The station group schedules a third season for its America Now newsmagazine and is working with production company My Tupelo Entertainment to create more shows, including two weekday strips. “Our goal is to raise the bar again for our television stations,” says Raycom CEO Paul McTear. “We want to produce content that we know folks will like and come back to. We want to increase our ratings and advertising.”
Raycom Media’s foray into original programming is more than just a short-lived experiment.
The Montgomery, Ala.-based station group is bringing back America Now, its Inside Edition-type newsmagazine with co-hosts Leeza Gibbons and Bill Rancic, for a third season on Sept. 10.
America Now airs on 47 Raycom stations and six others, including Corridor TV’s MNT affiliate KCWX San Antonio, Texas, and two new stations this fall: Cox independent WDRQ Orlando, Fla., and London’s MNT affiliate KTXD Dallas.
Raycom is working with production company My Tupelo Entertainment to create additional programs, including two Monday-Friday strips that, if successful, will roll out into national broadcast syndication in fall 2013. Raycom acquired a half interest in the New York-based company in January.
And it is continuing to back Right This Minute, a light-hearted panel talk show in partnership with Cox, Scripps and production company MagicDust Television. It now airs on 14 Raycom stations.
“Whether or not [America Now] will be back for a fourth or fifth season, we will be spending money in the local programming business for the foreseeable future,” says Paul McTear, president-CEO of Raycom Media.
“It makes more sense to us than a lot of what we have seen come across our desk in off-net and first-run syndication,” he says. “We’re not boycotting syndication; that’s foolish. But we want to have a local option.”
The development deal with My Tupelo is still the early stages, McTear says. “We discussed with them a few concepts that we can test on a handful of Raycom stations, with the idea of doing something with a formulaic budget on a regional basis,” says McTear. “We’ll see a pilot budget, then a draft-shooting budget.”
He says the main draw of creating originals is the financial savings and the potential of a new revenue stream.
“We’re going to experiment with them and our stations going forward,” he says. “In the syndicated world, working a on a cash-plus-barter basis, the amount of inventory we are giving away is considerable. We’d like to consider other business options in at least one or two dayparts.”
Most of My Tupelo’s productions until now have been unscripted shows like Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Baggage Battles.
“Finding the next Oprah or Wheel of Fortune takes a bit investment,” says Michael Yudin, president of My Tupelo Entertainment. The ability to test new shows on a small group of stations is key, he says. With testing, “you can also go out to TV stations and show them that it is a success using ratings. Without testing, you can fall flat on your face.”
While developing new shows, Raycom is trying to beef up the distribution of America Now and make more of a business of it. In that effort, it has enlisted the support of Los Angeles-based Entertainment Works.
“They are helping us create new streams of revenue,” McTear says. “It’s not limited to distribution; it’s advertising sales and sponsorship opportunities. They’ll help us expand our distribution — maybe to cable — and I think multicast is something we may look at. I am extremely pleased with the show. The most disappointing part of it is our lack of distribution.”
Co-produced by ITV Studios America and distributed by Bellum Entertainment, America Now provides viewers with information on shopping, personal finance, eating healthy, keeping your family safe and using technology.
Rancic is the winner of the first season of NBC’s The Apprentice. Gibbons, a one-time co-host of Entertainment Tonight, joined the show in its second season in fall 2011, when America Now expanded from a weekend show to a Monday-Friday strip.
Earlier this summer, research firm SmithGeiger asked viewers what they like about the show and what features they’d like to see more often. One of its findings will result in Gibbons getting out of the studio more often.
The research also confirmed the show’s content is “on target,” says McTear. “It’s news that you can use, like product tests, online bargains, coupons, consumer alerts — anything that helps your family save money or keeps your family safe from crime.”
The show is also adding more regular experts, including chef Susan Feniger and home improvement expert Dailyn Matthews.
McTear says the show also has been beefing up its website, AmericaNowNews.com, as well as its mobile apps, with a focus on providing more continuously updated content.
“Viewers want more information online about stories they see on TV,” he says. “The website is providing a 24/7 experience in the area of news you can use. Mobile apps are launching to access news stories. We also have content on Facebook and Twitter.”
McTear says he is more pleased with the show’s ratings than he is with its distribution.
In May, America Now had a 0.9 household rating and 2 share, down 25% from its lead-in average and down 31% from its year-ago average.
On some stations it does a lot better, like Fox affiliate WBRC Birmingham, Ala., where it had a 3.5/8 at 1 p.m. (flat to last year) and a 4.5/8 at 10:35 p.m., up 7% from TMZ in the same time slot last year.
“Our goal is to raise the bar again for our television stations,” McTear says . “We want to produce content that we know folks will like and come back to. We want to increase our ratings and advertising.”