Emerson Coleman, Hearst’s SVP of programming, is going to Miami with a surging Matter of Fact to offer. When he puts on his buyer hat, he will be looking for a few shows, including replacements for the slots now occupied by Harry, whose return seems doubtful. In this wide-ranging interview, he also talks about the stagnant first-run syndication business, station groups’ producing their own programming, Hearst’s kids programming subsidiary Litton, multicasting and his continued enthusiasm for NATPE.
Over the past decade or so, many broadcasters have dropped NATPE from their professional calendars. But not Emerson Coleman. The long-time head of programming for Hearst Television believes there are still plenty of reasons for station folk to attend the annual convention — beyond the Miami Beach weather.
They can shop for programming, cull sessions and meetings with TV producers, vendors and other media execs for new ideas and hold strategy meetings with others in their own groups. His continued faith in NATPE explains his seat on the association’s board.
Coleman also has a pressing reason to be at the Fontainebleau next week. He’s got of his own show to pitch, Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien. The Sunday morning public affairs and news show, reinvigorated by the replacement of original host Fernando Espuelas by O’Brien last fall, has seen a surge in viewership (up 16% November 2017 over November 2016) and is now cleared in 85% of the country. At NATPE, Coleman will be shooting for 100% and time period upgrades.
In this pre-NATPE interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Coleman talks about Matter of Fact, the stagnant first-run syndication business, Hearst’s kids programming subsidiary Litton, multicasting and, of course, the merits of NATPE.
I take it you are happy where you are with Matter of Fact?
Yes. Obviously, it’s hard to generate a million viewers a week, especially in the current environment in syndication, but it’s differentiated content. I don’t think you will see the kinds of things that you see on our show anywhere else for the most part.
On the Hearst stations, Matter of Fact outperforms every show on cable, which was the goal at the outset. We are extraordinarily competitive in those same markets against the broadcast newsmaker shows as well, and we beat or tie each one with the exception of Meet the Press. Those are also our partners so we are not necessarily beating our chests about that because we are closely aligned with them.
So, how do you account for your success so far?
The CBS O&O group, the NBC O&O group and Fox O&O group. They were kind of phenomenal in helping us to do something that was really challenging. If you pick up your listings and look for available time periods, especially in the Sunday morning news and information block, they are few and far between.
Part of our thinking was based on watching the shows that we partner with on ABC and NBC and CBS — Face the Nation and Meet the Press and This Week. We wanted to be complementary to those programs. We are often adjacent to those shows or we are adjacent to local newscasts. It’s not true in every market, but it’s true in a lot of markets.
There is also a business equation there. When the network news shows do extremely well, they absolutely make us look really good. But there’s not necessarily a lot of inventory in those shows for the local stations. Matter of Fact has a 6-2 split. We only retain two minutes of national barter.
The show is cleared in 85% of the country. How important is it to get the other 15%?
It is important. One of the things we want to accomplish at NATPE is increasing awareness. The show is based in Washington, but, if you look at the makeup of our stories, many come from the middle of the country. So, those small markets are important to us. We really are trying to connect with a cross-section of viewers.
Is the show a money maker?
It’s not a money maker out of the gate, but we intend it to be a money maker. We did not go into this thinking that in the first several years it was going to be a great business, but we think it’s a great long-term business.
Let’s turn to Litton Entertainment, which is also part of your portfolio, correct?
Yes, it is. Litton is a great business, a great established business. I have known [founder and CEO] Dave Morgan since Hector was a pup as we say in the South and he has really grown and developed that business into a really distinctive company in the space that they operate in.
So, primarily, it’s family entertainment. They do an extraordinary job with children-oriented educational/informational programming, they have developed very special relationships with ABC and CBS and NBC as well as The CW, and I think they are going to use NATPE as an opportunity to make some announcements.
They do the entire [three-hour] E/I block and that’s exactly what buyers wanted. It’s a challenge [building and maintaining that block] if you are just acquiring individual shows. Station groups learned that lesson the hard way.
What we found out from buying individual shows is that, as much as we might have liked them, they weren’t necessarily sustainable. You would get a call in the middle of the season and learn the program was going to go away. You had to revamp your schedule, spend a lot of time looking for other product.
Litton was really smart in offering a turnkey package. So, basically, you were able to check the box for your E/I requirements. Those shows look good and you were working with people who were going to be really responsive to your needs and you weren’t going to be in the line of fire for any compliance issues. That’s a tall order.
But isn’t that business a little dicey in that it’s all based on an FCC requirement? What if the rule goes away? We live in deregulatory times.
Well, a couple of things. One, Litton offers more than just E/I programming. So that’s not their exclusive business, and, two, there is a real audience for these shows. There is a demand for them to reach the important 13-16 demo that most of their shows target. There is real viewership. These are not just shows that stations only want because they have to meet a specific rule.
The rule, by the way, is probably one of the better rules out there. The rule just provides some guidelines. The stations, especially the ones that are really dedicated to their local communities, are committed to children’s programming. In Boston, at WCVB, we are running five hours of children’s programs.
