E.W. Scripps, Cox Media Group and Raycom Media are betting other stations will want to air its syndicated video clip show, in which five TV news vets riff and report on whatever the producers can find of interest on the Web and elsewhere. The mix of news and entertainment is produced as two back-to-back half-hours, giving stations the option of splitting up the episodes into different time slots or buying the show as a single half-hour.
‘Right This Minute’ Hopes Its Time Has Come
On the Arizona State University campus in downtown Phoenix, about 50 twenty-somethings and TV industry veterans like former TMZ Executive Producer Lisa Hudson are working around the clock on the upstart syndicated TV show Right This Minute.
As improbable as its setting may seem, the show, which debuted last September and doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, is airing on stations reaching about 25% of U.S. TV homes and is showing some promising signs of attracting viewers — perhaps enough, its partners hope, to convince more stations come to on board.
That the show reaches a quarter of the country is a function of its ownership: E.W. Scripps, Cox Media Group and Raycom Media. They are backing MagicDust Television, the Phoenix-based production company that developed and produces the show, and providing the initial outlets for it.
RTM is a basically a video clip show, in which former TV news anchor Beth Troutman and her congenial co-hosts sit around a table riffing and reporting on whatever the producers can find of interest on the Web and elsewhere.
Those co-hosts are TV news vets Gayle Bass, Nick Calderone and Steven Fabian, and one-time E! News Now reporter Christian Vera.
“Viewers see this as a mix of information and a mix of entertainment,” says Phil Alvidrez, executive in charge of production at MagicDust Television.
The clips are sometimes newsy, like recently discovered footage of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. More often, the videos are shocking or funny. “A traditional news producer might ask if this is news, but that’s how viewers see it,” says Alvidrez, who worked at Belo’s KTVK Phoenix from the mid-1980s through 2003.
The show is produced as two back-to-back half-hours, giving stations the option of splitting up the episodes into different time slots or buying the show as a single half-hour.
“Hands down, great videos with great stories behind them is what works best,” says Hudson.
“When you see a great video that people are passing around, you don’t know if it’s real or fake. We track down the story. We find out the details and, if the person who posted the video is available, we’ll Skype with them.”
Hudson is co-executive producer of RTM with Dennis O’Neill. He also created KTVK’s long-running Good Morning Arizona.
For now, the four partners are going it alone. But they were at NATPE in January pitching it to other broadcasters.
“We didn’t go to Miami with the idea that we would pick up additional stations for 2012,” Alvidrez says. “We wanted to let TV station groups know that the show is still out there, that it has been a great success and that we’re out there for 2013.”
Still, Alvidrez knows RTM will achieve its goal of becoming a nationally syndicated show with barter ad sales only if can find outlets in top markets like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. To that end, the team is heading East in a few weeks.
“We’re going to be meeting with several different station groups,” he says. “And later in the year, we may also explore working with other syndication groups. We’ll talk to the syndication companies to see if they can help us out.”
RTM‘s reach can also grow if the partner station groups do. Scripps just acquired stations in four more markets — Denver, Indianapolis, San Diego and Bakersfield, Calif. — from McGraw-Hill.
“Our partners have enough confidence in the show to let it find its way and grow,” Alvidrez says. “Not a lot of shows get that opportunity.”
Over the years, station groups have made sporadic efforts to lower costs by producing their own programming and substitute it for the syndicated first-run offerings coming out of the Hollywood studios.
“This is a returning trend,” says Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “With the success ratio of new shows on the air not being any better for a big syndicator or a small syndicator, you have to think, ‘Maybe we can do this but without the high costs.’ ”
Last week, RTM partner Scripps told securities analysts that it plans to replace some syndicated programming including Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with home-grown programming later this year.
Raycom, another RTM partner, produces America Now with co-hosts Leeza Gibbons and Bill Rancic for its own stations. Now in its second season, America Now had a 1.0 household rating/2 share in 16 Nielsen metered markets for Feb. 13-20.
Since 2007, Meredith has been selling newsmagazine The Better Show to other stations. It’s now cleared in about 75% of the country.
“There isn’t a lot of overhead on these shows,” says Chuck Larsen, president of consulting firm October Moon Television. “So, even a modest ratings success might be profitable.”
RTM primarily airs in morning time slots, often coming out of news. It averaged a 1.1 rating in 15 metered markets for the week of Feb. 13-20, according to the RTM producers.
It does best in San Francisco on Cox’s KTVU, where it had a 1.8/8 at 9 a.m. that week. That’s up from a 1.4/6 that Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz did in the time slot last year.
“They are doing very well in this market,” concedes Pat Patton, station manager of Young Broadcasting’s MNT affiliate KRON San Francisco. “I’m a big advocate of local programming. It can be difficult to make it work, so my hat’s off to them. I hope it works because I’d like to see more of this.”
The RTM team isn’t saying how much their show costs to produce. But syndication executives say it’s likely a fraction of what it does to license top-rated syndicated shows like CBS’s Dr. Phil and Sony’s Dr. Oz.
As of now, RTM’s stations sell local ad inventory. If the producers can clears the show in 70% or so of TV homes, the show could see a boon from national barter ad sales.
But even as a local play, RTM may make sense, says Christine Merrifield, president of investment and activation at media buying shop MediaVest.
“I can see why people are attracted to this local model,” she says. “When you’re talking local, you’re talking auto, grocery, fast-food and theatrical [ad dollars]. And, in an election year, when there is a ton of money going into local markets, local programming can charge very high prices.”