Broadcast news, what news?: An Austin newscast analysis

Broadcast news, what news?: An Austin newscast analysis

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You’re watching the 6 o’clock news.  The weather is over.  It’s still going to be hot.  Shocking.  Now, you’re waiting to watch the sports story teased earlier in the newscast. 

Sports should start right after the next commercial.  Nope.   Another commercial.   Then, another, and another.  Only the strong, motivated or stubborn survive to see a smattering of sports.

Let’s get things straight.  First of all, you’re not watching the 6 o'clock news.  You are watching the 5:59 p.m. news.  All Austin stations with news at that hour cut away from network promotional spots somewhere around 5:59 p.m. when the network anchor says, “Goodbye.” 

Next, you’re not really watching the news, weather and sports.  You’re watching lots of commercials or promotional spots, most of them after the weather report. All this is according to a content analysis of KEYE TV (CBS), KVUE (ABC), and KXAN TV (NBC) I conducted earlier this month. 

KXAN had the most commercials during the newscast averaging around 22.  KEYE came in second with 19 or more.  KVUE had the fewest with around 18.  The majority of the commercials run after the weather.

Speaking of weather, weather is the driver.  All three of the stations, know that weather is what is driving the audience forward in the newscast.  Even singer/songwriter Paul Simon knew that when he penned the lyric, “I can get the news I need from the weather report” in the song “Only Living Boy in New York” in 1969 or so (“Bridge Over Troubled Water” album).

Why are there at least two weather teases (or promotions) before the weathercast even starts about 16 minutes past the hour?  It's because the stations want to keep you watching past the quarter-hour mark.  If they can hold on to viewers after the next quarter hour at 6:15 p.m., Nielsen gives the station credit for the second quarter hour in the ratings.

So, before 6:15 p.m. or so, you’re only going to see something like four to seven commercials.  After the weather, commercials explode:  KXAN with 14 or more, KEYE with a dozen, and KVUE with around ten.   Another question:  Why do they cram these commercials in this 31-minute period?  Easy.  Commercials running inside the newscasts cost more.

The news ends at 6:30 p.m. right? Wrong. KXAN and KVUE end their news at 6:27, KEYE at 6:28. What fills up the time between 6:27 and 6:30? One guess — you got it, commercials!

Other than the weather, weather teases, and the commercials what are you watching?

You do get news for 10 - 12 minutes.  Most of the content is reactive.  Certainly, the effects of the scorching weather were the dominate stories on this day.  Otherwise, there was little originality — precious little.  Quita Culpepper, David Scott, and Rhonda Lee caught my eye during the period.  KXAN does have a different take from the Hill Country.  Every station covered the drowning, plane crash, news conference, police stories, grass fires, and the latest on Rick Perry.  You’re only seeing eight to 14 stories.  That’s it.  Count them.  It’s true.

KEYE had the most stories with 14 one night, but that was an anomaly.  It was more like ten on KEYE other nights.  Story count can depend on the producer who put the newscast together and of course the length of the stories.  Weather is the driver, but due to our predictable summer weather, all are giving the weathercasters only about three and a half minutes.  KVUE’s Mark Murray seems to get 30 seconds more.

That sports story you were waiting for could be the only story in the sportscast since sports happens last in the newscast.  Poor Roger Wallace only got 40-seconds one night due to the amount of time devoted to a good cause, the Eldercare Fan Drive.  Most of the time, sportscasters get only two to two-and-a-half minutes. 

KEYE’s Texas Sports Nation is tricky.  Texas Sports Nation starts around 20 minutes past the hour.  Is it a full 10 minutes of sports?  Not hardly.  KEYE scatters commercials throughout the sports.  The final score?  About three minutes.  Two and a half minutes most of the time.  It’s still more than the other stations.

So, which station is doing the best job? Here are the facts. You be the judge.


© Jim McNabb, 2011