Local TV

Stations Hot For Homegrown This Fall

Local TV rides rebound to launch bevy of programs in offbeat slots 9/06/2010 01:58:00 AM Eastern

While most stations might hope to launch a lone program
for the new season, WLEX Lexington is kicking off a
pair of newscasts in less traditional time slots. The Cordillera–
owned station debuted a 7 p.m. newscast last
month and introduces a 4 p.m. news Sept. 7.
Hiring a handful of reporters and producers
to staff the shows, President/General Manager
Pat Dalbey says both rookies represent the
sole newscast in their time slot.

Indeed, the fight to be the only local viewing
option in the last remaining slots on the schedule
is heating up. “We’re a very strong news
station, so it made more sense for us to invest
in that portion of the business than to buy a
syndicated program,” says Dalbey. “We’re investing
in ourselves as we go into the future.”

Flush with ad revenue, stations all over the
country are fighting to win viewers with new
local programs. While the fall always features
dozens of new homegrown shows, industry
watchers believe fall 2010 features more launches
than in recent years—many in less traditional
time periods such as 4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

With the political season heating up, stations
want the extra ad avails in news that candidates
seek. “With issues money, political is every year
and all four seasons,” says Frank N. Magid Senior
VP Bill Hague. “Expanding news is cheap, and you control the inventory.”

The list of rookie shows goes on and on, from WAAY Huntsville’s
4 p.m. news to WGCL Atlanta’s 5 p.m. news to WOAI San Antonio’s 6:30
p.m. ’cast. Among lifestyle programs, LIN’s WALA Mobile debuts Studio
while KASA Albuquerque launches New Mexico Style.

But no time slot is seeing larger news growth than the early a.m., as
4:30—featuring perky anchors and loads of weather—becomes the starting
point for local newsrooms all over the country [Station to Station, May
3]. The way-early debutantes for the new season include WFLA Tampa, WCVB Boston (also launching 5 a.m. weekend
news), KYW Philadelphia and WABC New York.
Some markets are seeing multiple stations debut
at 4:30, including Cincinnati, Boston, Toledo,
Kansas City and Huntsville, with stations scrambling
to be first out of the box. (WAAY moved up
its launch a couple weeks to beat WHNT to the
4:30 hour in Huntsville by a single workday.)

WPIX New York, meanwhile, trumps the early
birds with a 4 a.m. news launching Sept. 20.

For some perspective on the small-hours
wars, KYW says it launched Philadelphia’s first
early morning newscast, a 6:30 program, as recently
as 1981. When it and WPVI launched
their 4:30 programs Sept. 6, there were three in
DMA No. 4. Many stations have had to wrestle
with the partner network to make 4:30 available,
as the network has its own pre-dawn
news. But with people rising earlier and increasingly seeking news
around the clock, numerous station executives feel there’s enough of an
audience up at that hour to make it work.

“Early news has always been an ‘if you build
it, they will come’ business,” says WCVB Boston
President/General Manager Bill Fine. “Local
television is about to find out whether 4:30
is too early, and I don’t think it is.”

The early a.m. appears to hold unique appeal
for viewers. Frank N. Magid’s research
says 45% of viewers claim “appointment consumption”
in the early a.m. hours (though not
specifically the 4:30–5 a.m. slot), meaning they
purposely tune in to watch the news then. No
other daypart, including early evening and late
news, registers even 40% of viewers.

“It’s real simple—we need to be where the
viewers might expect us to be,” says KYW VP/
News Director Susan Schiller.

All the extra news can take a toll on staffers;
stations typically are not adding workforce to
launch the new shows. And some wonder at
what point there may be too much local news
in a market. “How much can a station provide
before a saturation point is reached?” wonders
WHNT President/General Manager Stan Pylant.

But local content is what sets stations apart,
and what will continue to define them as the local TV model evolves. The
thinking is, get the viewer to click on the channel just as the day starts, and
you have a better chance of keeping the TV tuned to that station all day.
“It gives you a chance to drive your brand on all platforms—your mobile
sites, your apps,” says Hague, “across all dayparts, all day long.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz