Taking a page from the network news, local TV stations can create a sense of immediacy and urgency right at the beginning of the newscast. “That’s the secret sauce,” says Greg Derkowski, a veteran trainer.
Local TV news viewers tune into regularly scheduled newscasts in essentially two ways.
One comes via loyal viewers who know the time when their favorite newscasts are on and are reliable regulars. They may be coming home from work, outside or on another TV channel, but at the desired time, they find their news. This is the camp you want your newscasts to be in.
The other way viewers watch is via the program that leads into the newscast. They’re dragged along in the program’s wake, through the end break until newscasts begin.
Even those who already have a favorite newscast at the same time may get pulled into the front door of your news, and right there is an opportunity, says Greg Derkowski, a veteran trainer who works with stations through 602 Communications or his own company, GetGreg.Live.
This is the camp you want to be in if your newscast loses viewers from its lead in program.
“Let’s carry them over the threshold with a super tease and then once we have them in, we want to do everything we can do block the exits,” Derkowski says. “That is why traditional teases in our newscast are incredibly important. It also goes much deeper than that into the anchor intros, the reporter standups, how we do first weather, and it is all a thread that we are sewing through that broadcast to keep people interested, engaged and not heading for the exits.”
(NOTE: The network news cold opens shown here were all recorded on the same day.)
Derkowski says 90% of the training he does with stations focuses on audience retention inside the newscast. Topical promos are still important, “but for most stations, not all, the lower hanging fruit, the place where you are going to get the bigger bang for your buck is to focus on those broadcasts themselves because that is where the customers are.”
When I was a creative services director, I thought of the program leading into our newscasts as a beachhead, and I would promote that show heavily. My thinking was, drive them to the beachhead and hold them into the newscast.
Derkowski’s philosophy is the same.
“Whatever your lead in program is you want to keep those folks watching,” Derkowski says. “You don’t want to lose anybody, and once you have them, it is [about] keeping them engaged.”
What Derkowski advocates to his stations is to establish a sense of immediacy and urgency right at the beginning of the newscast that says in essence, this is why you need to watch this right now.
“It needs to be high energy, high impact, best video, referencing video on the screen,” Derkowski says. “You want it to go quickly because you don’t want to waste people’s time. Get them into the story. Give them reasons to stick around for the story, the quicker the better.”
Derkowski says he has two rules for this strategy to work: “Grab their attention, don’t waste their time. You have got to get them in and engaged.”
When it comes to the late newscasts following network entertainment programs, stations should focus on those nights when they know the network programs will deliver a heavy audience, Derkowski says.
“They will heavy up on those nights, have people in place to do a more polished high-energy open,” Derkowski says. “Just get them across the threshold and then we will work on holding them.”
If you need inspiration to see how this might be done, watch the network news, like ABC News, for example.
“They are great at that,” Derkowski says. “The whole A block sometimes runs 20 minutes long. It is incredible. As a viewer you are like, oh my God what is coming next? That is the secret sauce, they keep you interested.”
Derkowski says that’s what local stations should be doing to create a sense of immediacy and urgency, although it might be difficult to make it that long.
“However, you can put at least two stories in there and maybe it includes reporter stand-ups,” Derkowski says. “Make it your own. You can’t just do it one time. You have got to be able to pull it off all the time.”
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