Holding Their Own

Station groups find self-produced daytime shows are not easy to do, but can be good business
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This year's crop of locally produced daytime shows—Raycom’s America Now; Raycom, Scripps and Cox’s RightThisMinute; and Tribune’s The Bill Cunningham Show—have been on the air for six weeks. While their performances aren’t blowing anyone’s socks off, ratings for all three programs are good enough to justify the station groups’ continued investment in them.

“These decisions [as to whether to keep the show on the air] are really more about what these station groups want to accomplish in these time periods and what their tolerance is in terms of having the patience to wait for these shows to build over time,” says Bill Carroll, vice president of programming for Katz Television Group Programming.

Evaluating the ratings performance of these locally produced programs is more subjective than evaluating that of nationally distributed shows. A typical measure of a show’s success is whether it improves over its lead-in and over the same time period in the previous year. More often than not, however, that’s not the case with any new show, especially if a time period has not been stable.

In today’s fragmented daytime TV environment, station groups are more concerned that their new shows are profitable, and that they work well in the stations’ current lineups.

On Sept. 12, Raycom launched its PM Magazine-inspired strip, America Now, after testing it last year as a one-hour weekend program. Raycom, Scripps and Cox are trying something similar with RightThisMinute, a one-hour weekday show that tells the news of the day via clips culled from the Internet.

America Now debuted as a strip on stations in 45 markets on Sept. 12, according to Raycom. Seven weeks in, the show averaged a 0.8 rating/2 share in households in the weighted metered markets in October. That was down 27% from its lead-in and 53% from October 2010, according to Nielsen.

RightThisMinute, which airs in 30% of the country, is performing similarly, turning in a 0.8/3 among the weighted metered markets in October. That was down 47% from its lead-in and 38% from October 2010.

Tribune’s Bill Cunningham, which airs in all 19 of Tribune’s markets, opened its first week at a 0.8 household rating; that has grown to a 0.9 in the past two weeks. The show has added a tenth of a point among women 18-49 and women 25-54 in the past two weeks, growing from a 0.4 to a 0.5 in both key demographics. In several of Tribune’s markets, Cunningham is on par with Tribune’s other conflict talkers, NBCU’s Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos.

“It’s doing exactly what it should be,” says Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting president of programming and entertainment. “It got off to a good, clean start and it’s continuing to show growth. Just six weeks in, the growth seems to be there every week.”

Stations producing their own daytime programming is not new; in fact, it’s how shows such as Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue and Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee got their start. Challenging economic conditions in recent years have caused stations to back away from production, but many station groups feel they can control their fate better if they own at least some of their own daytime fare.

“The reason we are getting into [the production] business isn’t because we’re out to become producers or do away with studios. We absolutely need the studios. We’re not going to develop our own Two and a Half Men or Family Guy,” says Tribune’s Compton. “We’re developing the products we need in specific dayparts. No one else is going to go out and custom-build shows for our station group, so we’re going to do it ourselves.”

Even though there have been less of them in the past decade, locally produced shows never entirely left daytime television. Acme Communications launched its locally produced The Daily Buzz on 10 Acme stations in 2002. Today, produced by Fisher Communications, The Daily Buzz has spread to stations covering more than 60% of the country, even though its ratings have always been modest. In the week ended Oct. 23, The Daily Buzz rated a 0.1 among households and was the lowestranked show on the syndication chart, according to Nielsen,

Meredith’s Better debuted as a test in 2007 and went national in 2008. Better is now cleared in more than 140 markets, covering more than 80% of the country. Better averaged a 0.3 rating/1 share among households in the weighted metered markets in October, consistent with its May and February 2011 performances.

“There are a lot of syndicated shows that are doing a 0.8 these days, so it’s not like these shows are so out of whack with what everybody else is doing,” says Carroll of Katz Television.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

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