What Outsiders See When They Look at Memphis TV, Sensationalism in Local News Can Actually be Bad For Ratings And What Really Was Behind the Departure of the Head of the Former NYTimes station in Huntsville.

It’s easy to be too close to something and that closeness can cloud one’s perspective. That’s one reason to appreciate an outside observation. (No, this is not an endorsement of news consultants. ) But where would one find such a perspective you might ask. One such place is a recent article that appeared in Broadcasting and Cable. The article is an interesting read that reveals a snapshot of Memphis TV with three of the four GM’s at Memphis TV stations making comments for the article. (The fourth may have commented but his quotes weren’t used if he did) . It touches on the fact that WMC really wants to be back on top when it celebrates its upcoming 60th anniversary. (Those in the market may remember the NYTimes was convinced to pull out all stops and the company dumped huge sums of money into WREG to help make it Numero Uno during its recent 50th anniversary celebration) The article looks at how the recent ownership changes at WREG and WPTY and the fact that WHBQ is for sale is helping shake things up and that each station is doing some interesting things to attract viewers both on-air and the internet. Check out the article.

An item in Shoptalk aka TVSpy tells us what many of us have long suspected: That sensationalism in local news can boost ratings but a quality product is even better. The story looks at the Boston market and basically what they found is this: Quality sells.  The sensationalism of late-1990s (of one particular station), the study suggests, does bring good ratings. But well-done, substantive TV news proves just as popular – and often earns even better ratings.

Wow, what a concept. Give people quality and they will come to view your station. Naw, it’s easier and faster to peddle crap than spend the bucks and effort on quality. Never mind.

And finally, some information has come to me from the Huntsville area about the recent departure of the General Manager from WHNT, the former NYTimes station in Huntsville, AL. Some say he resigned just before he was to be let go. I’ve got too many unanswered questions to go with any more than the fact that alcohol and a public gathering outside the station apparently played a role. It was either a serious offense or it was just the excuse the broadcast honchos wanted and they apparently were ready to pull the trigger. Again, details are sketchy on this but it’s still enough (by broadcast standards anyway) to go with the full story as it is. I’m just not going any farther than this.

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7 Comments on “What Outsiders See When They Look at Memphis TV, Sensationalism in Local News Can Actually be Bad For Ratings And What Really Was Behind the Departure of the Head of the Former NYTimes station in Huntsville.”

  1. The GM Says:

    Based on the article, WMC is the big winner taking 30+% of the market revenue. With all the money NYT spent to make WREG #1 in the ratings, it didn’t payoff on the bottomline. Again, based on the article, Ch3 takes only 24% of the market revenue. Tells me there will be LOTS of belt tightening DOTR. I’m suprised WHBQ wasn’t taking more share. These numbers are all a bit suspect since its BIA info and not audited shares from a third party like Hungerford.
    The GM

  2. joelarkins Says:

    As always, you share some interesting observations especially about the belt-tightening at the station DOTR. As for dumping the money into WREG. this was strictly about bragging rights during their anniversary year and some reputations went on the line to make it happen. Money was poured into this project for the three or so years leading up the the big event. The person who secured the money is gone and I’m sure could care less about what happens on someone else’s watch. He had his day in the sun and that’s all that matters to him.

  3. The GM Says:

    As a follow-up, he may have the bragging rights amd bragging rights are one thing; dollars in the pocket are another. I’m sure he sold the investment in WREG with the promise of higher profits. In that he probably said “if we can win the ratings game the revenue will follow” which stands to reason. Based on the article’s info, the revenue didn’t follow. That could be a sales problem in that sales management was underselling the value of their product. The new owners have taken a look and they see room for profit growth just by trimming expenses. Think if they also get the sales side corrected — they could very well overtake WMC where it counts — on the bottomline — and provide a nice return for their investors.
    The GM

  4. joelarkins Says:

    Yah, bragging rights are good but money in the pocket is better. Frank Roberts, a former GM at WREG who also served as the first head of the NYTimes Broadcast Group made a very good point many years ago when he said he would rather have a profitable Number 2 station in the market rather than a Number 1 station that didn’t make as much money. Yes, I think you CAN spend your way to Number 1, but as some point in time the powers that be want you to show them the money. Bigger is always better when it comes to the bottom line.

  5. wendy n. Says:

    I have really enjoyed reading “GM’s” comments, and of course, your blogs as well, Joe. I realize the thoughts are just that, opinions, but I have learned so much regarding the possible reasoning behind tv management decisions via this blog. Thank you.

  6. joelarkins Says:

    And you thought those decisions were made by throwing darts. No, no, no. no, that’s how the folks in the weather department make forecasts. Managers have management dice and some have the Magic 8-ball to help make decisions. lol
    Seriously, the GM’s comments are always appreciated as he lends insight into the general thinking of those who make decisions in TV.
    I have to admit though it’s a bit scary that someone might learn something from reading this blog.
    I guess that makes me “Proud to Serve”. No wait, that’s outdated. How about “On Your Side” or something like that.

  7. The GM Says:

    Thanks for the kind words.
    The GM

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