Local TV

A Perfect 'Storm' for Stations

Local outlets put own stamp on syndicated version of Weather hit 11/07/2008 07:00:00 PM Eastern

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Playing to Strength

When syndication rookie Storm Stories airs on WSB Atlanta, it's got a decidedly local flavor. Chief Meteorologist Glenn Burns offers 30-second intros and outros, highlighting compelling aspects of the severe-weather series and promoting WSB's local news. He's also working on 3D technology that, coupled with archived National Weather Service data, will allow him to take the series' harrowing storm footage from elsewhere in the country and show what it would look like if, say, Hurricane Gustav struck Atlanta.

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WSB Atlanta 'Storm Stories'

WSB Director of Programming Art Rogers says the local customization of Storm Stories helps set it apart from other off-network offerings. “Glenn can talk about the day's coverage, so it's fresh and topical,” he says. “It gives us a presence in the viewer's mind, a sense of 'we're here for ya.'”

As stations continue to balk at the high cost, and often low ratings, of syndicated programming, many are finding that customizing Storm Stories gives the show a vital local accent. Hosted by veteran storm-tracker Jim Cantore, Stories premiered on The Weather Channel in 2003. A documentary-style look at the worst blizzards, hurricanes and tornadoes Mother Nature has cooked up, it ended its run in June.

Litton Entertainment, whose syndication properties include NASCAR Angels and Animal Exploration, grabbed it with those local inserts in mind. Partner stations can sub in their talent for Cantore, or plug them in for intros and teases. Litton has chopped the hour-long program into half-hour segments; with 150 episodes in the can, the syndicated version launched Sept. 29. It posted a 1.2 rating for the week ending Oct. 26.

Litton President/CEO Dave Morgan says the show is airing on 176 stations, owned by groups such as Tribune, CBS, Fox and Hearst-Argyle, and including big-market outlets like WABC New York, WGN Chicago and KYW Philadelphia. Around 117 of those take advantage of the localization option, with more in the works. Some station managers say they're taking a wait-and-see approach before embarking on customization.

Playing to Strength

Morgan says Stories falls right into stations' sweet spots. “It's a great opportunity for stations to utilize the greatest strength they have,” he says. “Weather gives them the most brand identity in the marketplace.”

While Stories airs in the backwoods of the 2 a.m. slot on WSB, Rogers says it plays a significant role in bridging late news to morning news. The station replays its 11 p.m. news at 1:30 a.m. and ABC's World News Now at 2:30, so Stories keeps the newsy flow intact. “The competition is airing paid programming or comedies [at that time],” he says. “We're more of a news and information station, and we feel there's more need for that in the community.”

Rogers says Stories is doing a 1.0 in the adult 25-54 demo, a “huge” number for the slot. WSB has opted to leave Cantore in and tap meteorologist Burns for the intros and outros. Cantore does a first-rate job of narrating, Rogers says, and “it would be quite labor intensive to totally revoice the whole program.”

KCAL Los Angeles airs Storm Stories at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and double runs it at 7 p.m. Sundays. Meteorologist Jackie Johnson hosts, and KCBS/KCAL Director of Programming Virginia Hunt says it's at its best when Johnson is talking about a local storm, such as the Laguna Beach hill slide from 2005. “We don't pretend she did the [original] story, but we try to create local ownership of the story,” she says. Hunt says it's been rating “in the 2s”—not bad, she believes, as it's been up against 60 Minutes during election season.

Consultants offer a mixed reaction to the customized Storm Stories. Magid Institute VP Pete Seyfer, who consults on local weather coverage, says stations have to figure out if their weather department loses credibility by airing what's essentially entertainment. “They're great stories, but do they jeopardize my brand in the local market?” he says. “If I'm in the Upper Midwest, where's the value in a story about Hurricane Ike?”

But Morgan sees the revamped Storm Stories as the rare example of the intersection of syndication and local television. “It puts the power of localization back on the front page,” he says. “Evening/PM Magazine was the last time, in my mind, that something national accentuated something local.”

E-mail comments to michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

In this story:
Playing to Strength

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