Raycom’s VP of Programming Ken Reiner has been in the post since August and is overseeing the station group’s expanding portfolio of original programming. Raycom’s venture into originals has been a mixed bag, but there’s no doubt in his mind that coming up with shows that can be tailored to local audiences is vital, especially in the afternoon. “The 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. daypart is very important to us. We have an established news group around the country, so it is very important that we have strong news lead-ins.”
Raycom Media has been at the forefront of station groups producing their own daytime shows — and bypassing the Hollywood studios — to retain more control over the content and to keep all the ad revenue the shows generate.
In August, Raycom’s Ken Reiner was promoted to VP of programming from corporate director of programming. He’d been with Raycom for just over one year when he joined the department that was then run by Mary Carole McDonnell. She is now running Bellum Entertainment, a Los Angeles TV production company with which Raycom has a first-look deal.
For Raycom, the venture into originals has been a mixed bag. Its informational talk show America Now with co-hosts Leeza Gibbons and Bill Rancic was on the air for four seasons, but it never made much of a dent outside Raycom’s 37 stations in mostly Southeastern and Midwest markets.
But Right This Minute, a MagicDust production in partnership with Raycom, E.W. Scripps and Cox Media, this fall kicked off its fourth season and its first in national syndication on Fox Television Stations in top markets.
Also this fall, Raycom debuted two new original, half-hour lifestyle shows, Bellum’s Fix It and Finish It with host Antonio Sabato Jr. and Flip My Food with Chef Jeff Henderson. Both shows premiered on Sept. 8 on mostly Raycom stations.
Reiner spoke with TVNewsCheck’s Contributing Editor Kevin Downey about his new role at Raycom, the station group’s new originals and this fall’s new crop of nationally syndicated shows.
An edited transcript:
Congratulations on your promotion. What is your responsibility now?
My job is to create overall value for our viewers and for our clients and stations, whether that is through syndication acquisitions or by developing our own, original content.
I’m also responsible for developing strategies and objectives so that our group can remain proactive in this ever-changing world.
The other key component of this position is to foster and establish partnerships in the creative community. I oversee a very talented programming team here in Los Angeles. I’d like to expand on their talents and grow the team.
Why is Raycom focusing so much on original programs?
Our future depends on it, for us and for many other groups. There’s a risk level in this business. This allows us, I believe, to have better control over our destiny.
It allows us to have a big voice on the creative side. That’s why I think you see so many station groups establishing themselves in this area or partnering with other companies. This gives them a business model that will work in their favor.
Is Raycom’s original programming for daytime or for all dayparts?
Initially, our objective is daytime and early fringe. In daytime, there’s a constant churn of content. More important, the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. daypart is very important to us. We have an established news group around the country, so it is very important that we have strong news lead-ins.
Raycom has a pretty diverse mix of non-traditional affiliates and traditional affiliates. How do you program for all those stations?
For the most part, we look for content and genres that add value to our stations, no matter if it’s an NBC affiliate, CBS, ABC, or Fox and CW.
There are lineups that are unique and different from those on traditional affiliates. But, more and more, we’re establishing news on the primary channel and, in duopoly markets, on our secondary channel.
We have an audience that, we think, with the right mix of local and regional development and a national feel can apply to all these stations. We want creative content that can be news adjacent, no matter if it’s mornings, noon, evening or even latenight.
Are you creating originals because there aren’t enough nationally syndicated programs that can accomplish that?
It’s a combination of two things. There is limited content in the marketplace coming from the studios. We have to secure dayparts that some of their series don’t fit. The other reason is we can develop content that has an entertainment value for viewers in markets where we have TV stations.
Another factor is that we have sales opportunities that we don’t have with shows that come from the studios.
Backtracking for a moment, what did you learn from America Now?
America Now was our first original series in the marketplace [in 2010]. We learned a great deal from that.
The talent, the execution and the product were great. But the business model and the distribution model lacked direction. For any project like this, you need all these elements to work in concert. America Now, unfortunately, was fractured.
I believe it was great content that was produced well. But we did not have the distribution model we needed for it to go any further.
Have you fixed that distribution problem with Raycom’s new shows, Fix It and Finish It and Flip My Food?
We developed a business model to take these series to a number of communities where we own stations. The content has a regional and national feel. We built in sales opportunities from sponsorship and product-placement standpoints.
What do you mean the shows have a regional and national feel?
Both shows are produced on the road. We produce multiple episodes within our markets. It has a local community feel with local talent and local production and advertisers.
We will travel to multiple stations to shoot three to six shows in a given market. In a local community, we will use local talent, which adds a local perspective to the shows. It’s a creative way for us to get into our communities.
How are the shows doing?
We don’t have many local people meter markets, so we have limited information. It may be too early to tell. But both shows each had a 1.0 household rating after a week and a half, which is respectable.
Financially, are you confident these shows can be successful?
That’s not something I want to comment on at this point.
Another Raycom show that has been doing quite well is Right This Minute. Why is it finding an audience?
I think it resonates with audiences that Beth [Troutman] and her co-hosts break social-media videos, and then interview the people in the clips. It resonates with viewers who want to be informed and entertained.
The emotional side of the video clip stories is what has captivated viewers. I think that’s why the show continues to grow and, now with the Fox owned-and-operated group clearing it, I think there will be more and more exposure for the show.
Other station groups are developing news lead-ins like Scripps’ The Now and Tribune’s and Warner Bros.’ 2015 show Crime Watch Daily that incorporate elements from local newscasts with more traditional talk show elements. Is Raycom planning anything like that?
We’re always open to exploring content. We had some of those elements on America Now. And as I ramp up our content development, I’ll see if a series like that makes sense for us.
What types of shows are you developing?
Much of that will be decided in coming months. As I explore more about the team here, I’ll see if there are areas where I need to expand the team. Hopefully, in time I will have a better sense of development.
What do you think of this season’s new nationally syndicated shows the Meredith Vieira Show, The Real, Celebrity Name Game and Hot Bench?
We picked up a combination of these series. It’s too early to have an opinion on these shows, though. They are still trying to figure out what’s resonating with audiences and what isn’t.
My hope is that we see at least a couple of these shows find success. That only helps us to grow time periods and establish time periods. We want to see consistency and longevity on our lineups.
Do you have a sense of the type of syndicated shows that connect with Raycom stations’ viewers?
Every market is a little bit different. There are established shows like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Entertainment Tonight and Live with Kelly & Michael that have been long-time performers on many of our stations.
What we’re looking to do is complement those shows with series that are compatible to our local news. Our news is our strongest entity in [most of our] markets. The news absolutely resonates with viewers. It’s our community service.
In most of our markets, we have a very well-educated African-American audience. In our markets, we provide a great resource that is very much of interest to that core audience.