Although it’s often less than two minutes, it can seem an eternity to broadcasters responsible for the ratings of their late news. It’s the break from the end of the 10 o’clock program on ABC, NBC or CBS until the beginning of their affiliates’ 11 p.m. newscasts. The stations see the 10 o’clock programs as […]
Although it’s often less than two minutes, it can seem an eternity to broadcasters responsible for the ratings of their late news.
It’s the break from the end of the 10 o’clock program on ABC, NBC or CBS until the beginning of their affiliates’ 11 p.m. newscasts.
The stations see the 10 o’clock programs as lead-ins, vehicles for delivering viewers to their late newscasts. So, they pray for programs with high ratings.
But no matter how many viewers watch at 10, the number doesn’t do the stations any good unless the viewers run the gauntlet of commercials, closing credits and promos during the prime-to-news transition.
What actually happens during the transitions can vary from network to network, from station to station and from day to day. It involves a balancing of conflicting interests of the networks, stations, sales and promotion.
“It’s just too hard to make generalizations; things are different night by night and station by station,” says ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell.
The networks were reluctant to discuss specifically what their policies and practices are, but talking to affiliate officials and simply watching what airs reveals some key points.
CBS is the first network to end its 10 p.m. program, usually two minutes before the top of the hour. It runs 20-25 seconds of promos, including, a couple of affiliates say, a 10-second spot for Late Night with David Letterman that the stations may cover with a news tease and often do.
After that, the network launches into a 60-second commercial break followed by a five-second Letterman tease and then a 30-second split screen with the program credits and more CBS promos. Only then does CBS hand off to the station.
The breaks are shorter and less cluttered at ABC and NBC. They go immediately to a split screen for credits and promos for 40 or 50 seconds before turning over the controls to the stations.
“We work with the affiliates on how best to maximize the audience leading into their local news,” says an NBC spokesperson. “When NBC prime ends, it’s up to each station if they want to go directly into local news or if they want to run a commercial.”
For some stations, stretching the bridge between primetime and news is anathema. But some choose to insert a commercial or two first, risking the loss of viewers for the sake of the quick revenue fix.
One creative services director (CSD) at a top 50 ABC affiliate in the Midwest says his station stuck in a 30-second spot after the handoff. He admitted he was worried how that would affect lead-in retention, but “in reality, it’s not a factor,” he says.
Another CSD says his station, a mid-South top 50 NBC affiliate, “airs a 60- or 90-second break before the news. But sometimes during sweeps, we go back to seamless.”
That CSD says his station studied lead-in retention with the break and without and found there wasn’t a difference.
It’s not just affiliates who cannot resist the temptation to stretch the transition with a couple of revenue-generating spots.
Here’s one snapshot of what happened after the network handoff on Wednesday, Aug. 13, in Los Angeles: KCBS and KABC aired a 10-second news tease followed by two 30-second spots. KNBC didn’t bother with the news tease. It simply went right to two spots before launching into the newscast.
This story originally appeared in TVNewsCheck’s Executive Outlook, a quarterly print publication devoted to the future of broadcasting. Subscribe here.