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Stations Waking Up

Apr 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

On KTVU-TV’s morning newscast, what’s interesting is what you don’t see. There’s not a lot of the usual chitchat or happy talk between the anchors. The sets are simple, the graphics are clean and the newscast is all about the news, weather and traffic.
Those basic morning ingredients are the same across the country for the 5 a.m.-to-9 a.m. time period. But it’s how a station mixes them up and presents them that makes the difference between a dud and a powerhouse show, such as KTVU’s newscast, which towers above the local competition in San Francisco.
Long the domain of the networks, mornings are considered one of the hottest growth areas for local news today, said Barbara Cochran, executive director of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. Stations added news hours in the late 1990s and are now fine-tuning those time periods, she said.
Changing lifestyles and shifting demographics up the a.m. stakes. During the past year, many stations have made changes or additions to their morning shows in an effort to bolster the one daypart that has the biggest potential for growth.
More potential viewers are working, and they wake up earlier and have longer commutes, Ms. Cochran said. That means they’re tuning in to their local news in increasing numbers, and broadcasters are shoring up those hours in the hopes of snagging viewers and keeping them throughout the day.
KTVU, a Cox Broadcasting-owned Fox affiliate, stepped up its emphasis on hard news in the past year, and that refocus has made a difference. The station grew in its 5 a.m.-to-7 a.m. time period from a 1.5 household rating (percentage of TV households) and 10 share (percentage of sets in use) in 2001 to a 1.7/11 in 2002 to a 2.7/18 this past February. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. the station grew from a 2.9/12 in 2001 to a 3.4/15 in 2002 to a 4.7/19 this past February.
The beauty of the morning newscast is that everyone starts on an even playing field-there are no lead-ins such as The Oprah Winfrey Show or Dr. Phil to contend with, said Jeff Block, general manager of KTVU. “It really means from a competitive point of view, you see who is strongest and who can attract the viewers,” he said.
The key is just the right combination of news, weather and traffic. “The devil is in the details and how you do the right job of mixing that up,” Mr. Block said. KTVU programs against formula, especially in the 7 a.m.-to-9 a.m. news block, which usually beats the network morning shows it’s up against. “We treat it as a news show,” he said.
Morning newscasts also offer a great sales opportunity. Since viewers watch for shorter periods of time in the morning, a station cumes higher, which means it has more unduplicated eyeballs over a time period. Four hours is a lot of sales inventory, and the morning helps extend the brand because most viewers watch for 20 to 30 minutes, Mr. Block said.
The new growth in morning shows is largely a factor of changing lifestyles-as people get up earlier, they turn on the TV more often than the radio, said Arnold Kleiner, president and general manager of KABC-TV, the ABC owned-and-operated station in Los Angeles. “TV in the morning in the home has certainly replaced what the radio was not that many years ago. Radio gets turned on when you get in the car,” Mr. Kleiner said.
As a result of the changing habits, morning news has become much more than a rehash of the night before, and stations staff more overnight news crews, he said.
KABC made some changes to its early-morning team when it moved its 5 a.m. anchor team to 5 p.m. and switched midday anchor Kathy Bara to 5 a.m. In addition, the station has spent the past two years changing the image of the show to a more newsy one and branding it as “Eyewitness News,” like the rest of its newscasts.
In Chicago, Tribune Broadcasting Co.-owned WB affiliate WGN-TV has a strong morning show, WGN Morning News, that beats most of the network competition. During the past year, the station launched an additional newsmaker interview at 7:35 a.m.. The show has also become more aggressive in its coverage, said Caryn Brooks, executive producer.