Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Three for 3: Suggestions for Getting KM3 Out of the Hole (Part 1 of 2)

It's been two or three decades for Channel 3. Putting a finger on just when things went wrong can be difficult. Some say it started in 1975, when it took the station months to figure out that it needed to bump its home-grown "Creature Feature" back to midnight to make room for a new network show called "Saturday Night Live." Other say it was when the station moved west to 108th Street from its former location at 24th and Farnam (just a stone's throw from KETV and within sight of WOWT). Or it may have been in the mid-80s, when it lost its NBC affiliate status to WOWT, just when NBC's fortunes were on the rise and CBS was treading water. The exact date isn't as important as this fact: KMTV management, under a succession of owners, repeatedly dropped the ball when it came to developing a consistent vision and identity for the station.

When it dropped Channel 3 as an affiliate, NBC's big gripe was the station's propensity for pre-empting network shows in favor of the latest Billy Graham crusade or other syndicated offering that promised a quick buck. Rather than using network programming to build and hold an audience, management at Channel 3 turned the station into a confusing hodgepodge with little discernible focus. Viewers expecting to see "St. Elsewhere" on a Wednesday evening might tune in to find a syndicated music special on and learn from the crawl on the screen that the aforementioned "St. Elsewhere" episode could be seen at 2 a.m.

That shortsighted approach has haunted KM3 for most of the years since, and was never more visible than in its budget-busting hire of Michael Scott in 1997. In committing so much of its news budget to Scott's salary (rumored at the time to be very generous by Omaha standards), management left the newsroom with little money to spend on anything else. When Scott's presence failed to deliver immediate ratings results, he was dumped, even though he had time remaining on his contract. That left the station cutting payroll and hiring lesser talent on the cheap. And we know the impact that has had.

Which brings us to the past couple of years. Under Emmis Communications Television President Randy Bongarten, management has worked on the vison/image thing, and with some innovative, if not always logical, ideas. First, they went out and got a strong anchor in Greg Peterson, and promoted another from within: veteran reporter Deb Ward. And rather than continue to deliver the same newscast everyone else was doing, General Manager Jim McKernan decided, as have several other stations around the country, to drop the obligatory sports report from both the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts. That left him with a problem: what to do with sports director Travis Justice. Oy. More on that later.

More recently, the station has developed a consistent focus with its "Clear, Accurate, To the Point" approach. Rather than hype things that aren't really news (like giant vegetables and dirty restaurants), KM3 now works to explain what's going on in straightforward terms. A perfect example came recently in Mary Nelson's report on the awful home life of Tracy Dyess, the 17-year-old charged with starting a fire that killed her two siblings. Rather than ramble through the standard "here's who's been arrested, here's the hearing date" routine, Nelson showed viewers a bulletin board chart illustrating the bizarre family tree in whose shadow Dyess had grown up—one that involved multiple step-fathers, bigamy, as well as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. It was a troubling story, but one that acutally helped viewers understand what was behind the headline.

In a cruel twist of fate, however, the news product that 3 is putting on the air these days is probably better than it's been in years, but the ratings have been dismal. The most recent sweeps numbers show Channel 3's 5 and 10 p.m. audiences to be well below those of its competitors. Some of the shortfall may be attributable to a low return rate on Nielsen diaries—a problem that has undermined confidence in the numbers in markets other than Omaha. When the sample size shrinks, some stations suffer more than others, and the case can be made that this at least partially explains KM3's lower numbers.

But even if the sample size were optimal, Channel 3 would likely still be Number 3. If it's ever to rejoin the race with the big dogs, more changes are in order. Tomorrow, we'll suggest three ways that KM3 can make itself competitive again.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Corrections to this story were provided by yet another alert reader. We apologize for the previous inaccuracies.]


Midtown said...

After months of reading this blog I think it's obvious that you
guy(s)favor channel 3 above the other stations. And some of the points you make about them are true (Travis especially), but damn to praise that silly attempt by Mary Nelson in front of the chalkboard is just crazy. It was, as with most of the reporter interactives by Three a way to avoid being clear and to the point. If I had a dime for every time they do the chalk board thing or breakdown something on a bulletin board Buffett and I could hang. It's obvious a consultant suggested the technique to the them and it's has gotten out of hand.
BTW, the reason why channel 3 remains at the bottom is simple viewers like the talent on the other stations better. It's the reason why stations spend so much money on "Q" research. It's not weather graphics, new sets or "For what it's worth commentaries". How else do you explain KM-3 ratings not bouncing back even with the CSI effect three days a week. It's worked for many other CBS stations.
Maybe it hasn't worked here because viewers "dropped in" and didn't like what they saw.

janetdoe said...

Regardless of the effort 3 makes, this is Omaha. Apparently the viewers in Omaha are OK with doing what we usually do on Wednesday.
That's just the way it is here, and you can't fault the successful stations for going with what works. 3 might be putting on a better effort in your mind, Midtown is correct. it's all about people in this market.

