Fox’s Full-Court Press

Morning show, revamped Websites are part of master plan

Fox is revamping programming at its 25 owned-and-operated stations—both on-air and online. The stations will debut a national morning show in January, and several are adding early-evening newscasts. And in its first major Internet push, the company is relaunching station Websites to feature prominent video and interactivity.

It’s all part of a makeover masterminded by Fox News Channel and stations Chairman Roger Ailes, CEO Jack Abernethy and President of Operations Dennis Swanson. “We want our stations to have more news and information, more live and local,” says Swanson. In the coming fiscal year, the O&Os will add 34 hours of news, he says.

The unnamed morning show is the strategy’s centerpiece. Hosted by Fox News Channel daytime anchors Mike Jerrick and Juliet Huddy, it will be produced by Fox News at its Manhattan headquarters and air live in most markets. It’s billed as a mix of news and entertainment; when news breaks, the show can lean on FNC for coverage.

Fox is entering the morning-news wars as other networks are coping with major changes. At NBC, Meredith Vieira is replacing Katie Couric on Today; at ABC, GMA has lost Charlie Gibson. But Fox chose its time slot carefully. At 9 a.m., the show avoids the most competitive hours and steers clear of FNC’s Fox & Friends. It will go against the lighter, third hour of Today and chatfest Regis and Kelly. The timing also protects Fox’s highly successful local morning shows and builds off their lead-in.

Plans are also afoot to add 5 p.m. shows at several stations, including WFLD Chicago, KTXH Houston and WTXF Philadelphia. KMSP Minneapolis-St. Paul recently added one, as did WOFL Orlando, Fla. Although the group is bullish on this daypart, Swanson declines to discuss a possible FNC-produced national evening newscast.

The news expansion may also be Fox’s answer to a changing syndication market. The comedy pipeline is drying up, and Fox lost out on several major syndication deals recently, including Family Guy and Two and a Half Men. By adding news, Fox gets an economical programming solution and keeps the advertising inventory.

Another major push is overhauling the O&Os’ Web-­ sites. Fox’s stations have long been laggards online, with little original content and no video. Since arriving last year, Swanson has called revamping the sites a top priority. “That’s where people 30 and under are going for information,” he says. “We have to put our product on more platforms.”

The new sites, featuring a huge video player and a crawl for breaking news, are running in nine markets. The remaining markets will go live by September. Eventually, the sites will host a bevy of features, including blogs and photo sharing. “We want interactivity and feedback,” says VP of Digital Media Ron Stitt. “We will allow people to communicate with us and each other.”

In keeping with News Corp.’s recent emphasis on “My” properties, including networking site MySpace and MyNetworkTV, the new sites are named “my” and their hometown, such as Swanson says the Web is playing a growing role at Fox: “When we talk about the future, we’re thinking over-the-air and Internet.”

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