NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Is the clock ticking for the 5 p.m. local newscast?
NBC's New York station has elected to replace its version of the concept with a one-hour "daily information, lifestyle and entertainment show" known as LX New York. In Boston, a Fox station has decided to move its 5 p.m. newscast to 6 p.m., making room for a new show from popular Oprah Winfrey guest Dr. Mehmet Oz.
At WNBC, the New York station that is part of NBC Universal, the idea is to offer programming that is more in tune with changing viewer patterns. Thanks to the rise of cable TV and the web, the early-evening news has an ever-expanding number of rivals, ranging from repeats of popular network TV shows to movies. WNBC is going to test a program designed to appeal to women it calls "cosmopolitan connoisseurs." The new program will focus on trends and lifestyle, although news headlines and weather information will be part of the broadcast.
The move is just the latest sign that the business of local TV stations is changing. Hit hard by the downturn in auto advertising, many stations are working to adapt to emerging viewer behavior; in some cases, old programming staples don't fill the bill.
Ironically, WNBC launched a 5 p.m. newscast in 1980 -- known as "Live at Five" -- as a newsy countermeasure against the old movies and syndicated programs offered by rivals. Advertising Age spoke with Vickie Burns, VP-content and audience development, NBC Local Media, to get some find out why the company sees entertainment as a more persuasive early-afternoon option than the venerable 5 p.m. newscast.
Ad Age: The 5 p.m. newscast is an institution for many local stations. What research did you do to ascertain that viewers might prefer something else in the time slot?
Ms. Burns: We did make this [decision] based on a lot of intense research, and there are some numbers that blew us away when we started drilling into that. When talking to women 25 to 54 who are available to watch television in the daypart, 26% of them are watching the broadcast selections, and they're watching everybody, not just channel 4 but channel 7, channel 2, channel 4. They are watching broadcast. And when we looked at women 25 to 54 who are watching television that isn't broadcast, 42% of them were watching cable entertainment.
And that's striking, the disparity between those two groups. We looked at that and said, "That's an opportunity we can embrace." We know that they are watching cable entertainment programming. We know what that cable entertainment programming is, and we knew that we can provide a fresh live alternative to that that is entertaining and informative.
Ad Age: NBC's New York station runs a 24-hour digital-cable channel as well. As digital cable gains more traction in consumer homes, do you anticipate more local stations placing additional focus and local programming in that venue, and perhaps leaving the traditional broadcast stations to air stuff that is more certain to generate eyeballs? What belongs on the TV station and what belongs on the digital-cable outlet?
Ms. Burns: Well, I don't think I want to try to answer that for everybody, but I'll try to answer it for what our strategy and philosophy is. With so many options available, it makes sense for us to get into the game of multimedia platforms. We think we have an incredibly strong brand in New York, and if people are going to different places for their information, their news, their entertainment, then it was smart for us to reorganize ourselves to deliver that. That is what we've been about for the last year. We think that the digital-cable channel is a great play, a creative opportunity to provide programming that is quite different from what you can see on our main channel. The point is to reach a new audience. We have to go where they are. ... You've got 24 hours on your digital channel, and you can program a myriad of different ways locally that you can't do on your main channel.
Ad Age: Do you anticipate this new format being used by other NBC-owned and -operated stations?
Ms. Burns: The first order of business is to make a terrific New York program, and if that does translate or inspires rollouts at NBC stations across the country, then that's certainly a win for the company.
Ad Age: What is your vision of how local TV stations operate five years from now? How much of the traditional model is in need of reworking?
Ms. Burns: To be honest with you, I'm not sure my crystal ball is that clear. We have some immediate goals and some long-term goals, but we're focused on the immediate goal, the right programming, LX New York, and making something that is fresh and innovative and unique that attracts new audiences. So we're going to concentrate on that while keeping an eye on the long term. I love the question, and believe me, we spend a lot of time thinking about it. I'm not dodging it. It's just that the landscape is so different; we have to be purposeful in the pursuit of answers. And so we take it all very seriously.