Local TV

Stations Storm 4 A.M. Hour

Weather precipitates way-early newscasts 3/21/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Stations planning new newscasts
brainstorm the program, and
painstakingly rehearse and test the
show in advance of the big launch.

Or they don’t, as was the case with KTVI
St. Louis. Extreme weather saw KTVI go live
at 4 a.m. on Jan. 31, and bump reruns of
King of the Hill and Cops again the next day
between 4 and 5 a.m. with more weather
coverage. The storm eventually cleared out,
but 4 a.m. news on the
Fox affiliate did not.

“We let it happen
organically, based on
need,” says Audrey
Prywitch, KTVI news
director. “There was an
appetite for it, and it has
sustained itself.”

While the 4:30 a.m.
newscast was one of
the big local TV news
stories in 2010, stations
now are making 4
a.m. work as well. Tribune’s
WPIX New York
debuted 4 a.m. news
last September, and WXIN Indianapolis
launched on Jan. 10. They join the likes of
multiple Nashville stations (WTVF, WKRN,
WSMV) and KLAS Las Vegas as 4 a.m. players
(Station to Station, Oct. 11).

KTVI, WPIX and WXIN have a few other
things in common : they are not ABC, CBS or
NBC affiliates (which have obligations to air
a network newscast at 4); they are in markets
that are prone to extreme weather; and their
viewers have demonstrated substantial appetites
for local reports. “This town loves news
and wants news,” Prywitch says of St. Louis.
“When there’s weather, they’ll be watching.”

In addition, all three stations have a Tribune
connection —Local TV-owned KTVI shares a
newsroom with Trib’s KPLR. (A Tribune representative
would not comment on plans to
expand at 4 a.m. in other markets.) And all
are intent on amplifying their presence as a
local news brand. “If you work the third shift,
if you’re up early, if there’s [bad] weather, if
there’s not—we’re gonna be there for you,”
says Lee Rosenthal, WXIN news director.

The 4 a.m. rookies are all showing growth.
KTVI posted a 1.7 household rating/10 share
between 4 and 5 a.m. in February, a 55%
gain over the previous
February, beating local
powerhouses owned
by Belo and Gannett.
WXIN doubled its
ratings from February
2010, when Roseanne
aired at 4 a.m., from a
0.7 to a 1.5—meaning
approximately 15,000
Hoosiers are watching
at 4. “At that hour,
that’s a chunk,” says
Rosenthal.

WPIX is seeing negligible
ratings growth at
4, but the spots sell for
more than they did with reruns. News director
Bill Carey says having his newsroom open
for business 30 minutes before rival Gotham
TV operations is key. “It gives us the mojo to
be out and running on a story,” he says. “It’s a
clear advantage over the competition.”

The expense of producing a 4 a.m. news
is nominal. There’s a toll on staffers, but the
newsroom chiefs say their crews are more
focused on winning races than getting extra
shut-eye.

Stations are fighting for every ratings point
they can get. Up against powerful competitors
owned by Dispatch and LIN, WXIN is
looking for time slots it can own. “I think
they think we’re crazy,” Rosenthal says of his
competitors. “But we think we’re smart.”

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

 

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