Stations could expand their brands on unused subchannels

When it's over, go under.

As in digital "subchannels."

Elsewhere in Neon Thursday, a story examines how sportscasts must chart a new game plan as a nationwide pattern suggests they're slowly slipping out of local news lineups. So consider: Station execs could quarterback sports programming toward a new end zone -- Cox Cable channels 123, 125, 128 and 122, now largely repeater stations for channels 3, 5, 8 and 13, respectively.

Digital broadcasting enables stations to slice their signals into several feeds, opening up acres of additional airtime nearly barren of original programming. Fox-5 mostly loops 24/7 weather on its subbie and News-3 weaves "Nevada Newsmakers" throughout its otherwise main-station repetition on Channel 123. Channels 8 and 13 use their subbies as mother-ship simulcasts (though Channel 8 does funnel original programming through its other cable outlet, Las Vegas One).

Expansion opportunities abound -- but should stations expand as the economy contracts, ad revenue sputters, staffs are slashed, budgets implode and infomercials multiply to scrape cash from every nook and cranny of the schedule? Who has a money tree to pluck, finding bucks to buy digital network programming that stations are now relentlessly pitched -- classic movies, music, lifestyles, real estate, money, wellness, ethnic -- or hiring staff to kick-start another local channel? Skittishness is understandable.

Peer through the other end of the looking glass, however:

Fresh programming generates fresh revenue as digital channels have lower costs than main stations, translating to cheaper rates attractive to advertisers. That's assuming an ability to squeeeeeze extra content out of existing resources (condolences to overworked news crews) or contracting with freelance producers to create niche programming targeted to subchannels that could double as station Web site content.

Result? Viewer bonanza: New headquarters for valley sports programming, including high school/51s/Rebels/Wranglers games Las Vegans can't catch on ESPN or regional nets, and a sports call-in show Channel 3 news chief Bob Stoldal is mulling; Strip entertainment (the Alicia Jacobs Channel, anyone?); dining reports from our bouillabaisse of fine restaurants; programs addressing the city's bilingual Hispanic audience; movies by Vegas filmmakers who would be ecstatic over the exposure; video of AM talk shows at KXNT, KDWN and KNUU; long-form interviews and news conferences of local politicians; even behind-the-scenes newsroom footage, viewers peeking in on editorial meetings and reporters assembling the day's news. And especially:Extended coverage of local arts groups, nearly always shafted by Vegas television.

Buried inside these afterthought channels are thought-provoking -- and possibly job-preserving -- alternatives.

No one wants to get hit up for donations to a new charity: orphaned sportscasters.

Pause button: Next week, this column goes on vacation. This columnist will tag along.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at or 702-383-0256.