Ted Brockman said...

Hmmm. A month or two ago, we were accused of being KETV operatives, so go figure. Do we favor Channel 3? In some cases, we probably do. Why? Because most of the time, aside from the five minutes a night when they're subjecting us to another round of Travis, they seem to be MAKING AN EFFORT to do a good job.

And by making an effort, we mean thinking about what they're saying and doing, rather than just announcing the price of Van Kamp's Pork and Beans at Hy-Vee (29 cents/limit 4) because it's Tuesday and that's what we do on Tuesday. Or sticking our annoying webmaster on every afternoon at 5:25 to babble about what internet factoid she's stumbled onto that day.

Is every story great? No. But at least they're trying. That's more than we can say for some of the "talent" on other stations. Do you think the tired "Ten at Ten" schtick didn't come from a consultant? And as far talent goes, it's our humble opinion that Channel 3 can match quality, if not the quantity, of talent at 6 & 7.

Butternutter said...

IMHO, the reporter interactives are exactly clear. accurate. to the point. Has anyone else been able to clear up the six part lifetime miniseries that the Dyess case has turned into?

Omaha is a severe weather market. I'd say the stones from the slingshots of McPike and Co. are hitting Mr. Flowers where it counts. It's not going to happen right away, but it looks like Goliath is starting to stumble, and I'd say that's the key to conquering this market.

blogboy said...

I have lived all over this country and the one thing I have noticed about this area that you do not see everywhere else is the fact that Omaha is about ten years behind everyone else and that the people here (for the most part)do not seem to know better.Several examples of this are for instance the fact that if you have an issue with Cox Cable and it's past 10 p.m. then good luck getting hold of a customer service operator they are gone no one to answer your questions or report an outage to.All over the country cable operators have 24 hour customer service help,but not in Omaha.Traffic signals all over the country on non busy streets late at night are blinking by 10 p.m. but not in Omaha for the most part you can be sitting at a red light late at night with no one in sight for as long as it takes wasting gas until that light turns green.I believe people in this area do not know better or they get in a rut, they have been watching 6 for 40 years it doesn't matter how bad they are or what they do they are still going to watch like sheep,like a creature of habit,it's what they have done all this time they are not going to change now.Some people have made up their minds that 6 and 7 are good and 3 is not and no matter what each station does good or bad nothing will change their minds.

janetdoe said...

blogboy should consider something else. while this town (and countless others in the Midwest) is surely behind the curve on many issues, that can be a good thing. The more laid-back attitude and lower rate of crime than an LA or Chicago or DC or NYC is OK with me. It's attractive to many, and it can be a mitigating factor for making a choice to stay.

Meters in this market would change everything, and 6 and 7 fear that. Probably won't happen for a long time, if ever.

There has been discussion around the newsrooms in recent year as to whether KMTV would just drop its news operation altogether. It's happened around the nation and when a station is so buried like 3 is, cutting one's losses is an option. The station would still have its network programming, and local spots would still be sold. When you weigh the loss in ad revenue versus relieving the station of the enourmous cost of having a news department, the math might work out better for KM.

"Is it going to rain tomorrow?" That's the main thing most viewers in this viewing area turn on the news to find out. Most of the other window dressing is lost is most of the people. The "average" viewer is not all that sharp.

In the end, nobody can really compete with the World Herald for going in depth on stories and offering multiple angles on local stories. They have more time to prepare and an endless amount of space to do it in. Look at that fantastic series they did on road construction delays that stirred the pots at city hall enough form the ineptitude of some contractors to finally come to the public's and city hall's attention. Then real action was taken. That's effective journalism having a profound and positive effect on the community.

malorielover said...

The OWH has lots of space, but it is well known for slanting its coverage. Prime example: Ask just about any OPS high school or junior high teacher and they'll tell you that it's not unusual for guns and drugs to be confiscated from students and/or their lockers or cars. But do you ever see these stories in the paper? Nope.

But let the same thing happen in Millard, Westside, or Council Bluffs, and the WH is all over it. (See today's edition, for example, regarding drugs found in a car at a CB high school.) They don't mind tarnishing some schools, but for whatever reason, OPS is off limits.

This paper is notorious for protecting those it wants to protect and for targeting those its editors decide need roughing up. In the case of the Franklin Credit Union scandal in the 90s, it was Channel 3, not the WH that drew public scrutiny to the case. Why? Former WH publisher Harold Andersen was implicated in an alleged pedophilia ring. Although he was eventually exonerated, before the facts were known, the paper did everything it could to drag its feet and avoid reporting details of the case. Without television coverage, who know if they'd have covered it at all?

blogboy said...

janetdoe might consider moving down south to some small backwards town where she can get her news from some guy in the woods and let us change Omaha for the better and move into the 21st century!

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