What Will Westchester Local News Look Like Without Fios1?
Nearly 150 employees — including popular hosts, anchors, and other personalities — are out of work as the media giant pivots away from Rye Brook’s RNN-TV.
In a letter to its employees on August 17, Rye Brook’s Regional News Network (RNN) announced that media provider Verizon Fios had decided not to renew its contract with the company to produce local news content, effectively ending cable channel Fios1 News as viewers know it.
Without a network to air on, RNN-TV, the production arm of RNN, will cease producing new content on November 15.
“We’re in the process of having some announcements that we’re planning to make in November on the RNN side — major content deals in terms of programming — and we fully intend to produce original content out of here in the news and information space, but our first priority is our staff,” says RNN-TV owner Richard French.
The Richard French Live host adds, “That’s one primary concern, to try and help these people with wherever their careers take them.”
Initial reports seemed to indicate that Verizon was bowing out of the hyper-local news game entirely with the deal, relying instead on New York City news stations to cover the metro area. Viewers, as well as local and state level politicians, expressed concern that half of the region’s local news coverage would disappear.
“Only one local news for a county of almost a million people? I don’t know that that’s healthy,” French says. “To have that limited a coverage for such a vibrant a market right outside the biggest city in the world is a real concern, more than just a shame, for consumers. I think I speak for many people that they deserve more than that.”
Disturbed by Verizon's plans to shut down #FiOS1News, a great source of local news & a blow to the already struggling local news landscape.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) August 19, 2019
I encourage all NYers to support local journalism – it’s more important now than ever.
Verizon has since backtracked, stating that Westchester and Hudson Valley-focused content will be provided beyond mid-November.
“We know how important hyper-local news is to our Fios customers and will be sharing more options soon,” says Verizon Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Tony McNary. “We have partnered with RNN for over ten years to deliver award-winning hyperlocal news coverage on Fios1,” adding, “We wish RNN and their employees well during this transition.”
RNN-TV currently serves more than 6.3 million households throughout Westchester and the lower Hudson Valley, Manhattan, Long Island, and northern New Jersey through providers like Verizon, Altice’s Optimum, Dish, DirectTV, Comcast, and more. While the parent company itself will continue onward, upwards of 150 local employees from crews and producers to on-screen personalities are scrambling to find their next steps.
“[It’s] very disappointing,” says Fios1 meteorologist Joe Rao. “In the nearly three years that I've been here, we have been a first-class news gathering organization. We covered all the breaking stories and attended and televised many local events, such as town halls and state-of-the county addresses; many fine individuals have worked very hard to keep local viewers informed.”
Rao is a fixture of Westchester television news, starting at WVOX radio out of New Rochelle in 1978 and eventually becoming a longtime fixture at News 12 Westchester until its carrier Optimum was purchased by European telecom Altice in 2016, and the company shuttered its Yonkers production studios in favor of those in Long Island.
“I hope that I'll be able to land on my feet at another news gathering outlet,” Rao says. “I still think I have a few good years left before I retire.”
Fans of Rao and other Fios1 programs like Rob Petrone’s Restaurant Hunter and Westchester Magazine’s own “Twisted Crimes” Fios1 collaboration will have to wait until mid-September to find out what Verizon’s post-Fios1 news coverage will look like.