Viewers Get Cash, Stations Get Ratings
Local TV borrows radio gambit with watch-and-win contests
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/17/2010 12:01:00 AM
Tornado season lasts around two months in the spring and two in the fall. The Oklahoma City stations say last week’s events prove they are prepared for more. “To have that many tornadoes and only two deaths—I’d say we did our job,” says KWTV COO Rob Krier.
The news stations went live mid-afternoon on May 10, and stayed on through the late news. KFOR President/ General Manager Jim Boyer says KFOR, KWTV and KOCO combined for an 85 share that evening. As Boyer puts it:
“That’s as good an argument as you’re going to get for free over-the-air TV.”— Michael Malone
While radio has long awarded caller No. 10 with fabulous prizes, television is increasingly tapping the concept, too. WPIX New York is one of four Tribune stations offering “CA$H GRAB” contests, where the 11th caller each night gets $111, and one each week wins a trip inside a vault for a chance to grab serious cash.
If some say enterprise reporting, not cash giveaways, should drive news ratings, WPIX News Director Bill Carey calls CA$H GRAB a harmless venture. “We’re featuring some special reports in May, so we thought this was a way to attract some sampling for a station that needs to draw attention to itself,” he says.
Whether it’s because stations have bigger marketing budgets post-recession or because the fight for ratings points in the fractionalized media world is so frenzied, watch-and-win campaigns appear to be on the rise. Besides Tribune’s foursome (WPIX, KSWB San Diego, KTXL Sacramento and WPMT Harrisburg), Scranton’s WNEP offers two May sweeps contests: a grocery giveaway during its 6 p.m. newscast, and a new-car giveaway just before its 10 p.m. news on its .2 channel.
WRSP Springfield, Ill., gives grocery gift cards to caller No. 9 during its 9 p.m. news, while KFOR Oklahoma City has teamed with 7-Eleven to give away a $400 gas card each night of sweeps. KFOR President/General Manager Jim Boyer says such contests can be vital to the NBC affiliate’s late news lead-in. “Some nights we just get creamed by CBS [primetime],” he says. “It might help us, if not win, at least stay in the game.”
As so many of Tribune’s brass have radio backgrounds, it’s no surprise that the group would rip out a page from radio’s playbook. Carey says WPIX’s 10 p.m. news ratings are up 20%, from a 1.5 to a 1.8 household rating, in the first week of May sweeps, compared to the same week a year ago. (WPIX was New York’s No. 5 revenue earner in 2009, according to BIA/Kelsey.) As do Tribune’s other CA$H GRAB-ing stations, WPIX turns the winners— the first two grabbed $4,990 and $6,799—into news stories to drum up interest in their vault dives.
“People root for them more when they feel like they know them better,” Carey points out.
The WPIX executive believes such promotions deserve their place every now and then next to breaking news and weather. “The correct approach for us is not to bank on any one thing—we need to work to bring all these things together,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with allowing a little fun [in the news].”
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