In an entertainment landscape filled with pop-culture purveyors, CBS Television Distribution’s Entertainment Tonight remains a power player. Heading into its 35th season, ET still reaches 5 million viewers each day and its website, ETonline.com, boasts 35 million unique visitors per month.
But unlike the old days, when ET led the field simply because the field was small, today the show really has to earn its eyeballs and mouse clicks.
So the show is beefing up its on-the-ground news teams, making sure it’s staffed around the clock to cover breaking news of all stripes—whether that’s Jennifer Aniston’s secret wedding to Justin Theroux or the death of Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Christina Brown after spending six months in a coma.
“ET broke the news that Bobbi Kristina Brown had passed away,” says Brad Bessey, ET executive producer. “Everything moved so quickly. There were only four minutes before I learned that and we got the news up on our socials and our website. About 14 minutes later, people started seeing the news. What that 14 minutes gave us was an ownership stake in the story. It created a significant difference in both our online traffic and our ratings over the next several days.”
Covering entertainment news requires that kind of speed and response simply to stay in the game. To make sure it’s playing at peak condition, ET has hired former US Weekly editor Jennifer Peros as senior news editor based in New York; Moira Curran as VP of digital marketing; and Michelle Falls—coming over from E!—as senior editor content and acquisitions.
“The focus has been on how we work really efficiently to get news disseminated quickly and accurately,” says Bessey.
That’s a change from what Bessey first thought audiences wanted when he was named EP of ET in April 2014.
“There was a difference in what audiences told me they wanted and what they actually wanted,” he says. “They said they wanted information with a point of view, but what they really want is gossip, pictures and stars. They want to see all of this and then they want to dissect it.”
ET closed out its 34th season with a genre-leading 3.3 most current household ratings average for the season, down 5% from the prior year. While TV ratings remain important, Bessey knows that digital has become hugely meaningful in this space as well.
“I’m really committed to working against the inertia of broadcast audiences,” he says. “In many cases, we’ve been able to drive traffic from our online offerings to the show, and we’ve then seen an increase in ratings.”