'LX New York'Is Alive at Five

After scrapping evening newscast, WNBC’s 5 p.m. formula finds footing
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Some 16 months after launching a lifestyle show in place of its 5 p.m. news hour, WNBC New York executives are increasingly bullish on the landmark shift. The critics—and competition—howled when NBC Local Media’s flagship swapped in the live, 60-minute LX New York for news. Ratings were anemic, but key changes to the format— and new personnel on both sides of the camera—have bolstered the numbers substantially.

A year ago, Morgan Hertzan, founder/general manager of NBC Local Media’s LX.TV, sat with new executive producer Amy Rosenblum to map out what was and was not working with LX New York. “We found the intersection of New York and pop culture seemed to pop,” says Hertzan. “We drilled down on that, and it really started a reaction with the audience.”

Prior to its launch, LX New York’s creators spoke of their desire to reach suburban women who are more likely to watch programming on the Food Network and Lifetime at 5 p.m. While few would call the show edgy, producers have pushed to give it more substance. They have upped the energy level and created more informational takeaways for viewers. LX New York started using the city more, with cooking segments done out on the streets and in restaurants instead of in a studio. The hiring of former WNBC anchor Jane Hanson early last year to cohost offered viewers a familiar face.

Producers have also employed an aggressive, and multifaceted, social media campaign. A live online viewer chat about the show, which Rosenblum monitors carefully, drives real-time producing decisions.

LX New York features celeb interviews, cooking segments, news snippets and the hosts’ take on the topic of the day. It also features branded integrations, such as grocery chain Fairway sponsoring cooking bits. “We can show [advertisers] in a way we couldn’t in a newscast,” says Michael Jack, WNBC president/GM.

Ratings remain modest, and could only go up after LX New York’s listless start. WNBC posted a 0.57 rating among persons 25–54 at 5 p.m. in November, earning a third-place finish in the hour. It was a 138% gain over November 2009’s 0.24 rating, when the station placed sixth. Moreover, LX New York’s 0.87 rating among women 25–54 was a 172% spike over the previous November. A WNBC representative says the average viewer is 3½ years younger at 5 p.m., compared to November 2008.

Critics said LX New York would kill WNBC’s 6 p.m. newscast, but ratings for the Chuck Scarborough–helmed program were up 107% among viewers 25–54 last November compared to a year earlier. The 6 p.m. news’ 25-54 rating of 0.95 is second in the time period.

Jack notes that LX is one of many programs—including The Nate Berkus Show, Ellen and the 11 p.m. newscast— that are showing substantial ratings growth on WNBC.

Yet skeptics continue to say LX will do damage to WNBC’s news brand. “They’re not talking to a news audience anymore,” says one senior Gotham newsie. “As a competitor, I’m happy they’re not doing news [at 5]. But it’s sad for New York.”

After the past year’s overhaul of LX New York, Hertzan believes he has struck the right formula. “We’re always tweaking, fixing, changing,” he says. “But if something’s working, you don’t mess with it.”

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

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