Friday, February 04, 2005

Sweeping Up - Attracting An Audience

So what's it going to take for there to be a major change?

For the time being, I don't see a major shift in the cards. I have a philosophy about smaller/diary markets. The game is more about not offending viewers than outright capturing them. If you can accept that premise, you'll understand how that makes the road tougher when you're number two or number three.

Having worked at both WEEK and WMBD, I've seen the battle from two sides. WEEK has a lot of experienced news managers (Mac and Mike are EP and Assistant ND FYI). They will do their best to make sure nothing is done to offend what is a large viewing base... a base they are familiar with having worked here for so long. Jim Garrott, the news director, jokes about "just not being the one who crashed the ship", but that's just him being modest. I've worked for five news directors and he was by far the best.

The other two stations have their loyal viewers to be sure. Since I've left TV, I've met people who just prefer 31 or 19 for various reasons and both stations are in good hands.

When I was at KSBW, I heard nothing but good things about Chris Manson, news director at WMBD. At the time, he was the assistant news director at KION across town.

WHOI is led by Amanda Wozniak and Jolie Alois (yes, she's married to WMBD weekend sports guy, John). Amanda worked her way up from producer to the top spot, while Jolie brings experience from a couple of larger markets (Champaign and St. Louis).

But here is the challenge. How do you attract more viewers when:
  1. Being a market of this size, there isn't much difference in what you're covering (look at the big news day last Wednesday to see how similar the "A blocks" were produced).
  2. You can't take the large market "if it bleeds it leads" approach (not suggesting they'd want to, just saying it is a reality in other places) as there is relatively little crime or breaking news (last Wednesday isn't the norm).
  3. And if you accept my premise, too much of "crime and grime" might offend people while the number one station isn't doing anything to offend or make it's viewers want to sample something else makes a shift unlikely.
There was some thought while I was at WMBD, that the Twin Cities was the battleground where viewers could be taken, if you focus more coverage over there. Yes, everyone has/has had active bureaus, but in 97, while Maria was doing solid work dayside M-F, I spent the entire February sweeps period working nights and weekends and going live out of Bloomington (as a one man band, shooting my own live bureau shots for anyone who wants to complain BTW and doing the same live shot for WCIA). And it was combined with an agressive promotional campaign... promising more Bloomington/Normal news. Even that proved to be a less than successful push... at least ratings wise... but I'm sure the B/N viewers appreciated it and the people who followed me full time... Mark Goldman and Melissa Crabtree.

I know there are some people at all three stations who won't like any of this. I know deep down you want to think "if we just kick butt today, more people will watch." But having worked at station at a time when we did kick butt, we had significantly more staff and the ratings barely moved... I submit to you that the challenge is much greater than just doing a good job.

All three stations do well covering the market. The challenge is about differentiation and promotion... without offending. Not an easy task, but an interesting one.

My message to news crews: do your best for your viewers. That's all you can control. Leave the strategy to the bosses, pray your network has done it's job and hope viewers will choose you.

No comments: