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Broadcasters Focus on Future and Fundamentals at NATPE Station Group Summit

Variety logo Variety 1/16/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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For decades, broadcast TV stations were the first line of defense for the television industry. Starting with baby boomers, generations of viewers grew up with great affection for hometown stations that served up a mix of network programs and nationally syndicated series leavened with regionally specific news, sports, and local color.

As with everything else in TV, the dynamics of the relationship between viewers and local broadcasters is changing as programming options grow exponentially. Broadcasters need to bring discipline and focus to figuring out what viewers want from local stations versus the abundant competition. That’s the thrust of the daylong Station Group Summit to be held Jan. 18 as part of the NATPE 2017 convention.

Sean Compton, president of strategic programming and acquisitions for Tribune Media, and Emerson Coleman, VP of programming for Hearst Television, organized the effort for TV station managers to talk shop, share success stories, and brainstorm programming and marketing strategies for the future.

“What we really have to focus on is how the linear viewer consumes broadcast television,” Compton says. “Viewers have more of a day-and-date mentality with local TV. We should be looking for shows that complement what we do every day in delivering live fresh local news programming to our markets. We’re not about binge-watching. We have to have something new every day.”

To Compton, that means adding a level of timeliness to programming offering in daytime, to give viewers a reason to check in each day. He points to “TMZ Live” and “The Wendy Williams Show” as shows that play off each day’s headlines in a way that makes them appointment TV, more so than an episode of a talk show that might have been taped days or weeks before.

A case study in point is Warner Bros.’ “Crime Watch Daily.” The show, hosted by Chris Hansen, tracks unusual true-crime tales from around the country. It premiered in fall 2015 to middling ratings. In its second season, producers shifted the format to make the stories much more timely, with an emphasis on reports still generating heat on social-media platforms.

“It’s one of the few examples recently where changes to the show can really be seen making a difference in the ratings,” Compton says.

Connecting with viewers via social media will be another big topic of discussion. There are untapped opportunities for stations to build stronger bonds with viewers by enhancing the social components of their programming.

Tribune has seen success in this area with the retrospective material it offers for Antenna TV, the digital multicast network that carries classic TV shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

“We provide special content for fans through social that gives them their daily dose of ‘oh my gosh, do you remember that,’ “ Compton says. “We’re not trying to sell them too hard on anything, but that extra content has made Antenna TV a real brand for that audience. It helps build a connection to the network. There’s a lot more work local stations can be doing in social.”

At a time when the future of TV increasingly is shifting to online platforms, TV stations have the challenge of remaining true to their roots as locally oriented services while adapting to new modes of reaching viewers.

In many respects, the Station Group Summit is a throwback to the local programming focus of the earliest NATPE conventions in the mid-1960s.

“We have to really study what our biggest opportunities and biggest strengths are in the new world,” Compton says. “We have to work on our future, but stick to our fundamentals.”

(Pictured: The Wendy Williams Show”)

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