WNBC-TV Hawks its New News Model

Analyst ponders lollipop-and-rainbow effect
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NEW YORK: WNBC-TV is trying to cut an edge in the broadcast business with a remodeled newscast and a seriously overhauled Web site. The station is replacing its traditional 5 p.m. newscast, dubbed “Live at Five” for nearly three decades, for something more akin to “Entertainment Tonight.” The new, one-hour show, “LX New York,” will be hosted by Saifa Lewis, Michael Flocker and Sarah Gore, who is notably younger than 29-year WNBC veteran anchor Sue Simmons.

“Sue Simmons is out, Sara Gore is in, as WNBC acknowledges that the legacy local news model is broken,” writes Rich Greenfield of Pali Capital.

Gore and Lewis come out of LX.TV, a local luxury content creator that NBC acquired in January 2008. Flocker is the author “The Metrosexual Guide to Style.” The new broadcast will be locally focused, according to Morgan Hertzan, senior vice president of NBC local media and general manager of LX.TV.

“Our host team is ready to deliver some of the wittiest, funniest and smartest takes on all New York happenings, while taking viewers closer to some of the most interesting people and places in New York,” Hertzan is quoted saying at NBCNewYork.com.

The show is set to debut Sept. 14, and Greenfield is curious if other stations will follow suit.

“The reality is consumer interest is waning by the day, implying more drastic changes are needed; the question becomes will anyone follow NBC’s lead? While NBC will stick with its ‘traditional’ 6 p.m. newscast, as well as its existing 11 p.m. newscast, we suspect success--in both viewers and demos--with its new 5 p.m. programming could lead to further changes in other dayparts over the next 12 to 18 months, not to mention expanding the strategy to other markets,” he writes.

Greenfield compared promos of “LX New York” and an older one for NBC’s traditional newscasts. The LX clip begins at a newspaper stand and morphs into an animated romp through a Skittles-hued landscape. The other shows the newsroom at 30 Rock, NewsChopper4, the on-air heavyweights and a Doppler radar shout-out.

“What makes the promo video so scary is that it is still the model that virtually every TV station in the country is following in terms of their approach to the local news--helicopters, sports, traffic, etc--which appears so antiquated given the state of technology today,” Greenfield writes.

“While investors are hopeful of a rebound in local TV advertising over the next 12 months, we have a hard time believing that local news, weather, traffic and sports at 7 a.m./5 p.m./6 p.m./11 p.m. can sustain viewership levels, and in turn, advertiser interest over the next several years,” he said.

Greenfield noted that among people 25 to 54, local news viewership has dropped 20 percent over the last four years, and as much as 30 percent in Los Angeles and New York. The folks at Pali are happy to see stations cutting overhead on news operations, but they’re inclined toward more radical changes similar to WNBC’s.

The station has also revamped its Web site, which now looks more like The New Yorker than a typical TV station Web site; ABC7’s, for example. Greenfield said traffic is up on the similarly overhauled NBC O&O Web sites by four times since late 2008.

“These sites look nothing like their local TV peers,” he said.
-- Deborah D. McAdams

More TVB coverage of local news:
August 25, 2009: “TV Station News
Two TV stations are adding more local news to the line-up. KIAH-TV, the Tribune-owned CW in Houston, is adding an hour of news in late afternoon. KIAH will launch 5 and 5:30 p.m. newscasts, Monday through Friday, starting Sept. 28.

July 13, 2009
: “Analyst is Lukewarm on the Future of Local News”
We believe the local TV business is in secular decline, albeit the decline trajectory post-2009 auto-related trauma is unlikely to be anywhere near as rapid as we are witnessing in newspapers and radio.”

July 13, 2009: “News Sharing Arrangement Goes South”
News sharing is all the rage among TV stations trying to cut costs, but the CBS affiliate in this Georgia metropolis found the savings wasn’t worth the loss of identity.

March 12, 2009: “Analyst on Duops: Drop Separate Newscasts”
“While the Fox TV stations are actively trying to reduce cost thru local news sharing with NBC and the aforementioned reporter sharing we discovered, why not fully consolidate duopolies’ news programming, given the secular problems facing the TV station biz?