Station reduces sports, weather in newscasts

Nov 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Larry Perret has laid down the law at KCOP-TV, the UPN affiliate in Los Angeles. If it’s a weather story or a sports story, it has to earn a spot in the rundown.
Mr. Perret, the station’s news director, has rejiggered the standard local news format during the past year, with his most recent renovation being the reduction of sports from about four minutes to one. The newscast no longer employs a sports anchor and instead offers “Sports in a Minute,” in which a news anchor delivers the sports news in 60 seconds.
“We’ve just eliminated the traditional presentation of sports. If there is a sports story that deserves more time, as [with] any news story, it needs to earn that time,” said Mr. Perret. The change was implemented Oct. 1.
It may be too soon to tell, but early returns indicate the strategy is working. As of Oct. 22, the station’s 10 p.m. newscast had generated a 2.5 household rating, up 25 percent from the previous October. The station produces one hour of news each day-at 10 p.m. With that hour it aims to be an innovator in a crowded market. “We are a UPN affiliate. That is a hipper, younger demographic. We are driven by presentation,” Mr. Perret said.
KCOP’s sports update is a highly produced, video-driven segment, filled with music and sound effects. The look and style is designed to lure the urban, edgy, hip crowd that UPN tends to attract with its prime-time lineup. That’s an audience that has been gravitating away from traditional sports and toward extreme sports, Mr. Perret said.
In recognition of the changing desires of the station’s demographics, KCOP produced a story in mid-October on a local surfer who rode a 66-foot wave. That’s the kind of story that won’t usually be found elsewhere, he said.
A recent “Sports in a Minute” segment included quick updates on the Major League Baseball playoffs, local soccer news and some video from the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge, which featured canines competing in water jumping. The newscast also featured a short piece on the scuffle over San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds’ record-setting 73rd home run ball. That story ran in the news, not the sports. The station may add a sports ticker in the future, Mr. Perret said.
While one minute of sports news usually isn’t enough for the enthusiast, Mr. Perret figures traditional sports fans are getting their sports news elsewhere, like the regional Fox Sports networks, ESPN or the Internet. In Los Angeles, for instance, Fox Sports West airs a half-hour of Southern California sports news from 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. followed by a half-hour of national sports news. “So from one hour, in our own company, you have all the sports you want,” he said. KCOP is part of the new duopoly created when Fox, already the owner of KTTV, Los Angeles, purchased the Chris-Craft Industries stations.
“When you think about sports and how it’s presented, you have highlights and coach bites and standard stuff. Why do traditional sports? I’m not saying every station in the country should do this. Our position has been to be an innovator,” Mr. Perret said.
The station took a similar approach with weather. Six months ago, it reduced its two- to four-minute weather segment to under two minutes and began billing it as “Futurecast,” which is a five-day forecast. That’s the forecast people care about, Mr. Perret said.
Mr. Perret joined the station in May 2000 and began making changes to the newscast about a year ago. Viewer response to the sports changes has amounted to only a few e-mails, both for and against. The station received an Emmy award in June for the best one-hour newscast in Los Angeles.
According to a 1999 Radio-Television News Directors Association survey, sports ranked 14th in viewer interest out of 15 topics on local newscasts. As a result, some stations, like KCOP, have cut back or eliminated sports, said Barbara Cochran, president of the RTNDA. The growth in all-sports cable networks and the Internet has made it difficult for local news to offer as much information as true sports fanatics want, she said.
“Do I think we will see sports as a regular feature in most newscasts? Yes. But will we see sports cut back or eliminated? Yes,” she said.