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Ogden’s Formula for Success: It Takes a Village

Three years ago, Roger Ogden was looking for a way to build his businesses. At the time, he was running KUSA Denver, as well as five other large Gannett stations, and had hopes of enticing new customers to advertise.

So he did what he does best, choosing a business model that had always served him well: Always think local.

In May 2004, he and his staff created Colorado & Co, a community series showcasing paying advertisers in chatty segments. According to Ogden, about 50% of its inventory is sold out on any given day. The content focuses on people and groups giving back to the community.

Airing at 10 a.m. in Denver, after the Today show, Colorado & Co. frequently wins its hour among key female demos. But the real measure of its success isn’t so much ratings as its popularity with advertisers. “There are many new customers on the air in our markets who would not be on without this product,” says Ogden.

The community-first formula was just as successful for him from 1981 to 1995, when he ran KCNC Denver, then owned by General Electric. In those 14 years, Ogden turned the station into a local-programming powerhouse.

“I used to have a home out in Snowmass,” says Bob Wright, chairman of the board at NBC Universal and Ogden’s former boss. “In the late ’80s and all the way through 1996, I would watch KCNC whenever I was out in Aspen. During most of that period of time, Roger had no syndicated programming. The station produced everything it put on the air, and it had the highest ratings in Denver. He had the ability to feel that community and make good video out of it all day long. I never saw anyone else duplicate that.”

At the time, Ogden’s chief motive was to best KOA (now called KUSA), the market’s long-standing No. 1 station. In 2004, running KUSA and the other Gannett stations in his stable, he followed the same blueprint.

“We knew that, if we were going to grow, we needed to offer new products to new customers. New products meant something other than a 30-second commercial,” says Ogden. “It would have to be a product in which the customer could explain on the air what his product or service was. We realized we had an opportunity to do some things in the community that we couldn’t do normally in the newscast.”

Colorado & Co., produced in-house at KUSA with two hosts and a small staff, has been emulated in eight markets: Atlanta; Minneapolis; Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.; Cleveland; Sacramento; St. Louis; Grand Rapids, Mich., and Little Rock, Ark. In Little Rock, one of the group’s smaller markets, the show was introduced as a 20-minute segment following 10 minutes of news. The idea proved so popular that it’s moving to a full half-hour show at noon.

Many broadcast groups are battling cable competition, trying to attract new business through self-produced shows, but not every station can follow the business model. “Once you get into smaller markets, the economics get a little tougher,” says Ogden. “The cost of producing these shows remains the same whether you are in a small or large market.”

Ogden is so committed to Gannett’s local shows that even a fourth hour of Today won’t budge them. “For me, these shows represent a nice marriage of the realities of the economics of business, the need to develop new products, and an enhanced way to serve the community. I’ve really been pleased that that’s exactly the way these have worked out.”

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.