JEFFREY NIGHTBYRD IS ONE television executive who doesn't care a bit about Wall Street's big media takeovers. His own growth strategy relies on starting enough television stations to build a national network from scratch.
For him, and for hundreds of other entrepreneurs tuning in to low-power TV (LPTV), the challenge is winning over viewers and advertisers that are already overwhelmed by entertainment choices.Nightbyrd is president of Low Power Technology Inc., which operates two LPTV outlets whose signals reach a fraction of the distance of traditional stations. After authorizing the service in 1982, the Federal Communications Commission was crushed with applicants -- there is still a backlog of 20,000 -- wanting to bring local programming to underserved areas. Nearly 300 stations are on the air, a number that will probably double soon.
An LPTV outlet costs about $500,000 to build, around one sixth the price of a full-power station.Many count on advertising from local retailers. "From an advertiser's point of view, it's buying TV time at radio costs," says Rick Hutcheson, president of Local Power Television Inc., which owns three LPTV outlets and has three more in the works.
Nobody knows if LPTV can put on a profitable show. One winning strategy may be to own a network of stations that deliver similar viewer demographics, thereby attracting national advertisers. Nightbyrd is targeting college-student audiences, but first has to convince investors of that market's potential. "All I've gotten are some big-league flirtations from some venture capital firms," he says.
Investors may be discouraged that much of the current programming -- reruns, religious services, and music videos -- is about as stimulating as a test pattern. John Kompas, a Milwaukee consultant, says that programs highlighting local events and people will be a key to success. LPTV will also improve, he says, when "the people who supply programming become aware of the market."