Every station group is attempting to harness the newsgathering might and cultural zeitgeist of social media into its content strategy, and Sinclair Broadcast Group believes it has taken a big step in that direction with its local newscast The Refresh. After debuting it on KUTV Salt Lake City earlier this year, Sinclair is poised to expand the program— which is fueled by a social media curation platform known as Timeline Labs—into new markets.
Timeline Labs, cofounded by broadcast veteran Ed Wilson, mines the best of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, in real time and down to street level. Rob Weisbord, chief operating officer of Sinclair Digital Group, sees it as the bridge between the TV and the digital device viewers keep at their fingertips. “It’s a great way to get viewers to interact with the station,” Weisbord says.
Sinclair chose KUTV to test the 3 p.m. show because of its high level of social media usage (the station has a staggering 271,000 Facebook fans). The second market to get The Refresh has yet to be named, but Weisbord says it will launch in the first quarter of 2015.
Wilson is a well-known figure in the local broadcast world. He was president of Tribune Broadcasting from 2008-10, following stints as president of CBS’ domestic distribution division and of Fox Television Network. Besides cofounding Timeline, he’s a “very active” chairman, according to CEO Malcolm CasSelle. The partnership between Timeline and Sinclair spawned from a 30-plus-year relationship between Wilson and David Smith, Sinclair president and CEO, says Weisbord.
CasSelle is a notable digital entrepreneur. Timeline describes itself as “The best way to Discover, Curate and Display social content in real time.” Clients include Fox, Tribune and Media General, and monthly fees range from the $1,000 do-it-yourself price to the $10,000 deluxe package, which comes with a dedicated analyst and other features.
CasSelle believes Timeline is a natural fit in the local news world. “It really changes how stories are told,” he says.
Enhanced Social Skills
Users’ posts, videos and photos frequently fuel stations’ late-afternoon newscasts. Three-year-old syndicated show RightThisMinute, a partnership between Scripps, Raycom and Cox, aims to corral the day’s hottest social trends and videos in a daily program.
KUTV is a CBS affiliate that Sinclair acquired from Four Points in 2012. The Refresh, which Weisbord refers to as “unscripted news,” posted a 1.7 household rating at 3 p.m. in November, trailing Judge Judy’s 2.0 on KSTU, while The Meredith Vieira Show had a 1.1 on KSL.
Salt Lake City TV vets offer a mixed reaction to The Refresh, saying the journalism seems a bit soft, and the viral videos lack a local connection. But some also acknowledge it as a potentially profitable alternative to more typical afternoon fare. “I see no real journalism in it, but it might be a way for stations to do local programming as cost efficiently as possible,” says one who asked for anonymity.
Weisbord forecasts upside for the new program. “We see big promise as we compete against, and beat, the syndicated shows we’re up against,” he says.
NBC OWNED STATIONS LAUNCH NEW APPS
NBC Owned Television Stations has launched new local apps in the 11 markets its stations serve, featuring interactive radar, quicker access to breaking news and the ability to send video from a mobile device straight to an interactive television.
The iPhone applications, designed in-house, are available in the App store.
“With consumers turning to their mobile devices multiple times a day for the latest news and weather, we want to give them the best experience possible,” says Lora LeSage, senior VP of digital media, NBC Owned Television Stations. “These new apps give our local audiences access to the information they’re looking for in a clutter-free and sleeker format, making it easier to find the stories and videos that matter to them most.”
The apps also allow users to watch video while simultaneously reading an accompanying article.