We Interrupt This Program for Breaking News

How can stations break away from the formulaic pack?

So I’m a bit of a news junky, especially local market news. I watch it in the morning, at night and on the weekends pretty religiously. In the Los Angeles market, the stations do a great job of branding themselves, however, at the end of the day, the formats are quite similar and it comes down to stealing share from each other. They rely on personality to differentiate. This makes it difficult for any one station to break away from the formulaic pack.

In the early 2000s, I had the privilege of knowing Hal Fishman, the legendary KTLA News at 10 anchor, journalist, producer, serving on-air in Los Angeles continuously from 1960 until his death in 2007. Fishman was the longest-running news anchor in the history of American television before Dave Ward surpassed him in 2015. "The Simpsons" cartoon television anchorman Kent Brockman was partially inspired by Hal Fishman.

As a media agency guy doing business with the station, Hal and I would meet quarterly for dinner along with the news and sales director. We would discuss a variety of topics and, much to the dismay of the news director, I would give Hal editorial suggestions. My most infamous idea, conceived one night in 2005, was the idea of layering the weather forecast by various geographies. As you know, Los Angeles is a city of micro-climates. Back then, the weather was taken at the civic center, in downtown Los Angeles, where no one lived. The valley, for example, is always 10 degrees hotter while the coast is always 10 degrees cooler.

Also: Local TV Investigations Top Peabody Award News Category

Hal said that everyone knows those differences but I convinced him that viewers would like to see their areas highlighted. So what started on KTLA was quickly adopted by every station in the market. Of course, now the weather is sliced and diced a dozen or so different ways. Other ideas came and went, but this was my true claim to fame. Hal did remind me though not to quit my day job.

So after disrupting the weather reporting, I believe there is a new opportunity to rethink how the news is presented and formatted, one that can give viewers the potential to become more engaged. Back then, social media wasn’t what it is today and I believe that engaged viewers will watch the news and help drive up ratings.

Here’s the premise. A station (don’t care which one) should ask viewers to weigh in on what order they would like content to be presented. Currently, it’s breaking or hard news, politics, softer news, human interest, weather and then sports. It would be a great experiment to poll viewers as to what order they would like to see. The results might be surprising.

Also: Why You Have to Do More Than a Police Blotter Newscast

You can then take the learning from your actual viewers and reformat the news show to reflect their interests. It would be cool if perhaps sports were featured at the top of the hour or maybe politics or human interest stories. Maybe hard news goes last, which would buy you time to provide even more updated content than your competitors. Perhaps a reformatted news show might even keep viewers longer.

This would be a first to market idea and one that would no doubt break through the competitive clutter. Think about the PR value and how that might attract even more viewers away from your competitors. You can use your social media channels to fuel the change, share with others and create even more interest and excitement.

But let’s not stop there. If you have a reformatted news program, you could potentially attract new advertisers interested in sponsoring custom blocks. Because we all know more relevant advertising content that engages viewers is what stations ultimately need to be successful.

So won’t someone test it out, maybe start with a weekend show? Who knows, it might be the shot in the arm to what has become an increasingly competitive landscape, at a time when viewers are consuming their news elsewhere. Thank you in advance for allowing me to disrupt your reading.