Local TV

The Early News Gets a Little Bit Earlier

Who’s up at 4:30? Enough folks to make a newscast work 5/03/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

LOCAL TV veterans remember when early news
started at 6 a.m., then made the surprising shift to 5.
But as stations increase their local presence, several,
including WESH Orlando, WLWT Cincinnati and several NBC
O&Os, have launched 4:30 a.m. newscasts this spring.

WPTV StationWhile some may wonder who besides Red Bull-fueled nightcrawlers
and bug-eyed insomniacs
are up at 4:30, stations are finding
revenue in that slot—and meeting
mandates to be 24/7 local news outlets.
“What stations do better than
anyone is provide local news and
weather,” says WESH-WKCF President/
General Manager Jim Carter,
who launched a 4:30 March 30.
“People want it when they want it,
and the more we can be there when
they want us, the better.”

Station executives offer many reasons
why more people are watching
news in the wee hours, including
longer commutes, the nonstop
news cycle driven by cable and the Web, and the decreased
presence of newspapers. There’s also the increasingly global
economy to service. “People here have jobs that are attached to
time zones all over the planet,” says KUSA Denver VP of News
Patti Dennis, who launches a 4:30 in June.

Others with 4:30 newscasts include WPIX New York, the
majority of the Fox-owned stations, and
six of NBC’s 10 O&Os.

Initial expectations are modest, though
general managers are encouraged by
early returns. WPTV West Palm Beach
averages a 2.0 household rating/9 share
at 4:30, good for about 15,000 households.
WTVT Tampa’s 4:30 program
showed a year-over-year 133% ratings
improvement over its 4:30 predecessor,
TMZ. WNBC averages 41,000 viewers
since launching its 4:30 news March 1.
VP of News Susan Sullivan says it offers
a quick headlines recap for busy viewers.
“It helps you not look like a fool later on
at the water cooler,” she says.

Ad rates aren’t princely pre-dawn. One market leader says
4:30 rates are 10%-15% of what the station gets for late news.
A leading station in New York or Los Angeles might get $3,000
for a 30-second spot; everyone else, considerably less.

But advertiser interest is growing. “The 5 a.m. advertisers are
taking a hard look at 4:30,” says WTVT VP/General Manager
Bill Schneider. “The ratings aren’t
something you can overlook.”

Around 60% of stations are expected
to keep staffing levels flat in
2010, and even the breezy nature
of a 4:30 newscast involves asking
more of maxed-out staffers. “It’s
fair to say people weren’t jumping
up and down [when the station
launched a 4:30 in January],” says
WPTV VP/General Manager Steve
Wasserman. “But what’s great about
this crew is that they’re so dedicated
to the cause.”

If a 4:30 a.m. local news was once
unthinkable, can a 4 a.m. news be
that far off? Perhaps not. “It depends on the feedback we get
from viewers,” says Schneider. “If it’s something they see as
important, we’ll certainly consider it.”


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