Sept. 12 marks the premiere of several new shows, including Anderson Cooper’s daytime debutant, but few will be more closely watched than RightThisMinute. The viral video program represents a unique joint venture between three major station groups. Launching new concepts is tricky business, but the firms behind RightThisMinute—Cox, Raycom, Scripps and production outfit MagicDust Television—think the show’s quirky mix of user-generated content, news and entertainment gives it a shot at filling some major holes in daytime.
“It was a concept that we thought was innovative— there was nothing like it on television,” says Brian Lawlor, senior VP of television at Scripps. “The idea of taking user-generated content that materializes every day on the Web, consolidating it in one place, and wrapping some conversation around it, we found it to be really intriguing.”
RightThisMinute launches at a time when stations officially say farewell to Oprah Winfrey, and many have expressed their intent to fill gaps with homegrown programming. RTM represents a hybrid approach: It’s a daily syndicated show, and it’s essentially homegrown, with the three station groups on as founding partners, representing about 30% of U.S. households.
The hour-long show “will incorporate the Internet, mobile and social media, citizen journalists and new ways of storytelling to broaden the appeal of traditional television news and information,” the principals said when the concept was announced. The idea is to cover the so-called “water cooler” stories the day before they circulate around the cooler.
RTM is produced out of Arizona State University’s dazzling Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication facility, with MagicDust, which lists NASCAR Angels among its productions, putting it together. Partner Phil Alvidrez has three decades of local TV on his résumé, including running the newsroom at KTVK Phoenix. He describes RTM as “additive” to what station newsrooms are digging up in the community each day.
“We’re out there looking where maybe they don’t have time to look,” Alvidrez says. “We make the Web our beat. We find the story behind the video and talk to the people that are part of it.”
Doing the talking is a five-pack of hosting talent, including former WCCB Charlotte morning anchor Beth Troutman, former KPNX Phoenix reporter Nick Calderone and former KTVK program host Gayle Bass.
Another local TV vet was integral to the show coming together: Jack Sander, Belo’s former group president, who is a partner in MagicDust. Alvidrez says Sander, also the former NAB joint chairman and a B&C Hall of Famer, weighed in on the initial concept and worked his contacts to bring the three founding station groups on board.
“We came up with the idea, showed it to Jack and said, ‘Are we nuts?’” says Alvidrez. “He liked it. From there, we started to take it out and get feedback from different broadcast groups.”
The initial feedback was pretty positive. “The more we chatted with [MagicDust], the more we got comfortable with the fact that they would produce a quality show that would scale across our group,” says Lawlor.
The three station partners will lend their insights to the show, but not their actual content—at least for now. A committee that includes Susana Schuler, Raycom VP of news; Bob Sullivan, Scripps VP of content; and Jay O’Connor, Cox Media Group VP, weigh in on content matters. “We feel really lucky to have people of their caliber,” says Alvidrez.
MagicDust is in talks with other groups to pick up the show. Stations will air RTM in a range of time slots; most will show it in late afternoon, while at least a few will show it during the morning, in late night, and even prime.
The station folks like the show because it’s designed to reach a younger demographic than more typical daytime offerings. “It’s not as hard as local news and not as soft as entertainment programming,” says Neal Johnston, CFO at Cox Media Group. “It’s a good opportunity to bring new viewers to the stations.”
Alvidrez says MagicDust is in contact with execs at YouTube and Storyful in an effort to best catch the highlights of a given day’s limitless trove of new-media tidbits. RTM has been compared to The View for its five hosts, Tosh.0 for its Web curation, and TMZ for its street-level celeb fare. But Alvidrez chafes at the comparisons.
“Hopefully we’ll be plowing some new ground,” he says. “That’s the idea when you’re new—you try to be fresh.”
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