One might wonder if there’s enough happening on the streets of Fort Smith-Fayetteville, Ark., to justify local news seven mornings a week. But market leader KFSM’s actions suggests there most certainly is. In April, with the blessing of new owner Tribune, KFSM added two hours of morning news Saturdays and 2½ on Sundays, giving it a seven-day-a-week news operation in market No. 101.
KFSM, which like many stations had scrapped weekend mornings during the most recent lean years, is one of several TV outlets that have expanded to those formerly sleepy mornings. That’s what it takes to be a news leader, says Van Comer, KFSM VP/GM. “To cover news 24/7, it made sense to keep the news desk active,” he says. “We felt the economy is strong and the audience is there, and the time was right to bring back weekend morning news.”
Fort Smith-Fayetteville has competition from Hearst TV’s KHBS-KHOG, which debuted weekend morning news late in 2012. The thinking is, if you’re not there for viewers, they’ll search elsewhere for their local fix.
“Our viewers had to go to the competition to get news,” says Patrick Paolini, VP and general manager of Fox’s WTTG Washington, which will add a combined three hours of weekend morning programming starting July 13. “I had to stop that. We had to be there too.”
Wake Up and Watch
The trend highlights several dynamics in local TV. Morning news viewership is growing. The demand for political avails is growing. Consumers, raised on 24/7 cable news and the immediacy of the Web and social media, want and expect news when they want and expect it. “By [being live on weekend mornings], you’re creating the imagery of, we are your news station,” says Steve Schwaid, VP of digital strategies at consulting firm CJ&N.
Last year, WKRC Cincinnati added 8 and 11 a.m. hours on Sundays while WTVD Raleigh (N.C.) tacked on a half-hour. KSAZ Phoenix is one of many Fox-owned stations to expand, adding an hour on Saturdays and debuting on Sunday mornings in April. With 56 hours of news weekly, KSAZ is defined by its news operation. “It’s our biggest franchise,” says Mark Rodman, VP and general manager. “To not be in that space seven days a week was something we needed to address.”
With automated control rooms and robotic cameras, costs are relatively modest. And with political spending increasingly rabid, weekend mornings—with a comparable ad rate to their Monday-Friday counterparts—offer a bunch more inventory. “That’s the place political advertisers want to be,” says Rodman.
KFSM, for its part, did add staff, including an anchor, meteorologist and producer, to work weekends. But Comer says smaller gaps between when the station is live keeps the energy level high. “If you’re going to be a news leader,” he says, “it makes sense to not put the news department on pause.”
FOX’S SUMMER PLANS: WAY MORE NEWS
Fox’s owned-and-operated group is by far the biggest local news expander in the business, with much of the growth occurring on weekend mornings. Besides KSAZ Phoenix and WTTG Washington, WAGA Atlanta is adding a halfhour on Saturday mornings July 5, WHBQ Memphis debuts Sunday 6-8 a.m. July 6, KMSP Minneapolis adds Sundays 10-11 a.m. on July 13, WJZY Charlotte launches seven weekend a.m. hours in August and WTXF Philadelphia expands both weekend mornings in September.
Unlike much of the world, breaking news does not take weekends off, goes the thinking. The fatal shooting at a Maryland shopping mall earlier this year happened on a Saturday, notes Patrick Paolini, VP and general manager of WTTG.
Newsroom staffers will shift their schedules around a bit to tackle the expanded output, but Paolini says they are psyched for the opportunity. “News people want to do more news,” he says.