Stations Kill 'Live at Five'
News moves to 7 p.m. at two big markets
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/9/2007 8:00:00 PM
WNBC in New York and WTVJ in Miami—NBC O&Os in the No. 1 and No. 16 markets, respectively—are scrapping their 5 p.m. newscasts in favor of a 7 p.m. half hour. The move, say executives from both stations, is a response to viewers, especially women, who are working longer hours and getting home later. Another big reason for the move, say executives, is an attempt to stand out with something different in a saturated day-part.
WJXX and WTLV, the ABC/NBC duopoly in Jacksonville, Fla., the no. 50 market, which simulcast the local news, also will forego the 5 p.m. news in favor of a 7 p.m. newscast.
“People now commute up to two hours to get to and from New York City,” says Frank Comerford, president and general manager of WNBC. “This is an audience that is not being served. We think it's a great opportunity and we're going to give it a shot.”
The 7 p.m. hour has been the exclusive purview of game shows and infotainment half hours. WNBC's 7 p.m. newscast, with anchor Chuck Scarborough flying solo, will be a fast-paced, hard news half-hour sans traditional sports and weather segments, with a concerted effort to localize national stories.
WTVJ's 7 p.m. newscast also will be helmed by a single anchor, Jackie Nespral, who also anchors the station's 11 p.m. newscast. It will be “hyper-local,” said Ardyth Diercks, president and general manager of WTVJ, giving viewers just arriving home from work a definitive account of the day's top stories.
(Both stations say they came to the programming changes independently and without input from the network.)
The 7 p.m. strategy is as much a move away from news at 5 p.m. where ratings for WNBC and WTVJ have been anemic. (WABC is the leader in New York. And Sunbeam-owned Fox affiliate WSVN is the top-rated Miami station.)
“The 5 o'clock time period has continued to deteriorate from lack of viewer support or interest,” conceded Diercks. “I think a lot of it is lifestyle, busy lives, changing commuting patterns.”
With the infrastructure already in place, putting a newscast on at 7 p.m. doesn't cost local stations—and it saves them millions by not having to purchase an expensive syndicated property for prime access. It also could prove to be a lucrative move from an advertiser point of view since the 7 p.m. news viewer is given to be more affluent than the 5 p.m. audience.
Says Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, which tracks advertising on the local level: “The earlier newscasts typically have a blue-collar demo, while the 7 o'clock viewer generally has a much higher income. Let's face it; people getting home exactly at 5 are punching a clock. People who are working later are working white collar jobs.”
Saturation and fragmentation have combined to wreak havoc on 5 p.m. newscasts and local stations are struggling to hold onto an ever decreasing segment of the market share. Ten years ago, 40% of news' target demographic of 25 to 54-year olds viewing television from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. tuned in to one of the three New York newscasts. In May 2007, WABC, WCBS, WNBC and Fox O&O WNYN were vying for a meager 28% of that audience.
Conversely, WPLG, the ABC affiliate in Miami (which is owned by the Washington Post), saw their ratings increase dramatically when last fall the station canceled the 5 p.m. newscast and replaced it with Dr. Phil. In one year (May 2006 to May 2007), WPLG grew its 5 p.m. audience by 64% and the boffo lead-in had a domino effect on the 6 p.m. newscast, which posted gains of 57% for the same period.
“That caught the attention of a lot of people including our competition at [the] NBC [station],” said Dave Boylan, vice president and general manager of WPLG. “It was a very good move for us in terms of ratings. It's really been talked about across the market, across the industry.”
The model at WPLG and the goal at both WNBC and WTVJ is to find a new (and bigger) niche at both 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. WNBC will air Extra at 5 p.m. while WTVJ will move Ellen to 5 p.m. from 4 p.m. (where Ellen DeGeneres' talk show was getting clobbered by reigning daytime queen Oprah Winfrey). Both stations will keep Access Hollywood, an NBC Universal property, at 7:30 p.m.
Like WTVJ, WJXX/WTLV will move Ellen to 5 p.m. Extra will follow the newscast at 7:30 p.m.
“We don't live in a world of mass media anymore. We live in a world of niches,” said Borrell. The salvation of local stations, he adds, is local news.
“It says something significant if a station is willing to gamble at that fringe prime-time spot, saying we can provide stronger local content than a network can provide, than a syndicator can provide.”
But detractors wonder if there's any more of an appetite for local news at 7 p.m. than at 5 p.m. One analyst called the notion that viewers are clamoring for local news at 7 p.m. a “myth.” And executives from WNBC and WTVJ concede that a 7 p.m. newscast may not make them contenders in their respective markets.
“Although the research didn't prove that 7 p.m. would be successful because it hasn't been done in this market,” said Diercks, “the research did indicate that a 7 p.m. newscast would be appropriate to match people's lifestyles.”
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