the minutes of pledge breaks. WQED has pledged 20 percent less in 2020 than in 2019 and is planning to maintain that decrease in 2021. Most of the decrease has been in the 8pm-11pm weekday period.”
Q: With sports, maybe, possibly, coming back, at some point, I was curious if you happen to know if there have been any developments regarding Comcast getting the ACC Network? I really don’t feel like switching providers.
-MATTHEW VIA EMAIL
Rob: Alas, nothing new to report. There has been no change. There’s still no deal for Comcast to carry ACC Network.