WXIN-TV ups ante in local news arms race

An arms race of sorts among Indianapolis television stations to offer the most hours of local news reached a new zenith on Monday, when WXIN-TV Fox59 said it would add 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts in June.

Fox59 already produces 47.5 hours of news Monday through Friday each week. Competitors WRTV-TV Channel 6, WISH-TV Channel 8, and WTHR-TV Channel 13 each offer between 27 and 30 hours of local news per week on weekdays.

Both the 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts will be a half-hour long. One obvious challenge for Fox59 is filling its new time slots with compelling content.

“If you end up repeating the same material, the viewer becomes aware of that. They’re going to tend to tune out and not check back in,” said Rick Gevers, a former television news director and principal of TV talent firm Rick Gevers & Associates.

Countered Phil Bremen, an associate professor of telecommunications at Ball State University: “Ever watched TV news in the morning? It tends to be the same stuff every 15 or 20 or 30 minutes, hour after hour.

“This works because of audience turnover—and because, more and more, people are distracted by smartphone and tablet computer screens as well as whatever else they’re doing around the house while the TV is on.”
One way to break up the monotony is to introduce new on-air talent for newscasts and possibly different sets and graphics, Gevers said.

Fox59 has worked to cover the new talent angle, having hired former WTHR weekend morning anchor Nicole Pence for its upcoming 11 p.m. newscast.

Fox59 already airs an hour-long, live news show at 10 p.m. The 11 p.m. show would go head-to-head with live news broadcasts on Channel 6, Channel 8 and Channel 13.

Pence, the niece of Gov. Mike Pence, reportedly was fired from WTHR last year. She still appears to have a loyal following. Her Facebook and Twitter accounts were full of mournful fan comments after she departed  WTHR.

“I’m waiting for my non-compete [contract clause to expire] but extremely excited to get back to work,” Pence said on Twitter recently.

The 11 p.m. newscast to be anchored by Pence will be named “NewsPoint,” which gives it a different feel from Fox 59’s other newscasts and will be packaged as a concise wrap-up of the day’s news, according to the station.

As for whether Fox 59 will add new reporters to fill the additional hours of newscasts, “there will be added support for the development of the 11 p.m. newscast,” said Michael Brouder, director of creative services at Fox59.

As for the planned  7 p.m. newscast, the only other local competitor at that time is WRTV.

Local news has become more attractive for stations in recent years. It’s relatively cheap to add, by squeezing more out of existing news resources. It’s also cheaper than buying syndicated shows and often attracts more lucrative advertisers, such as local car dealers.

“It’s a smart strategy. More and more, viewers want what they want when they want it. And once you have built a news department, it doesn’t cost much more to add an extra person or two to push an entire extra newscast or two out the door. So local news is not only rewarding; it’s also cheaper than other programming,” said Bremen.

Fox59 as been gunning at No. 1 rated WTHR.  Last year, in a provocative move in local TV circles, WTHR hired away Fox59’s former general manager, Larry Delia, who presided over an expansion of Fox59’s evening newscasts. The station already had upsized its morning news footprint, and other stations had followed suit.

After he arrived at WTHR, Delia announced the NBC affiliate would begin an early morning newscast at 4 a.m.

Ultimately, observed Bremen, the name of the game is  “trying to be dominant—and available—across every daypart in local news. After all, local news generates the most profits and contributes more than anything else to a local TV station’s image.”



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