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Stations putting a local spin on reality

Jan 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Stations are facing the reality that local news alone may not be enough anymore.
Given the success of reality programming on network and cable television, it was only a matter of time before local broadcasters would try to cash in on the red-hot genre. A handful of local stations have launched reality shows during the past month in what may become a trend in local programming.
While news is the bread and butter for local TV stations, local programming-which runs the gamut from documentaries to parade coverage to community shows-is becoming more important to TV stations given the competitive landscape and increasing number of choices available to viewers.
“With local programming you control your own destiny,” said Craig Marrs, VP and station manager for KRON-TV, San Francisco’s Young Broadcasting owned independent station. KRON is one of the first broadcasters to produce and air a local reality show. The station’s “Bay Area Backroads Great Race,” an offshoot of its “Bay Area Backroads” travel show, ran Jan. 14 and 15 and delivered strong numbers.
The show, which featured four local couples competing in a scavenger hunt-like contest to win a new Jeep, bettered its time period and boosted the late local news. That’s a good enough report card to try again with more reality programming, Mr. Marrs said.
A local success story
The show generated a household rating of 3.6 with a 6 share on the first night and a 3.2/6 on the second night. That’s more than double the numbers the time period has averaged with a 1.5/3 since it began carrying “Inside Edition” and “Pyramid” in mid-December.
“I think this kind of program’s success can only grow,” Mr. Marrs said. “For the first time out of the gate to outperform our time period and to have success of a local image and locally produced piece of product, that all bodes very positive. We think reality programming works.”
In addition, the improvement in the time period propelled KRON’s late local news at 11 p.m. into second place on Jan. 15 with a 4.7/11, behind only NBC owned-and-operated station KNTV’s 6.6/15. KRON usually settles for third or fourth place in that time period, Mr. Marrs said.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Raycom Media owned NBC affiliate KWWL-TV introduced “The Great Exchange” in early January. The show airs on Sunday mornings and is similar to TLC’s “Trading Spaces,” in which two contestants exchange a redecorated room for prizes. The show is produced by a local ad agency.
“It appears reality isn’t just a flash in the pan,” said Rick Lippis, the station’s general manager. “Anytime we can do something hyperlocal to differentiate us from cable, we need to, and this is a genre that works.”
Cincinnati UPN affiliate WBQC-TV carried local scavenger hunt/ road rally “The Big Quest” over three Sundays during sweeps. “In the near future, local programming will be the only way we survive with more channels [around],” said Elliott Block, the station’s president and general manager. “The only thing we will have that [competitors] don’t is stuff like this.”
Chicago Fox O&O WFLD-TV has toyed with a combination of news and reality programming. The station aired a reality news piece, “Experiment: Gay and Straight,” during the November sweeps. In it, WFLD recorded the interactions of five straight and five gay people in a house for a week.
Local programming will grow in variety, said Jim Stroud, media and entertainment analyst with Blackbird Communications. “I think you are going to see more different types of local programming-reality shows, game shows, based on local events,” he said.
While local programming as a whole is growing in importance, the reality genre isn’t for everyone. Chicago CBS O&O WBBM-TV launched a local programming department last fall, but the station says its is focused on news and community-oriented shows.