Local affiliates look to grow their own

Stations might not replace 'Oprah' with another nationally syndicated show

Frugal TV stations — some bitten by the tough 2009 recession — want more locally produced programming, most of which will come in the form of news and lifestyle programming.

Recently, many stations have added news shows in early morning timeslots. But news shows will also be coming in afternoon slots, partly due to one big-name talkshow host moving on.

With “Oprah Winfrey” leaving the airwaves so that Winfrey can start her OWN channel, many TV stations are having to alter their afternoon programming plans by adding cheaper and better lead-in friendly news programming instead of buying expensive syndicated TV shows.

For example, big ABC owned-and-operated stations and longtime Winfrey affiliates WABC New York and WPVI in Philadelphia are readying plans to launch more news to replace Winfrey, according to executives. Another big ABC station, WLS-TV in Chicago, already said it is going the locally produced route to replace Winfrey.

“You are going see a reasonable number of stations doing this,” says Bill Carroll, veep and director of programming for TV station sales rep Katz Television Group. “If you are an ‘Oprah’ station, this is a unique opportunity, one you haven’t seen in 25 years. The best lead-in to news is news.”

Apart from Winfrey-related programming decisions, more stations have been adding early morning news content — starting their local programming day at 6 a.m., 5 a.m. and even 4:30 a.m.

Analysts believe this will help TV stations make the bridge to new digital mobile technology that the stations have been eyeing for future growth.

From time to time, station groups have toyed with producing expensive local programming — some starting up firstrun magazine-style or talk programming.

Meredith Broadcasting bowed “Better” a few years ago, a daytime magazine-lifestyle series, riffing off its longtime print magazine Better Homes & Gardens brand. In recent years, NBC-owned stations have been airing locally produced lifestyle series “LX.TV,” which has had moderate success in its 5 p.m. timeslot.

This year, Raycom Media has announced a weekly lifestyle show for its stations, “America Now,” produced with ITV Studios. The plan is to start as a locally produced effort for Raycom’s 47 TV stations, then expand distribution to other TV stations nationally.

Analysts say the benefits of airing your own locally produced shows are obvious — especially news programming.

“You get all that (advertising) inventory,” says Hearst Television programming veep Emerson Coleman, as opposed to typically sharing half the ad avails with a national syndicator. “It’s easy to promote. You have existing talent. You can claim the turf.”

LIN TV, for one, believes it has a good formula. The Providence, R.I.-based 32-station TV group runs a number of locally produced magazine/news morning shows on some of its stations.

At an investor conference recently, LIN TV president and CEO Vincent Sadusky argued that other stations would follow, saying the days of big-rated syndicated shows are over because of declining ratings and costs.

Sadusky said many locally produced shows give advertisers more opportunity.

“Because it’s not news,” he says, “we don’t have the same standards that we have in terms of objectivity, so we can have a little bit of fun. We can have our hosts drink from the Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee mug. … We can do some product integration.”

But Hearst’s Coleman says all this isn’t a slam dunk. “I’m a proponent of local programming and a proponent of taking a stake in a national TV show; it’s not easily done.

“Everything would have to come together — good talent, low cost and maybe with decent-size market stations.”

More from NATPE 2011:
Stations savor reinvigorated cash flow | Stations face post-‘Oprah’ conundrum | Local affiliates look to grow their own | Miami heats up NATPE | Split personality at NATPE | What’s coming to market at NATPE?