Hearst Elects to 'Take Matter of Fact' National

Updated, Monday, April 25, 2016, 7:40 am PT: WMOR Tampa is an independent station that doesn't run news and thus not a news center.

Matter of Fact With Fernando Espuelas is taking its platform national. The Hearst-produced half-hour weekly political magazine launched October 2015 on Hearst-owned stations in all 26 of its markets, covering about 19% of the country. Those stations included such political powerhouses as ABC affiliates WCVB Boston; and WMUR Manchester, N.H.; as well as news centers WESH Orlando; KCRA Sacramento; WTAE Pittsburgh; and WBAL Baltimore.

In late January, Sony Pictures Television came on board to distribute the show nationally. In the weeks since then, SPT already has expanded the show’s coverage to nearly 70% of the U.S., says John Weiser, SPT president, U.S. distribution. The show has grown from an average of 431,000 viewers per episode since last November to an average of nearly 730,000 viewers per episode in February, and that growth is expected to continue with the addition of more markets.

“There is an incredible influx of growth in news and political dollars coming into the marketplace,” says Weiser. “Local stations don’t get the benefit of having local inventory in the networks’ Saturday and Sunday morning talk shows. Matter of Fact brings network-quality production for news and political information to the local market, giving stations a lot of inventory with which to monetize the influx.” Matter of Fact is being sold to stations on an all-barter basis, with stations getting to keep six minutes in every half-hour and Sony selling two minutes to national advertisers.

So far, besides the original 26 Hearst markets, Matter of Fact has been sold in the top 19 of 20 markets, with stations from the CBS, Scripps, Tribune, Tegna, London, Granite, NRJ, Nexstar, Adell, Hubbard and Meredith groups signing on. The show mostly airs on Sunday mornings, adjacent to local weekend newscasts and in blocks in which the network political talk shows air. In some cases, it airs on Saturday morning or on Sunday night after the local newscast.

The timing is right to clear Matter of Fact in the midst of this heated presidential campaign, with dollars flowing to stations in swing-state markets.

“Stations make room for programs that they think will resonate with their viewers,” says Weiser. “Weekend schedules often include double-runs or paid programming. When you can deliver a high-quality news program and give stations an opportunity through a favorable inventory split to monetize that, you can understand the appetite for this show.”

Taking it out nationally at this stage wasn’t the initial plan, says Emerson Coleman, Hearst VP, programming.

“The intent was for it to be a slower rollout, in which we would mount the show and tweak it and continue to improve it as it evolved slowly market by market. But we got off to such a strong start, we really ended up following Sony’s advice and putting the pedal to the metal.”

Matter of Fact features journalist Fernando Espuelas going head to head with newsmakers, analysts, academics and others on the issues of the day.

Tools of Engagement

“We want to give viewers an information tool kit so they can engage in politics, filling a need that’s not already being met by the current offerings in the marketplace,” says Espuelas, who hosted a drive time, bilingual political talk show on the Univision Radio Network for eight years. He’s also a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, and has written for CNN.com, Huffington Post and The Hill.

“I see my role as representing the audience, asking the questions that I think the audience most wants to know and getting guests off of their talking points,” he says.

Guests that have appeared on the show since its launch include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as well as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Lindsay Graham, among many others. The show is shot each week at the Newseum, across from Capitol Hill.

“What’s distinguished us are stories that you don’t see elsewhere,” says Coleman.

Espuelas and Matter of Fact’s staff, which includes senior producer Sheila Jaskot and producer Rita Hagen Aleman, spend the week working on the show, which then goes to Hearst’s post-production facility in Orlando to be edited and polished. The final show is distributed to stations for weekend airings.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.