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Monday, February 2, 2009

Local TV News--Use Carefully

For my entire career local TV news has been a mainstay of spot TV buys that my team has made. In recent years, I encouraged staffers to cut back in its use in media plans for most products. Its future seems a bit questionable to me as a broad based advertising vehicle and I would like to discuss it in depth in this post.

Local news for decades was a great source of pride for television stations. Competition was fierce and great care was taken to put together anchor teams and sports and weather talent that could appeal to a large cross section of the home DMA. They wanted to appear as good corporate citizens, responsible journalists and fulfill then FCC requirements about public affairs and community involvement. And, it was where much of the station's profits came from as well.

Two major things happened which hurt local news--first cable and then the Internet.

As cable got some traction, young men in particular and sports fans of all stripes realized that ESPN Sportcenter gave them all they wanted and more at 11pm (EST). If there was a big local game they could switch back to a local affiliate at 20 past the hour and catch hometown coverage as well. The Weather Channel did its bit by providing local "at the 8's" which allowed people to get an accurate weather forecast almost at will.

The at-will feature came with Internet growth. Sports, particularly minor sports, were given thorough coverage 24/7. You never had to wait a moment for results. ESPN shined here with all kinds of chat rooms and special features and, of course, streaming video in recent times. Weather was available from several excellent sources online.

Another issue that is hard to quantify is the content of the news. People got sick of the drumbeat of murders, fires, child abuctions, and overall sensationalism of the local product. Also, did you need four stations providing the news often simultaneously? There is only so much going in Podunk and so much beautiful weather in San Diego.

So who is the core of the local news audience? Early news is usually a 50+ vehicle skewing female and, if you do special tabulations via Nielsen, you will find that it is, in many DMA's, downscale, ethnic, and old. After all, if you are watching news at 5 or 5:30 pm the odds are not great that you have a fast track career. You should still be in the office then or perhaps, on Friday night, starting your commute.

Why does early news show up as 15% of some broadcast buys. It appears that many planners and broadcast buyers are lazy. Nielsen says it still may deliver a 2 rating against Adults 18-49 so it helps bring buys in . During a trip to the midwest last year, I sampled early news (5pm) in my hotel room prior to dinner with a station sales manager. I noticed spots for both Jaquar and Mercedes-Benz. My initial response was "what the hell is going on?" Early news cannot be a good vehicle for either brand in virtually any DMA. It appeared a buyer got very lazy or was totally inept and did not think beyond age and gender and bought the news even though 98% of the audience watching at that hour could not possibly afford either advertised vehicle.

It amazes me that local cable sales have not picked up on this issue a lot more. If you are selling detergent, toothpaste (but more denture adhesive!), or certain foods or health products, then early news is fine and often efficient. But cable has a fistful of channels that surely can provide a better demographic for many products and services than you see in early news in almost any market.

Late news was a stalking horse for Prime years ago both in audience size and demography. Not so any longer! And the Local People Meter (LPM) data have driven that point home even more strongly with long time late news goliaths suddenly slain when a new and improved measurement technique came to down. While more appealing than early news, it is simply not what it used to be as a media vehicle.

My point here is that all TV is suffering and is less effective than it once was due to rating distintegration on over the air channels, digital growth, and, of course, DVR growth. But leaving a heavy news component in many buys smacks of the late 1970's not the first decade of the 21st century. When it comes to news, CAVEAT EMPTOR!

To contact Don Cole directly, e-mail him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. I have been tracking how LPM’s and the writer’s strike both continue to put downward pressure on broadcast ratings which ultimately make the 2 rating in local news buyable.
    Consider this, in 2005 there were 72 primetime broadcast programs with double digit ratings. By 2008, only 25 programs were in the double digits. In the same time period, 59 programs had less than a 1.0. Now, there are nearly 100 primetime broadcast programs with less than a 1.0 rating.
    Speaking of upscale HHs and viewing habits, we used TNS to analyze the local news spots for a luxury auto dealer group and found that 8 out of 10 late news spots aired after 11:20pm -talk about missing the target.

    Is it more important to count the people you reach or reach the people that count?

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