Let’s talk about entertainment for grownups. How come Hearst is not engaged in producing some of its own entertainment programming as some of its peer groups like Tegna and Scripps are?
First of all, I applaud those groups. Last year at NATPE, there was not a new affiliate-friendly show from ABC, NBC, CBS, Warner Bros. or Sony. The new product that was available came from Tegna and Scripps.
I understand exactly why they are doing what they are doing and I have had plenty of conversations with the studios and distributors about that particular dynamic. At some point, one of those shows is really going to break through and everyone will jump on the bandwagon.
I mean the hardest thing is to create a hit show, especially these days, but it makes sense for them. At some point, we may become more active there. It’s not something that is necessarily a pressing need for us today. I think our lineups are sufficiently strong, but it certainly is something that we look at.
So, home-grown shows are a possibility?
We have looked at a number of shows, especially over the past five years. Several of them I would say we came close to taking out, but we ultimately elected not to because a lot of things have to come together just right. They just have to be placed and positioned in a way that you feel they are going to become long-term franchises.
Are you shopping for anything at NATPE? Aside for your network affiliates, you have some duopolies that always need programming.
Yes, we do have some needs and there are still some question marks surrounding certain shows. There are one or two shows that we expect will not return for ’18.
I think we have seen 16 new projects for 2018, but most of those are not going to be able to get to the finish line. So, there’s only going to be one or two programs for us to review at NATPE, although there may some surprises. Everyone is talking about how they are positioning for ’19, but I don’t expect there will be a large amount of shows there either. There’s just not much real estate currently.
What we have learned on Jan. 3 – this was good news for Telepictures — is The Real is going to return. We have The Real in a number of markets. I expect that Steve Harvey is going to return too. We have that in quite a few markets.
We are really pleased with the performance of Doctor Oz. He is up year over year in our markets and we have that in quite a few places. We will focus on Live with Kelly and Ryan and Ellen, which is a news lead-in for us in a sizable number of markets as well.
So, our linchpins are still pretty much in place. We are just looking to kind of build around them, but, more importantly, we are looking to prepare for the future. We are bringing a lot of people to NATPE because we are going to be buyers. We are really focused on ’19 and beyond. So, we will be huddled up talking to all of the content providers about how we need to get out in front and figure out what the next show is.
Among those 16 new projects for 2018, what will you be looking at for possible pickup?
I’d rather not say right now. There are a couple of things that are still bouncing around out there that aren’t quite across the finish line.
What about that new Jane Lynch project from Warner Bros.?
I am not sure what the status is there. That’s not one I am monitoring quite as closely because we probably don’t have quite as many time periods for that and it’s not necessarily built and designed for us.
Do you carry Harry?
We initially had Harry in seven markets and now we have it in four. So those are four time periods we are going to be focused on.
Has NBC told you it’s not coming back?
They haven’t told us that, but I think it’s probably difficult for that show to return. You know, it’s always better to wait and see because there is so much speculation. You will have people talking about what they think is going to happen and then you find out that it’s not going to happen.
Other than Harry, do you want to speculate on what else might not be back in the fall?
Do you make the multicasting decisions for the company? Is that your call?
Most of the decisions are inclusive ones, but that’s part of my charge too. We have been really successful with Weigel and MeTV. That’s been a great fit for us. We also have a great relationship with Estrella, which we have in, I think, six markets. By the way, we run Matter of Fact in Spanish on the Estrella stations.
On MeTV we have got great numbers. We also have several markets where we recently launched the Justice Network and so far we are off to a great start.
What’s your deal with those networks?
We sell our own time so we are not doing rev share deals. We have a real commitment to these channels and we have got a sales force that’s focused on selling the time versus granting the time as a part of a deal. We feel we can have more success that way.
What drives the viewership, what makes these channels work is really the promotion. They have to be married to the primary station. Otherwise, you are not going to find ch. 964 and there is no reason for it to exist.
So, other than the weather, why should a broadcaster go to NATPE in two weeks?
First of all, I don’t think there is another domestic content conference where you can have the wide variety of meetings that you can have at NATPE — international, cable, emerging markets, traditional syndication, new media.
We are going to send 25 people to NATPE including five GMs and five PDs. We will have both heads of sales. We will have our head of promotion and creative services and our president [Jordan Wertlieb] will be there.
There is a reason we bring so many people. We see it as a real advantage in terms of positioning ourselves for what we need to accomplish going forward.
It’s hard to go to all of the sessions, but, when we do, we find that they are really, really informative. You meet a lot of people there that you learn from, people that may be in your company at some point or you might be in their company at some point.
There is a lot of activity at NATPE. It’s not just about what you are going to have on at 2 p.m. on KNBC.
We are also going to shoot an episode of Matter of Fact for the following week. So, we will be in production in and around Miami. And, as you may know, Soledad is going to host the keynote conversation with Tony Vinciquerra on Wednesday morning. It will be a busy time.