Eastern or Central? 

Broadcasters face time zone dilemma

Broadcasters face time zone dilemma
The next great fight over daylight-saving time will likely be over whether most of Indiana opts for Eastern or Central time. One group that figures to have a lot to say on the matter is Indiana's TV and radio broadcasters, and they support Eastern time.
"Central time is not conducive to the schedules we already have in place," says Rich Pegram, general manager of WTHR (Channel 13) and chairman of the board of the Indiana Broadcasters Association. The IBA supported adopting daylight-saving time for Indiana and keeping all counties in the time zone they're currently in during the winter months. The broadcasters' arguments go like this: Changing the television schedule to Central time would likely mean moving prime time to 7-10 p.m., from the current 8-11 p.m. That would mean the end of the 7-8 p.m. "access" hour, when local stations make significant amounts of money on syndicated programs such as Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and the like. If prime time became 7-10 p.m., the most likely scenario would be stations airing local news from 5-6 p.m. - a loss of a half hour of evening news, another big money-maker - network news from 6-6:30 p.m. and one of the syndicated shows from 6:30-7 p.m. Late local news would be earlier - 10 p.m. - and Letterman/Leno/Nightline would start at 10:30, which would mean more viewers for those shows. "The level of households using television at 10 p.m. is about 33 percent higher than at 11 p.m.," WRTV (Channel 6) GM Don Lundy says. But more viewers then wouldn't necessarily offset the losses from the access hour and the local news, station general managers say. Lundy says he wouldn't object to switching to Central time, but he describes that possibility as "a real long shot." The GMs say switching to Central time scheduling would require Hoosiers to make a lifestyle change. "I think it would significantly impact the viewer in ways they don't realize at this point," says WISH (Channel 8) GM Jeff White. Among those ways: Having to get home earlier to watch shows that now start at 8 p.m. and having kids exposed to Survivor or Lost at 7 and CSI at 8. It's possible that most of Indiana could adopt Central time and the local stations could delay prime time until 8-11 p.m., as they do now in the summer. "But when something is live, then that is very disruptive," Pegram says. "You have to run it in real time, like sports, awards, those kinds of things." It's also possible that some stations would adopt a 7-10 p.m. prime time while others stick to an 8-11 p.m. prime time. "And then," Pegram says, "you'd have total disruption." During the gubernatorial campaign, Republican candidate Mitch Daniels was often quoted as saying he supported putting most of Indiana on Central time. As governor, Daniels has been less vocal about that choice. His spokeswoman, Jane Jankowski, says Daniels feels residents should be heard before the federal Department of Transportation makes any determination. Once Daniels signs the daylight-saving time bill, he has 10 days to petition the Transportation Department to hold hearings to consider the time zone issue. "He has said that from a personal standpoint, he could make an argument for having most people in Indiana on Central time," Jankowski says. "That would maximize the number of people in the state who would be on the same time. However, there are important criteria to consider other than this symbolic one, and that will be part of the DOT process." But there's a practical issue for the governor to consider, too. There's an old saying about newspapers: Don't get into a battle with a guy who buys his ink by the barrel. In this case, you might say: Don't get into a battle with guys who control the airwaves. "It's not in the broadcasting industry's best interest" to be on Central time, Pegram says. "Broadcasting is driven by advertising, advertising is the fuel for our economy. So we believe it's in our economic best interest - not only for our station's economy but the economy of the state - to maintain a healthy advertising environment. We think that less news is not good. We think changing people's lifestyles to Central time is not as productive as it could be. So would we oppose it? Yes." Or, as Jerry Martin, GM of WXIN (Channel 59) and WTTV (Channel 4), says, "We have plenty of years of history of being on the Eastern time zone. Let's just stay with it."

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