Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kickers: A no-brainer to increase your ratings

Full disclosure: Most of my time as a reporter was spent doing features. Sometimes they were funny, sometimes interesting, sometimes both. They always ended the newscast and left the viewer with a good feeling.

Flash forward to today, and what closes out our newscast? Yet another weather recap (usually the third time we'd heard the forecast in thirty minutes.)

So how did we get to this point? The answer lies with consultants and producers who cannot time a show.

Back in the day when consultants were beginning to take over and send the business into its current downward spiral, stations spent tons of money on "research." Basically, this meant a bunch of expensive phone calls that asked questions about anchors and elements of the newscast. If you received a call you might hear, "Do you recognize an anchor known as Jane Jones?" If you answered yes, you'd hear, "Do you have a favorable opinion of Jane Jones?"

But the key question that threw newscasts into a tizzy was this one: "Is weather important to you?" Of course everyone said yes, and consultants basically came back with this: Weather is the most important element of a newscast, so we need more of it. This resulted in weather basically taking over the feature slot in many newscasts and made the show a lot easier to time out. A producer no longer had to watch the clock like a hawk, because a good weather person can fill ten seconds or sixty at the end of a newscast.

What's amazing is that when I did features, producers (if we even had them) timed out the show using a stopwatch, a typewriter, and an endless supply of wite-out. These days, throw a kicker into the end of a newscast instead of weather, and watch producers break out in hives.

The weather close has become a crutch, but more importantly, it has taken the good feeling out of the end of a newscast. It's just like removing the final chapter of a book, or the last ten minutes of a movie. People who have already seen two weather teases and a full weather cast have kinda figured out what the weather is going to be, and don't need it a third time. And that means they might be gone by the time your newscast ends.

People love features, despite the consultant drive for an endless amount of weather. Oh, they'll tell you "viewers want hard news" but this has been misinterpreted into chasing the scanner. Yes, viewers want hard news, but health care reform falls into that category. So does the economy. So does politics.

Show viewers a parade of car wrecks and murders and they won't remember any of it. But throw in our old friend the waterskiing squirrel and they'll not only remember it, they'll come back the next day.

Kickers also give producers more leeway when writing teases. Write a great tease at the top of the show for a kicker and a viewer will stick around. Write a tease at the end of the fourth block that says, "When we come back, one more look at weather" and you're doing nothing to promote your product.

Even if you don't have a local feature, the network feeds are filled with all sorts of fun stuff.

And if you're a reporter, start suggesting some fun stories at the morning meeting. You'll enjoy doing them as much as the viewers enjoy watching them.

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