Morning News: A Winning Formula
It is difficult to increase morning news ratings because the AM news has no lead-in and, therefore, does not get much sampling. Plus, topical promotion usually fails to attract viewers because it is too far away from the product. And, even if you have a great story to promote, many stations make the mistake of telling the viewer that the story will air tomorrow beginning at 5:00 AM. No one is going to stay glued for two hours to watch one report.
But there are ways to dramatically increase your ratings. Let’s start with what we know:
- Morning viewers place a high value on weather and traffic.
- Most AM viewers have had some exposure to news between 5:00 PM and 11:30 PM. They may have watched a newscast, checked a local website or used social media. But generally news viewers know what “happened”. They are looking for fresh content, real updates on important stories, and would like to know what is scheduled to happen for the rest of the day.
- More than any other newscast, the morning is dependent on warm, friendly, and upbeat personalities. Few viewers are seeking a dry, “just the facts” team. There must be genuine chemistry on the set.
- If you look at Nielsen Minute-by-Minute reports you will notice that viewers do not start watching on the hour or half-hour. They join a newscast when they are ready to turn on the TV and then go to “off” when it is time to leave for work or get the children ready for school. Most viewers watch about 22 minutes. That means if someone tunes in at 5:06 AM they have probably missed the top stories.
Here are 10 things you can do to win the morning time period:
- Follow the money. There is a lot of inventory in the morning and if you build winning demos the obvious result is increased revenue. Move resources from the early evening news, if needed, but staff the mornings with enough quality producers and reporters to make an impact.
- If you have personable and credible anchors but still lack chemistry train your producers to create “magic moments”. The team will interact coming out of the right stories if they are on a two- or three-shot. Give them the time to chat. If your anchors are duds and you trail in the ratings it is time to start looking for replacements.
- Strive to update every story. This cannot be faked by writing alone. A newsroom’s contact list should include people who can be reached 24 hours a day. The staff should be making phone calls during the night to get the latest information.
- Cover important and interesting overnight news. A minor auto accident that does not snarl traffic is worthless. So is an abandoned building fire unless it results in multiple alarms. That means a station must plan ahead. By midday on Monday you should know some of the events that will occur on Tuesday. Get interviews Monday for use on Tuesday morning and have a reporter present a “later in the day” package. If the visuals are there to front it live then use the resources accordingly. If not, leave the reporter in the studio. Don’t forget compelling national or international news that broke overnight.
- Assign at least two reporters and photographers to the morning. This time period is critical. Again, you may have to move a few people from the early evening news. Since there may not be a lot of legitimate overnight news, find a personable reporter to take viewers to interesting places that are operating in the morning. There are more things going on at 5:00 AM than you think. From donut shops to firms that manufacture a product 24 hour a day, there are interesting stories to tell and places that you can take viewers live. Attractions like zoos and museums may meet you early just to get the word out about a special exhibit. Keep these lighter reports short. There should be enough material at most locations to do a new angle of a story every half hour.
- Provide weather and traffic every ten minutes. Remember not all weathercasts have to run 1:30 or more. While people are seeking weather, what they need are the current conditions and the forecast for rest of the day. You do not need to provide full-blown weather three times in 30 minutes. Why? Because viewers also want a lot of news, you must leave enough time to provide a variety of stories.
- Provide news headlines on the quarter hour. That will attract people who normally tune in after the start of the program. Change the news headlines from one half hour to the next to add new content.
- Exploit your website, app, and social media. Weather and traffic should be updated constantly. As people become reliant on your digital media outlets they are more likely to watch your newscast.
- Display the time and temperature when you are not in a commercial break. Viewers want to know how to dress when they must leave and the time on the screen is a real convenience.
- Forget topical promotion. Develop a unique and relevant position and market it with a series of brand image campaigns. Covering the news, weather, and traffic is not differentiated. Determine what makes you special. Don’t change promos too soon. To really touch the market you must reach 85% of the viewers 7 times. It is easy to run a Reach and Frequency report. That will tell you when you need to update your promos. However, the underlying message must be consistent.
Remember, this is all about the end result: increased revenue. Agencies can’t buy around a station that wins the morning news and the late news.