Governor Kathy Hochul is instructing Janno Lieber, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Transporation Authority (MTA), to sell broadcasting rights on New York City’s expansive subway system, which sources say will include the right to broadcast inside stations and on moving trains.
Daily ridership on the subway system averaged around 5.1 million people per weekday in 2021, which is still below pre-pandemic averages of 5.5 million weekday riders in 2019; and the system’s all-time record of 6.2 million riders in a single day. The Long Island Rail Road averages another 300,000 weekday riders, while Metro North averages an additional 150,000 weekday riders.
Compare that to Fox News, which monetizes an audience of 1.3 million daily viewers to the tune of $1.3 billion in annual advertising revenues. At that rate, the subway system’s audience could be worth upwards of $5 billion in annual advertising revenue for a New York City-based media company.
The Governor wants to monetize that audience — which often waits at station platforms for considerable periods of time in a city where commute times are already substantial. The opportunity represents a sizable opportunity for media companies, for whom such a large audience would be valuable to advertisers in the New York region.
Sources familiar with the Governor’s thinking insist that any Request for Proposals issued by the MTA will require that broadcasting content on the subway system is original, New York-oriented, and locally owned.
“We’re not going to just put CNN or another national broadcaster on the subway system. We want a New York City-focused discourse to flourish and really add to the sense of community and culture that is vibrant in the five boroughs,” the advisor explains. “A broadcaster like WABC, which is locally owned and public affairs oriented, would be perfect, he postulates.”
Governor Hochul has a considerable amount of personal admiration of WABC owner John Catsimatidies and staffers suggest that he could be uniquely positioned to develop programing for the transit system — which is one of the most diverse, dynamic, and culturally influential audiences in the world.
To Catsimatides, who owns the Gristedes supermarket chain, the deal could deliver serious marketing value for his 31 supermarket locations, which are mostly located in Manhattan.
Staffers close to Hochul believe that Catsimatides would be best positioned to bid on broadcasting rights because he could argue that he is uniquely capable of also providing vendor management services inside the stations — like newsstands, vending machines, and pop-up shops — given the expansive footprint of his supermarket chain.
It has been rumored that Catsimatides, to better position himself for such a bid, has been looking to diversify talent in his programing lineup. Among the ideas that his team is floating internally is to air a once weekly urban talk show that would be broadcast for three or four hours on Friday or Saturday night, co-hosted by Wendy Williams, Nene Leaks, and rotating guests. Overtures to join WABC for other programing endeavors are also being made to a slew of prominent New Yorkers including Connie Chung, Anne Curry, Katie Couric, Preet Bharara, Indra Nooyi, Charlie Rose, Bryant Gumbel, Tamron Hall, Al Roker, and others, though all of those discussions remain “very preliminary”.