Sunbeam’s New Take on News

One of the country’s hottest news markets is getting even hotter. Sunbeam has upped the stakes in Boston with a revamped newscast at 10 p.m.

The hour-long program will air on the station group’s newest acquisition, CW affiliate WLVI Boston, and will rely heavily on the resources of NBC affiliate WHDH. Branded 7 News at 10 on CW 56, the newscast will use WHDH anchors Matt Lorch and Frances Rivera, as well as WHDH’s set and newsgathering resources.

Sunbeam acquired WLVI from Tribune for $113.7 million four days before the launch of The CW network in September. The deal closed late last month.

It’s increasingly common for station groups with multiple outlets in a market to combine news resources. “News is the way we’ve branded ourselves here in Boston, so now we are deliberately co-mingling the brands,” says Mike Carson, general manager of WHDH and WLVI.

While the strategy might seem likely to take viewers from WHDH’s 11 p.m. newscast, Frank N. Magid Associates consultant Bill Hague says that using the strength of a sister station is the best way to brand a new newscast. “The 10 p.m. news in every market is a newscast of convenience; people who watch it want to go to bed early or just do something else at 11 p.m.,” he says. “WHDH already has built up a lot of credibility in that marketplace, so to create a new brand would be a mistake. It makes more sense to build on the strength of the brand you already have.”

Sunbeam isn’t just drawing on the strength of a local station; it’s also borrowing tricks from its Fox affiliate WSVN Miami. The group has turned that station into Miami’s news leader by speeding the pace of its newscasts and giving priority to edgier reports presented by young, attractive anchors. “It’s all about the story selection and the stacking of stories,” says Sunbeam VP of News Alice Jacobs. “We produce an hour of news, which is a big time commitment for a viewer, differently than our competition does.”

With highly educated residents and a thriving range of industries, including tech and financial services, Boston is a key news market. Sunbeam executives were hesitant to reveal exactly what they’re planning for WLVI, but Carson says the revamped hour will take WHDH’s “fast-paced, highly produced news that has a lot of graphics and features and ratchet it up a couple of notches.”

Carson plans to repurpose stories from WHDH and add features that he hopes will appeal to a younger audience. For example, the station has hired a local DJ named Romeo to report a “buzz” segment. But he’s appealing to the more traditional viewers as well. “The product will be totally contemporary but won’t be directed solely at 18- to 34-year-olds,” says Carson. “There are people in older demographics here that have an appetite for news from 10 to 11 p.m.”

That’s wise, says Hague, because local news typically doesn’t appeal to younger people, no matter how a station dresses it up. “A news viewer isn’t an 18- to 34- or 12- to 24-year-old consumer, and stations that tried to 'Foxify’ their news, so to speak, didn’t succeed,” says Hague. “We believe you have to program to the audience, and the local-news audience is a traditional 35-plus audience. Snazzing it up isn’t going to get young viewers, who are going to get the news on their laptops and cellphones.”

Sunbeam’s bigger challenge is competing with Fox-owned WFXT, which in November ran a close second to WHDH in late news in adults 18-49 and 25-54 and often beats the station in 18-34. In the 10 years since launching its 10 p.m. newscast, WFXT has gone from last to first in Boston’s late news (10-11:35 p.m.) in all key demographics, according to Nielsen NSI averages of 2005-06 sweeps periods.

WFXT executives are confident that they have a strong hold on the Boston market.

“In Miami, Sunbeam is the Fox affiliate, and they do not compete against a Fox-owned station,” says WFXT VP/General Manager Gregg Kelley. “But News Corp. is committed to the news business like no other. This market is very competitive, and they’re going to be competing against some of the most talented news professionals in the business.”

Still, in the news-hungry Boston market, new players are welcome. “There’s absolutely room for another 10 p.m. show,” says Hague. “If it’s a good show and viewers find it compelling, they will watch it.”

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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.