Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anchors Away? KIAH Drops Its Desk Jockeys

Who gives you your news?

Perhaps it's a slew of national cable show hosts. Perhaps it's an exclusive pair of big name pundits. Maybe it's a chipper or somber duo (depending on time of day) on a local television channel. It may even be a host of a drive time radio program.

Chances are, especially for the younger audiences, the answer to our lead is 'None Of The Above.' It's a trick question because most of time, it's you. You're surfing through websites and news bulletins, clicking quickly between networks, getting your fact fix at a breakneck pace.

So much of our current media-related technology is based on instantaneous assimilation of desired information...eliminate the middle man, get to the story, move on to the next one. Do consumers, namely local television viewers, still need someone traditionally presenting the news?

KIAH TV in Houston doesn't think so. They haven't just hedged their bets either, they are all in. The station in the nation's tenth largest media market has gone 'anchorless,' electing to cut seated news anchors out of their shows to create a faster and more viewer-engaging product.

The station caused even more industry insiders to scratch their heads by placing a help-wanted ad looking for an 'Executive Producer and Imaginator.' That ad has since been taken down, but the Tribune Company's website shows KIAH continues to search for a 'Producer/Editor - Predictor,' and the very interesting job details say they only want applicants who "Get It" and are "earbud wearing, app downloading, rss reading, podcast playing, text messaging, flip-flop wearing professional[s] of any age or sex."

This is clearly a station looking to do anything it can to make a dent in the local ratings battle where they've been lagging. The KIAH management has taken a highly aggressive approach and noted in the 'Imaginator' job listing that "most TV news sucks." Not really an articulate statement, but accurate nonetheless.

As crazy as this story is, KIAH's approach and the fact they are implementing such a radical shift in newsroom philosophy at a top ten media market has got lots of people talking. In America's #1 market, some anchors and execs lament over dwindling ratings and the loss of the 'anchor-viewer' relationship. WXYZ's Stephen Clark sees the anchor's newsroom role "changing dramatically" but still sees need for a "ringmaster."

This story has lit up media message boards and has the Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone's of the world sweating in their massage-cushioned seats. But, they need fear not. KIAH isn't fooling anyone.

The station's management has touted their new approach, but they are being hypocritical. They're just repackaging with more mobility and are perhaps more anchor-driven than most stations.

As they strive to create new content while shifting away from the traditional approach of tying the viewer to an anchor via presentation, they are making no bones about their big ticket star Mia Gradney. Before the launch of their 'anchorless' newscast, they placed billboards all over town featuring weekday anchor Gradney with the somewhat promiscuous message 'Watch Me at 9' with a cursive 'Mia' signature.

A visit to their website brings viewers to an extensive entertainment section called 'More With Mia' which features photo galleries of Gradney in *ahem* form-fitting clothes and also includes Mia's takes on fashion and film.

But remember...it's not about the anchors anymore at KIAH. It's about the news.

Yeah right.

It's definitely more fast-paced and can keep a viewer's eye engaged, but a lot of it is schlock...content intended to be interactive with a web audience. One visit to the station's 'Hot Videos' website displays clips of 'Indian Pole Gymnastics,' a 'Yo-Yo Contest' winner, 'Woman Gets Face Full of Beer After Foul Ball,' and my personal favorite, 'Old Lady Dances in Wal-Mart.'

Now that's news!

The 'Hot Videos' site is about getting web hits, but the newscast itself isn't as wild as one may think either. You can watch some of their pieces on the website. The clips begin with a station ID full screen graphic and fade to a moving studio camera shot of Gradney standing in front of a CG and or monitor and introducing a reporter's package or story. Nothing groundbreaking.

It appears KIAH's incredibly revolutionary and controversial approach boils down to the following strategy: Take Mia, Remove Desk & Chair, Move Her Around Like A Chess Piece, Use Lots of Reporter Intros/Standups/Look-Lives, Rinse & Repeat.

KIAH has also worked to make their news copy more 'fresh' by encouraging a looser, more 'water cooler' style of writing. They also incorporated more graphics, music and quick hit stories.

KIAH isn't reinventing the wheel, they are putting a sleek, padded cover on it.

However, struggling stations across the country are keeping a weather eye on the Houston ratings battle. If KIAH gets the bump they desperately need, other management teams are sure to follow suit.

In a newsroom, the lead anchors' salaries are often heads-and-shoulders above those of assignment reporters and especially videographers and editors. Their contributions to the newscasts differ from market to market and station to station, some anchors do a lot of producing, calling, writing, editing and managing...others hit the gym after lunch, go home to change, roll in at 4 and go home between shows. Depends on the person, depends on the market and depends on that station's 'chair diva' tolerance.

And much like the general managers at those languishing stations, pampered (and not so pampered) anchors are looking at KIAH while watching their backs. And they should.

They might just have their chair pulled out from under them.

*As I've stated before on this blog, maintaining a consistent 'posting schedule' is incredibly tough, but I'll do better...I promise...again.


Anonymous said...

They have started their new show yet.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, meant to say the have not started their new show yet.

Jeff Halliday said...

The prototype has been leaked and the narration removes some of Gradney's expected role, but she will be prominently displayed throughout.