Local stations have more news time than ever. But with all that time on the air, do viewers really think they’re missing something if they don’t watch? Here’s how to build appointment viewing so your viewers know the value of your newscasts–and know when to tune in for the biggest impact.
By Tim Wolff
“Tonight at 5, this story, then at 5:30, that story, at 6, another story, and make sure to watch at 10 and 11 when we have another must-see story…”
This is what it can feel like to be a promotions producer, trying to figure out how to tell viewers they need to watch every newscast every day. Unfortunately for the viewers, they just can’t hold that many stories in their heads at once as critical, must-watch stories. Besides, 90% of the newscast isn’t really set until just a few hours before air. So how do you convince viewers there are times when they need to watch your news?
It’s a question that gets more complex every day, with time-shifted viewing and a plethora of places to find news. The biggest challenge, however, is the sheer amount of time local news is on. Many local ABC/CBS/NBC stations now do 3 hours in the morning, an hour at midday, 3 hours in the evening, and a late newscast, too. Some Fox stations add another 3 hours in the morning and sometimes 90 minutes at night. When you are on the air for 10 or 14 hours a day, you face the same challenge that 24/7 news stations face: how to avoid having your news turn into wallpaper for your viewers.
What you need is a reason for them to consciously turn you on, and, once there, to choose to watch you for longer. What you need is appointment television.
Trying for appointment TV
Some stations try to solve the appointment TV conundrum by switching the on-air talent. It’s almost like saying, “We might have the same stories at 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock, but different anchors are reading them, and because everyone in our DMA knows the names of each of our anchors and when they are on tv every day, it becomes appointment viewing for them. Unless someone is on vacation or working on sweeps–then the 5:00 anchor also anchors the 4 and the 6, but that only happens for 3 or 4 months out of the year.”
Right. Unless your anchor truly is a transcendent superstar (and there really are a few), their talent alone won’t create appointment viewing in the middle of a 3-hour block of news.
Some of you are thinking that what you really need to do is enterprise more, and ramp up promotions of big stories. While that is probably true, that is only a small dent in your news day. Your promotions team and your leadership might all be extremely focused on a great 4-minute investigative piece at 6 pm… but your viewers are hopefully also curious about the other 9 hours and 56 minutes of news. You’re not going to fill all that with enterprise news that you can spend limitless hours creating promotions for.
You’re also not going to add a whole bunch of staff to try to create more new content. Instead, what we are seeing at most stations are hours of news that are essentially repeats. Some stations have even taken to repeating entire news blocks every half hour…but if you’re one of those stations, you may be beyond help.
Watch, repeat, repeat: the morning conundrum
I watched 4 hours of a local morning show recently, just to see what the viewer experience was like. This happened to be a station that did a lot of repeating; what you saw at 5am was mostly what you saw at 6am, at 7am, and 8am. They did mix in another reporter, and had one or two interview segments. But about 80% of the show was re-racked videos and scripts. Even the teases, which are the lifeblood of keeping viewers watching longer, were copied from one hour to the next.
Newsrooms might tell themselves that the repetition is fine, because the average morning viewer only watches for 20 minutes. Unfortunately, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a viewer, would you keep watching a show where they teased stories you’d already seen? Besides, the best way to get those viewers watching for a longer average is to give your loyal viewers a reason to watch longer. Your loyal viewers like you. They want to watch more. But the repetition just sends them away.
But you can’t add staff. You can’t snap your fingers and have all the news be new. And your producers can’t magically produce more stories while they are boothing 3 hours of live television.
Or can they?
A solution to help your overworked staff
What you need is a simple, easy way to at least add a few new stories that will pop for the viewers. They need to be easy turns, and they are unlikely to magically appear on the wires or your affiliate feeds.
You need to help your staff find these stories, and social listening is a great way. There are products that will tell you which posts you and your competitors are having success with, or which stories are trending nationally. But what you really need is the next step: knowing what is just beginning to trend, and what will be trending with your local audience over the next few hours. There’s a great tool called TopicPulse ContentAdvantage, which tells you what those stories are, and even tells you whether other news outlets are covering them. It even offers a quick, easy way for your staff to turn those stories into videos you can put on air (or online). And because it is predictive, your producers can have confidence that those new teases they quickly write will resonate with your audience.
You won’t be able to reduce that 80% repetition to 0%, but you might be able to get it to 60%, while feeling a lot fresher to your audience.
It’s true in the evening news, too. Once your 4pm news starts, your assignment desk is focused on crew logistics, your reporters, producers, crews and managers are focused on finishing their stories for air, and your digital team is busy putting out digital versions of what you’re airing. If you’re on live from 4 to 6:30, then live again at 7, that doesn’t leave much time to be finding new news. Having someone spend a few minutes in an efficient way finding stories your local audience is interested in can make all the difference in having something teaseworthy for the next newscast. That’s the best way to create appointment viewing; when your viewers are already there, and need reasons to watch another newscast.
Finding those quick and easy stories and teasing them well may be all you need to turn your short-time viewers into long-watching viewers…and viewers who pay attention to your newscasts, instead of leaving them running quietly on the wall.
Tim Wolff is Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation at Futuri. He has 20+ years of experience as a digital and broadcasting leader who’s led top-performing teams across the country at companies including Gannet, Belo, and Cox Media Group Ohio, which includes three daily newspapers, three radio stations, WHIO-TV, and more. Wolff, who holds a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Missouri, also makes a mean green chile stew.
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