As station groups seek to better control their own destinies, they are continuing to invest in program development and production, said a panel of station group and programming executives at NATPE in Miami on Wednesday.
During NATPE, two station groups announced new projects: Tegna came online with Bold, which stands for “broadcast online live daily,” and Scripps said it has a new talk show in development with Kellie Pickler and WNBC’s Ben Aaron. But groups also are always developing—Fox executive VP Stephen Brown said he gets 300 to 400 pitches each year—even if only a few of those efforts end up on TV screens.
In addition, station groups are trying out shows in local markets that they hope have potential to go national. For example, Tegna is working on a singing-competition show that will air on its New Orleans station, and an African-American-targeted talk show that it will first test in Atlanta.
“Dave Lougee [president, Tegna Media] said let’s look at our markets, let’s see what they are doing,” said Lisa Kridos, executive producer, development, Tegna Media. “So we shot five live local pilots and two will go forward. That was something different we started this year.”
Similarly, Fox has The Jason Show, which airs on KMSP Minneapolis-St. Paul. Last summer, Fox tested The Jason Show in four of its markets, and it plans to do that again with the show this summer in more markets.
“We want to let it grow and become better,” said Stephen Brown, executive VP of programming at Fox Television Stations. “Philadelphia is developing stuff, D.C. is developing stuff, all of our local stations develop good local programming.”
Station groups and syndicators also are continuing to use tests and slow rollouts to their advantage.
"Broadcast and cable networks in primetime are offering viewers new shows every year," said Alexandra Jewett, executive VP of programming at Debmar-Mercury. "In daytime, it’s the same old stuff year after year, we’re not offering them anything new. I think that’s too bad.
"We loved Celebrity Name Game [the game show starring Craig Ferguson that will end after this season]. We didn’t want the show to end but it wasn’t growing, so we thought 'let’s try to find something new.' The audience helps us decide if the glove fits."
Tegna has its talk show starring T.D. Jakes on most of its stations and on OWN, and the group is still working on trying to bring the show to the rest of the country. Fox last summer tested seven shows, including some off-net offerings, and this summer will again run several tests. On the panel, Brown said his own team will shoot five pilots this spring with the expectation three of those will run as tests this summer. And the Fox station group will likely test other shows from other producers.
Fox is bringing two shows into national syndication that launched last summer as tests: Page Six TV, produced by Endemol Shine North America, and Top 30, which was incubated within the Fox station group. Page Six TV, based on the New York Post’s famous gossip page and an important brand within the 21st Century Fox family, brings more day and date programming to syndication, something that both Brown and Ken Reiner, VP, programming, Raycom Media, said were important to their groups. It also represents a new offering for access, the important time slot between local news and primetime.
Both Top 30 and Bold hope to bridge the gap between TV and the internet, bringing viewers a fresh and ever-changing take on the day’s news.
Bold will feature a newsroom, based at Tegna’s KUSA Denver, where teams of broadcasters remain on air all day long reporting the trending stories of the day, said Kridos. Station groups in different markets can grab whichever feed of the show fits their time-period needs, and the show will also have a strong digital presence.
Likewise, this summer Top 30 plans to run a rotating newsfeed eight hours a day.
“In June, we’re starting an eight-hour online broadcast. Just like the old HLN, every half hour the news repeats. But we’ll be swapping out those chunks of news all day,” said Brown.
“It’s all about being live in the moment but engaging the audience all the time,” said Kridos.
While trying to come up with new formats that fit in with the way viewers consume media today, it’s also about talent, who are often the reason viewers tune in day in and day out. Getting the right talent in front of the camera is usually make or break for any new program.
“Chemistry between hosts is very important,” said Reiner. “You have to make sure that person has had life lessons, experience, something that they are bringing to the show. You also are looking for someone who’s had a presence and is used to being in front of the camera. And they need to be kind of worldly – there are a lot of people who can’t speak to a broad range of subject matter.”
While industry executives often note that no shows produced by station groups have grown into hits lately, several are on the air. And viral video show, RightThisMinute, which was created by the collective efforts of Cox, Scripps and Raycom, was just renewed for its seventh season and its fifth in national syndication.
“Even though you know many of these shows have been renewed through 2020, you can’t just sit and wait,” said Kridos. ”You have to keep developing.”