Local TV news marketers may have one of the toughest jobs in television — getting viewers to watch their traditional linear newscasts on their TV channel. What can work and what can be done to stop the drain?
Local TV news marketers may have the toughest jobs in television. Not only are they responsible for driving viewers to their traditional linear newscasts on their TV channel, but also to the stations’ offerings on digital and social.
How much of an emphasis are they placing on the traditional newscasts versus digital/social? How has that changed in the last five years? And with so many more priorities and platforms, how do they balance production and their on-air schedule to effectively deliver all the messages?
Let’s start with the challenge of trying to reach viewers to get them to watch their traditional linear newscasts on their TV channel.
The audience available to watch the newscasts on television is dwindling thanks to cord cutters who have opted to drop their cable service in favor of other streaming options.
And even the audience still watching traditional TV channels is down, especially during the network primetime entertainment programs. But overall, it’s still a sizable number of viewers.
Traditional, linear, by appointment local TV news is the core around which everything else rotates. It’s the place where audience connects with talent and experiences a brand.
So, despite changing conditions that make it an uphill slog, how can local TV stations put their fingers in the dike to stop the drain of viewers watching linear newscasts on local TV?
What if local TV broadcasters and the cable companies joined together?
Retransmission consent money is the second, and sometimes the largest source of revenue for local TV station broadcasters after advertising. In 2022, domestic television station owners’ retransmission and carriage fees from cable, direct broadcast satellite, telco video operators and virtual multichannel providers reached an estimated $14.46 billion.
More than half (56%) of U.S. adults have cable or satellite TV. But cable turned in its worst subscriber losses in the first quarter of 2023, shedding 2.3 million customers.
It behooves local broadcast TV operators to help cable operators from shedding subscribers, both in terms of retransmission money but also in terms of maintaining viewership of its traditional linear newscasts.
Broadcasters want viewers to watch their news on television via cable to maintain the retransmission money, and cable operators want to hold and increase the number of subscribers.
So, in the negotiation with cable companies for retrans money, what if the stations and the cable operators traded media placement?
Cable companies could run spots on local TV stations (and their digital platforms) selling subscriptions to their cable service.
Local TV stations could run spots on cable TV channels to increase viewers to watch their local newscasts.
Of course, a titanic shift like that could only happen through discussions at the highest levels.
There is still a sizable audience watching your channel on TV. They’re sitting in front of the TV, and we can assume they are available to watch whatever newscasts are coming up.
So, most TV stations promote tune-in to the upcoming newscasts as they have done for years. Do they air close enough to the newscast to work? Are they filled with powerful examples to create a thirst for news? Do newscasts hold the lead-in audience? Are they effective? Does the station review them regularly? What stations are doing the best work in terms of topicals?
To hold the lead-in audience that stations get from whatever programs air going into newscasts, some stations begin their newscasts with a super tease, a collection of short dynamic previews of the stories viewers will see in that newscast. These super teases can work to help those stations that have difficulty holding their lead-in audience. The national newscasts do a great job of this.
What tactics do stations use to hold the lead-in audience and then to hold them into the first few minutes of the newscast?
Other than their own broadcast channel, what other platforms are local TV stations using to drive audience to traditional linear newscasts?
Facebook seems to offer the promise of delivering an audience.
It’s free, and those who have decided to follow a certain local TV station on Facebook have often done so because they’ve chosen it as their favorite.
It’s common for people to have their phone in hand with Facebook open while watching television or a streaming service. So, a message delivered at the right time on Facebook might prompt them to turn on the newscast.
Some stations are doing Facebook Lives just at the start of newscasts with the anchors getting ready on set to attract their Facebook followers to tune in.
Another way stations use Facebook to highlight their news is by posting behind-the-scenes videos of reporters gathering the news. Viewers love getting these peeks at the newsgathering process. What viewers see in a newscast is the finished, edited story. Seeing how the story develops is one way to compel viewers to watch the newscast to see the finished story.
Other than their broadcast channel and their Facebook page, where else are local TV stations promoting their newscasts?
Some stations still only buy outside media during the sweeps ratings months of February, May and November, with some also participating in the fall launch in September. This is almost always tied to their network co-op program.
So, during those months, local TV stations air tune-in promos on cable, radio, social, digital and even billboards to drive an audience.
It’s common for commercial breaks on cable or radio to be populated with several local TV stations’ promos to watch their newscasts. They pop up on the first day of sweeps and go away on the last day.
Some stations may have outside media dollars to spend all year long.
When it comes to buying outside media, where is the money being spent? What works in terms of increasing audience to local TV newscasts?
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