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News Expansion: A Question About Viability

Editor’s Note : ‘From The Field’ is a regular ShopTalk column that offers first-hand reports from the front lines of broadcast journalism. Today’s editorial comes from Jerry Martin, VP/GM of WXIN in Indianapolis. We asked Jerry to offer some insight into why WXIN has recently expanded its news programming.

The rationale for our news expansion is our confidence to deliver a viable product to our viewers that will be supported by our advertisers. I think that anyone running a newsroom or station has to be certain that their product will deliver ratings and revenue in the long run, and, in these tough economic times, the expanded product may need to be profitable right from the start.

That was not always the case at WXIN. Five years ago, the station had a successful 30-minute, 10PM newscast, which, some may argue, was simply a newscast of convenience. The station also produced a light-hearted, expensive morning newscast that wasn’t viable. There was little doubt that news plan really didn’t work. So, we had two choices–rent out our time periods to a competitor, or expand the 10PM to an hour and revamp the morning news product. Obviously we chose the latter, which has paid off with rapidly increasing ratings and revenue. That success has given us the confidence to further expand last month with an extra half hour in the morning at 4:30am and and an hour of early news at 4PM. Furthermore, with the growing popularity of our 7-9am news hours, we announced this week that we are adding another hour to our morning news, continuing our coverage to the 9-10am hour.

Why are we expanding now in the middle of the Great Recession? Again, it came down to our confidence that we could be viable from the get-go. We truly believed that our viewers and advertisers would support us, and that we would be profitable from the start. In addition, with us providing more convenient times for news, we are building a reputation with our viewers that we are there for them more often than any other station in town.

Most importantly, we have confidence in our news team to deliver on a consistent basis, strong corporate support, and the technical infrastructure to successfully pull off the additional newscasts. In other words, the timing was right. I don’t think for a moment that we would have tried this expansion even last year. However, with our past expansion successes and continued product improvement, we felt that we could be successful in new time periods.

The other overriding benefit of news expansion, especially with the addition of our 4pm newscast, is that it allows us to be less reliant on syndication and feeds our growing need for relevant content on our web and mobile sites. We don’t pretend to know exactly how the future will play out but we know we will have a better chance at success if we take control of our local content. Our best guess is that people will still desire local news–they just may be agnostic on which device they receive their news.

Jerry Martin is the VP/General Manager of Tribune-owned WXIN and WTTV in Indianapolis.

If you would like to comment on From the Field, or have a suggestion for a future edition, email fromthefield@tvspy.com.

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