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Stations Hot For Homegrown This Fall

While most stations might hope to launch a lone program for the new season, WLEX Lexington is kicking off a pair of newscasts in less traditional time slots. The Cordillera– owned station debuted a 7 p.m. newscast last month and introduces a 4 p.m. news Sept. 7. Hiring a handful of reporters and producers to staff the shows, President/General Manager Pat Dalbey says both rookies represent the sole newscast in their time slot.

Indeed, the fight to be the only local viewing option in the last remaining slots on the schedule is heating up. “We’re a very strong news station, so it made more sense for us to invest in that portion of the business than to buy a syndicated program,” says Dalbey. “We’re investing in ourselves as we go into the future.”

Flush with ad revenue, stations all over the country are fighting to win viewers with new local programs. While the fall always features dozens of new homegrown shows, industry watchers believe fall 2010 features more launches than in recent years—many in less traditional time periods such as 4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

With the political season heating up, stations want the extra ad avails in news that candidates seek. “With issues money, political is every year and all four seasons,” says Frank N. Magid Senior VP Bill Hague. “Expanding news is cheap, and you control the inventory.”

The list of rookie shows goes on and on, from WAAY Huntsville’s 4 p.m. news to WGCL Atlanta’s 5 p.m. news to WOAI San Antonio’s 6:30 p.m. ’cast. Among lifestyle programs, LIN’s WALA Mobile debuts Studio 10 while KASA Albuquerque launches New Mexico Style.

But no time slot is seeing larger news growth than the early a.m., as 4:30—featuring perky anchors and loads of weather—becomes the starting point for local newsrooms all over the country [Station to Station, May 3]. The way-early debutantes for the new season include WFLA Tampa, WCVB Boston (also launching 5 a.m. weekend news), KYW Philadelphia and WABC New York. Some markets are seeing multiple stations debut at 4:30, including Cincinnati, Boston, Toledo, Kansas City and Huntsville, with stations scrambling to be first out of the box. (WAAY moved up its launch a couple weeks to beat WHNT to the 4:30 hour in Huntsville by a single workday.)

WPIX New York, meanwhile, trumps the early birds with a 4 a.m. news launching Sept. 20.

For some perspective on the small-hours wars, KYW says it launched Philadelphia’s first early morning newscast, a 6:30 program, as recently as 1981. When it and WPVI launched their 4:30 programs Sept. 6, there were three in DMA No. 4. Many stations have had to wrestle with the partner network to make 4:30 available, as the network has its own pre-dawn news. But with people rising earlier and increasingly seeking news around the clock, numerous station executives feel there’s enough of an audience up at that hour to make it work.

“Early news has always been an ‘if you build it, they will come’ business,” says WCVB Boston President/General Manager Bill Fine. “Local television is about to find out whether 4:30 is too early, and I don’t think it is.”

The early a.m. appears to hold unique appeal for viewers. Frank N. Magid’s research says 45% of viewers claim “appointment consumption” in the early a.m. hours (though not specifically the 4:30–5 a.m. slot), meaning they purposely tune in to watch the news then. No other daypart, including early evening and late news, registers even 40% of viewers.

“It’s real simple—we need to be where the viewers might expect us to be,” says KYW VP/ News Director Susan Schiller.

All the extra news can take a toll on staffers; stations typically are not adding workforce to launch the new shows. And some wonder at what point there may be too much local news in a market. “How much can a station provide before a saturation point is reached?” wonders WHNT President/General Manager Stan Pylant.

But local content is what sets stations apart, and what will continue to define them as the local TV model evolves. The thinking is, get the viewer to click on the channel just as the day starts, and you have a better chance of keeping the TV tuned to that station all day. “It gives you a chance to drive your brand on all platforms—your mobile sites, your apps,” says Hague, “across all dayparts, all day long.”

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