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Late News Gets Earlier

The “early” late newscasts, which run at 10 p.m. ET/PT or 9 p.m. CT/MT, may never replace their 11 p.m. kin in terms of late-news primacy. But across the country, newscasts airing during primetime are emerging as a viable alternative for viewers looking for their news fix a bit earlier.

Industry analysts say Americans are going to bed earlier, thanks to longer workdays and commutes. To cater to them, many large markets now feature three 10 p.m. newscasts, and a growing number of midsize markets, including Charlotte, N.C., and Dayton, Ohio, feature a pair of 10 p.m. programs. Some offer straight news for 30 minutes or an hour, while others incorporate longer sports reports and talk segments.

“The No. 1 driver for 10 p.m. newscasts is convenience,” says Dick Haynes, research chief for Frank N. Magid Associates.

Several markets report that the earlier news is more than holding its own with the late-news crowd. In Portland, Ore, Meredith Broadcasting's Fox affiliate KPTV's 10 p.m. news was the market's No. 1 late newscast in May sweeps—besting all 11 p.m. entries. With that market growing, KPTV General Manager Kieran Clarke says viewers are less faithful to the conventional late-news slot. “People are prone to sampling,” says Clarke. “We've benefited from that.”

While Fox is the biggest player in early late news, dozens of WB and UPN affiliates have jumped in of late. Few WB or UPN outlets maintain news departments, relying on a sister station or another affiliate to supply news. In a failed experiment, Sinclair created a central news organization to supply its WB affiliates' news; other stations now produce those outlets' newscasts.

Duopolies are finding the 10 p.m. slot particularly attractive because it allows stations to make use of existing staff and newsgathering. But many are investing more and more in those newscasts, with dedicated anchors and reporters, satellite trucks for live reporting, and slicker graphics and sets.

Complementary, not cannibalizing

The main concern for stations is cannibalizing the 11 p.m. product, although anecdotal evidence indicates the two programs are often complementary. WISH Indianapolis, for one, produces a 10 p.m. news on sister UPN affiliate WNDY, and its numbers climbed 38% in May to an average 3.3 rating/5 share. WISH, meanwhile, remained No. 1 at 11 p.m., with ratings up 24% to an 8.9/17. Meredith's CBS affiliate KCTV Kansas City, Mo., produces a 9 p.m. show for sister WB outlet KSMO, and both the 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts increased ratings in May.

“We treat it just like 6 p.m. or 10 p.m.,” says General Manager Kirk Black. “The 9 p.m. is about giving people another option.”

In the competitive Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market, Fox affiliate WSVN's 10 p.m. news topped its English-language rivals' 11 p.m. ratings, as well as WSVN's own 11 p.m. newscast. Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate WBFF Baltimore boasted the No. 3 late news in the market in May, ahead of Scripps ABC outlet WMAR's 11 p.m. news.

Given such success stories, many stations are expanding news. News is typically good business: Unlike syndication, where stations often split ad time with the distributor, affiliates keep all the ad time in news. And some advertisers, such as political campaigns, are most interested in buying time during the news.

In April, Fox-owned WXIN Indianapolis added a second half-hour to its 10 p.m. news. WISN Ft. Wayne, Ind., will launch a 10 p.m. newscast next month on its secondary digital station, a future MyNetworkTV affiliate, to complement its 11 p.m. shows. “This is an early-to-bed market,” says Jerry Giesler, executive VP of Granite Broadcasting's Ft. Wayne operations.

A handful of pioneers, including two CBS-owned UPNs that go independent this fall, are planning news for even earlier on the schedule. In September, KXTA Dallas-Ft. Worth will launch a 7-9 p.m. news block, while WSBK Boston is adding a 9:30 p.m. show.

The moves reflect a shift in viewer habits, says KXTA General Manager Steve Mauldin: “We don't expect people to tune in for two hours, but there is an appetite here for news earlier in the night.”

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