Why are local TV stations still called by a number?

By Tom Dougherty
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Why are local TV stations still branded by a number?

There are many reasons why local TV stations are falling behind. But here’s one to consider. Why do they continue to brand themselves with an outdated number?

I’ll give you an example. Here in North Carolina, the CBS affiliate brands itself with the number 2. Yet, it’s only channel 2 if you are using an antenna for over-the-air broadcasting on a 1980s RCA TV.

Yet, it uses the number 2 in everything. 2 Wants to Know. My 2 Cents. You get the point.

TV stationsI don’t mean to pick specifically on WFMY. But it represents a big problem facing local TV stations.

Why are they branded with such outdated numbers and letters? In the era of cord-cutting and streaming television, why do they use a channel number that doesn’t really exist? And why use a call sign at all?

Why couldn’t WFMY just be branded as something more descriptive or meaningful to today’s audiences? The rest of the TV stations on your guide have names. Not numbers and letter signs like something out of a WWII spy novel.

Hell, the local FOX affiliate says “FOX 8 on your side.” Yet, on my local cable network, it is channel 10. And WFMY is channel 9.

No wonder local TV stations find it difficult to gain preference. They only create it through programming – and, possibly, news and weather personalities.

“It’d be like if BuzzFeed was actually called Website Number 12. You know, ‘Click on Website Number 12 to see all the latest news, polls and funny emojis.’ Well, that’s just like local TV stations.”

No wonder local TV stations feel old

Our guess is that they’ve never given it much thought. Nobody turns to channel 2 to watch WFMY or 8 for the FOX affiliate. Nobody understands what the call signs mean. Yet, they cling to them like gospel.

logos foysI get there may be regulatory reasons for the legal name. But, in brand naming, you can call yourself whatever you want. There’s no brand equity in those call signs and, especially, in the outdated channel numbers.

Those numbers came from an age in which there were only a few channels. And you needed to correlate your station with a number on the TV knob.

Those knobs are long gone. Hell, they were gone before streaming TV. It’d be like if BuzzFeed was actually called Website Number 12. You know, “Click on Website Number 12 to see all the latest news, polls and funny emojis.” Well, that’s just like local TV stations.

Local TV stations in need of a brand refresh should let me know. Join the 21st century. Or at least, the late 20th century.

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