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The Test of Both Worlds for ‘omg! Insider’

Combining different TV and Web brands has proved challenging for celebrity news venture

A celebrity news venture is learning firsthand something often reflected in its own reporting: Relationships aren’t easy.

When CBS TV Distribution entertainment newsmagazine “The Insider” announced a partnership six months ago with Yahoo gossip website omg! to combine
their brands, “omg! Insider” established itself as a couple to watch.

But since its official January launch with set overhauls, new hires and tonal shifts, Nielsen and Comscore data indicate “omg! Insider” has yet to see a meaningful boost either on TV or online, where it faces a crowded field of competitors.

In fact, ratings for “omg! Insider” today are 15% lower than they were a year ago for “The Insider.” Averaging just under 2 million viewers per weeknight telecast, the newsmag continues to remain at the bottom of the pack in ratings, badly lagging behind the franchise that is its lead-in in many markets, “Entertainment Tonight,” as well as competitors like “Access Hollywood,” “Inside Edition” and “Extra.”

The website is faring a bit better, having the advantage of entering the partnership as the traffic leader in its category. After dropping a bit from its 30 million unique visitors level in its second month, omg.yahoo.com rebounded in March, up to 36 million.

With “Insider” by its side, Yahoo is looking to give “omg!” a more defined identity opposite competitors online and beyond. While “omg! Insider” strives to position itself as a kinder, more analytical version to perhaps the sector’s most resonant brand, Warner Bros.’ snarky TMZ, Yahoo and CTD may be finding that bolting together disparate entities to match the multi-platform clout of the WB property is easier said than done.

“The thing we’re still trying to figure out is, how do we continue to develop those cross-platform franchises that really leverage both consumer mindshare and all the tech advantages we have with the Internet?” said Rich Cusick, VP of entertainment at Yahoo.

The Yahoo-“Insider” pact was one of the first moves made by incoming CEO Marissa Mayer who, Cusick noted, championed the deal.

Yahoo had already seen partnership success by pairing Yahoo News with ABC News (and more specifically with “Good Morning America”), and Yahoo Finance with CNBC. Yahoo has since gone on to do same with NBC Sports as well.

Joe Ferullo, senior veep of programming at CTD, said it was the syndie company that approached Yahoo in 2012, which was then housed in the same building as CTD.

“We’d bump into the Yahoo people in elevators all the time,” Ferullo recalled. “We figured it was time to pick up the phone and call them.”

CBS TV Distribution’s “Insider” launched in 2004 as a spinoff of CTD newsmag “ET.” The younger program, however, had difficulty gaining traction with viewers, and struggled to establish a recognizable brand, experimenting with gritty, tabloid fare, true crime, fringe stories and celeb news in various tones.

“The problem with the former “Insider” brand was that I never knew what show I was watching,” explains Brad Bessey, who joined the newsmag as an exec producer to help reinvent the show with the “omg!” brand. He produces alongside Linda Bell Blue. “It was medical oddities one day, celebrities the next.”

On Jan. 7, the rebranding took effect. Both online and on-air outlets touted the new “omg! Insider” moniker and began contributing to one another’s coverage. “omg!” bulked up its editorial staff, making numerous hires to accommodate the content output, which has doubled, according to Cusick, who added that video content has tripled on the site since the “omg! Insider” launch.

The TV show got fresh digs that showcased the newsroom, with staffers visible on air walking behind the anchors. Bessey helped guide the program in a less salacious direction, focusing on stories that “enlighten and empower, not stories that degrade.”

The rebranding wasn’t merely a fusion of names, either. Employees from Yahoo and “Insider” work together every morning at a 5:30 meeting in Los Angeles to plan the news budget for the day, and make sure content is coordinated across the media platforms.

The partnership venture attempts to make “omg! Insider’s” online presence the go-to for breaking celebrity news, while the syndicated “omg! Insider” TV show offers an in-depth spin on the day’s headlines. But the transition has been slow to build viewership, something Ferullo readily admitted.

“Because the show didn’t have a strong identity for awhile, it unfortunately suffered downgrades in a lot of marketplaces,” Ferullo explained. But the new show has delivered, he added, in markets including New York, Houston and Philadelphia, where it has seen upticks in its key demo, women 25-54.

And “omg! Insider” isn’t the only newsmag struggling, given that the ratings for all shows in the sector are down compared with their numbers last year.

“No one knows if it will work,” Ferullo said, referring to cross-platform branding in the news space. “It’s what the news industry is all trying to figure that out — is there a way to build a bridge?”

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