With late-afternoon colossus Oprah Winfrey now relegated to television history, stations are putting the finishing touches on new 4 p.m. newscasts designed to take the place of the syndicated giant, serving up maximum viewers for their early evening blocks. The 4 p.m. hour is emerging as the most hard-fought on the schedule this fall, with a whole range of offerings—soft, hard, interactive, really interactive—from the likes of WINK Fort Myers, WBRE Wilkes Barre–Scranton, WFLX West Palm Beach, WALA Mobile and KUTV Salt Lake City, among others.
While they are quick to give Winfrey credit for a dazzling broadcast career, station executives are pumped to be doing what they do best at 4 once again. “Oprah had become very cost-prohibitive at the end, with numbers that were not as strong,” says Steve Carlston, vice president and general manager at KUTV. “It’s great having control over our own destiny.”
The 4 p.m. battles have actually been shaping up for years, with some non-Oprah stations launching newscasts some time ago to have sufficient momentum when she officially departed in fall 2011. Perhaps half of the Oprah stations around the country are filling the vacancy with another syndicated show, such as Dr. Oz. Others are doing news: WABC New York and WSMV Nashville were among those launching 4 p.m. newscasts back in May, when Winfrey went to repeats. Others have been rolling them out throughout the summer, including WINK (June 6), KHOU Houston (Aug. 1) and KUTV (Aug. 15). Despite a soft launch, KUTV had a splashy debut with 2 News at 4—posting a 3.6 household rating for the hour its first day, well ahead of the sub-2s Oprah put up the week before and good enough to win the time period.
Others are targeting September; WBRE, WFIE Evansville, KFSN Fresno and WHAS Louisville are among those set to launch 4 p.m. shows on Sept. 12. The 4 p.m. hour is traditionally female-focused, with a mix of lighter news and features, anchors on the move and, increasingly, interactive elements. WBRE’s PA Live! features a kitchen set and advertiser-sponsored segments. “It’s a different approach to providing alternative programming,” says Lou Abitabilo, VP and general manager at WBRE.
Others are adding more hard news to the mix. Wayne Simons, WINK VP and general manager, says 4 p.m. can be a key time for breaking news—especially in recent weeks with the mercurial New York Stock Exchange closing at that time. “When we had Oprah, the [competition] was live when weather or news would break,” Simons says. “They got the jump on us at 4, and in some cases carried the early [evening] news block.”
The 4 p.m. shows feature social media elements, though most every daypart’s newscast has Facebook and Twitter components these days. Several shows feature anchors interacting with users via digital platforms; KOMU Columbia’s Sept. 12 debutante U_News@4 #SarahHill wins the award for the most digital media references in one title.
Station chiefs use words like “liberating” and “energizing” when talking about reclaiming the 4 p.m. slot once again. “Oprah served us well for a lot of years,” says Simons. “But now we’re using that money to improve our product.”
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