This Is No Time To Take The Weekends Off
Over the past few months I’ve met with scores of local broadcasters while crisscrossing the country pitching my syndicated show, Raw Travel. It’s been both a great pleasure and an eye opener.
Over the years, I’ve successfully produced programming that brings new audiences and revenue streams to local broadcasters. Starting in 2002, I syndicated the first English-language series for young, U.S. born Latinos before selling the company in 2008. It took time, but our shows allowed stations in key Hispanic markets to aggregate Latino viewing and garner rapidly growing Hispanic ad revenue.
Some stations did better than others, of course, and the single biggest factor was the strength of their sales staffs. Hungry, creative reps seized the opportunity to fish in different waters.
From talking with broadcasters, I believe there is now a similar opportunity: weekends.
On Saturday and Sundays, broadcasters are sticking to the script of network sports, news and public affairs, repeats of weekday programs and paid programming — way too much paid programming. Admitting that paid programming is “crack” for the industry while shaking your head doesn’t change that it’s killing your weekends. It isn’t offering anything to viewers or long-term prospects.
But if you're smart, you can use weekends to broaden appeal and differentiate yourself from the pack.
Research shows that TV viewing remains a major weekend activity. Then why do so many broadcasters all but give up on the weekends? One excuse I’ve heard is that ad sales staffs “just sell rotators” on weekends. I’ve been in ad sales my entire 20-plus-year career. My suggestion: If your staff can only sell rotators or infomercials, consider upgrading staff or sales leadership.
Rotators are lazy. Laziness doesn’t save an industry, especially one that is under assault from all sides.
So what to do? Schedule unique programming that engages people and provides unique sales hooks less dependent on Nielsen’s guestimates — not “potted plant” shows, not sub-par “fill” programming, not repeats and certainly not more infomercials.
Quality programming will motivate sales staffs, especially if stations are able to tap into genres with sizable but under-served niches and psychographics.
Programming for Hispanics in markets with large Hispanic communities still makes sense. Many Hispanics don’t subscribe to cable. But do it right. Twelve years after launching our shows, I’m amazed at how U.S. born Latinos (65+% of U.S. Hispanics) are still so misunderstood. Targeting is not the same as tokenism.
Another genre I think is perfect to complement weekend sports and news while also appealing to a large (and in some cases, multicultural) audience is travel. Passport possession and tourism ad spending in the U.S. have exploded. The success of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on CNN suggests that the genre could be as popular here as it is in Canada, England and Australia
Despite its age, home Improvement is an example of a genre with staying power. Home improvement spending continues to grow and with the real estate market rebounding, it could see a resurgence if broadcasters give it a chance.
With sponsor underwriting, stations should be looking for opportunities to produce localized content that dovetails and extends unique, national productions in these genres. How about a regional travel news minute? Or Hispanic heroes vignettes? Or how-tos from the local hardware store?
Offering real programming would give broadcasters exciting avenues to expand reach. Those viewers can then perhaps be lured back to news, sports and other programming on the station.
I don’t have any magic answers. But stations need to get out of their comfort zones. See what people are responding to online, at events, in the local entertainment weekly or local radio.
Experiment with weekends. See what works. Maybe what you’ll find are viable alternatives to off-network repeats of repeats and infomercials.
Time waits for no one, especially for TV in 2012 … I mean 2013.
Robert G. Rose is television entrepreneur whose focus is on developing business models that target underserved audiences. Since 2000, Rose has produced more than 300 episodes of television and negotiated partnerships with major marketers such as General Motors, Volkswagen, McDonalds, State Farm and Verizon Wireless. He is also the producer and host of Raw Travel, which is launching via broadcast syndication and internationally this fall.