NBCLX Goes Bold For Next-Gen Audiences
Fernando Hurtado is whispering, explaining to viewers of NBCLX how gardening is as good for their wellbeing as biking or walking. He crinkles bags of potting soil as he reports, sliding on a pair of garden gloves in rushes of soft, percussive sound that flood his story like a soothing bath.
The piece is one of LX’s recurring features — “ASMR the News” (standing for autonomous sensory meridian response) — and epitomizes the enterprise’s unconventional approach to reporting. Launched just over a year ago, LX is NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations’ laboratory for reinventing TV news and connecting with younger audiences who’ve long thought of local TV as fossilized and irrelevant. And it’s just one of the reasons TVNewsCheck has chosen NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations as its 2020 Station Group of the Year (read more here.).
“We knew as a division that we needed to make bold new steps in storytelling innovation,” says Meredith McGinn, SVP of LX. But NBCU’s stations also needed to do it without alienating their core audiences, older demographics apt to blanch if a local anchor forgoes a necktie for the evening news, let alone reads its headlines in breathy whispers.
“There is a limit to how much we can innovate in their nightly news at 6 o’clock,” says Valari Staab, the group’s president. “With LX, there are no limits.”
LX made its debut on its own site and on social channels with wide-ranging story experiments in story length, style and aesthetics. NBCU’s investment in the project deepened soon thereafter.
Earlier this year, it debuted its own studio housed at the group’s KXAS Dallas. In June, it launched two two-hour original newscasts running on the group’s multicast networks each Monday-Friday (two in the morning and two in the evening) with additional carriage on NBCU stations’ local OTT apps and in some Xfinity cable markets. Distribution extended to its own Roku app in October, and its content appears on Peacock, NBC’s streaming behemoth, too.
Four daily hours of original programming run in three cycles, and those hours, along with LX’s distribution channels, are soon slated to expand.
“We have tapped people of all ages, backgrounds and expertise across the division and worked with a number of outside companies on research and testing,” McGinn says. “This is just the beginning.”
Everything in LX’s DNA is about disrupting the core local news product. “It comes through in everything, from the way the hosts dress and talk to the audience, the way stories are written, the way photography is thought about and in who we book and what we book,” McGinn says.
That extends to the look of its new studio, too. When building it, LX eschewed broadcast TV studio design firms in favor of an architect and interior design company, drawing inspiration from remote work-based companies and open floor-plan workspaces.
“We wanted to create a conversation space and a collaboration space,” McGinn says, noting next on tap is a green screen nook for LX’s off-kilter take on augmented and virtual reality.
LX is also stepping out of its silo inside the group. Later this year, LX-branded stories will start coming out of NBCU’s New York stations followed by Boston or Los Angeles with local iterations being produced at the rest of its stations across 2021. That process has already begun with “captains” at each station, staffers familiar with LX’s ethos and aesthetics who can scout content suitable for an LX approach, McGinn says.
“We have had great traction across the stations, and we can grow that exponentially because we have only hit the surface,” she says. “We have fantastically talented photojournalists and reporters at our stations who have been doing work like this for years.”
McGinn says local replicability will also be aided by LX’s “brand book” of files in its in-house editing system so journalists and editors at individual stations can easily refer to style cues for how stories should look.
Whether LX’s value proposition lands with its intended audience will be tested in the months ahead. Election coverage is pivotal, as is whether new formats and franchises inside its ecosystem resonate.
The LX live channel feed is available on LX.com (no login required), on linear TV in 43 U.S. TV markets, on Xfinity platforms in select markets, on the Roku platform for U.S. audiences, through Apple TV and Fubo through NBC owned station apps, and on mobile web through the NBC owned station apps (click on the ‘NBCLX’ tab).
While digital generates its share of feedback in the form of how stories are commented on, engaged with and shared on social platforms, LX has just begun to get overnights on its linear platforms from Nielsen.NBCLX is NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations’ multiplatform lab for storytelling innovation, iterating across digital, diginets and OTT. It’s turning news conventions on their head in a bid to build loyal younger audiences. Click To Tweet
And LXTV Productions, which makes branded, multiplatform lifestyle content for advertisers, will also need to demonstrate it can impact the bottom line.
But LX has the full faith of Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. “When [Staab] approached us about wanting to launch a new offering targeting younger audiences with in-depth storytelling as a key centerpiece, we all said yes,” Lazarus says. “We’re excited to see this new network grow to its full potential.”
McGinn says the experimentation will be ongoing as LX continues to find the best way to speak to its intended audiences in tongues often unfamiliar to local news. It’s all a necessary part of self-disruption, itself a bid for longevity as traditional audiences age.
Read the other Station Group of the Year 2020 stories here.