Video sharing

It’s not a new concept. TV networks have done it for years in Washington, where it’s called “pooling.” But a report this morning on what two Philadelphia stations are doing made me sit up and take notice. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, NBC-owned WCAU and Fox-owned WTXF are sharing video this week in an experiment that has far-reaching implications.

The two stations involved are at the bottom of the ratings heap for local news in Philly. The story says they plan to cooperate on newsgathering in the field at news conferences or other events that both stations would cover anyway. They’ll also share helicopter video to avoid “safety issues” in the skies over breaking news scenes.

The last thing we want to do is reduce competition,” Fox29 general manager Mike Renda said in a phone interview, adding that sharing nonbreaking video would have a “viewer benefit” because it would allow each station to devote more resources to enterprise coverage.

Sounds good, right? But the skeptic in me wonders if this deal is really more about saving money than boosting enterprise. If they can get the same content using half as many people, why would they keep those people on staff?

Beyond that, I worry about the effect the arrangement will have on news content at both stations. In D.C., the networks often don’t send a reporter to an event that’s being covered by a “pool” camera. An in-house producer just watches the video as it’s fed in live. The problem? There’s no one on the scene to ask questions, follow-up on leads or do any real digging. If TV news wants to reaffirm the perception that it’s all about scratching the surface, expanded pool agreements may just do the trick.