The conventional school of thought teaches that the best way to engage younger viewers is to produce short, snappy, “snackable” content, but the people at LX News must have skipped class that day.
The ongoing experiment in programming for millennials and Gen Z from the NBCUniversal Owned Stations took a big leap forward last month with the launch of its first live news programs. We didn’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s create something that’s different for younger audiences’ and do it,” says Matt Goldberg, Vice President of Content Strategy for the LX TV and streaming network, “We really spent a lot of time looking at what makes a different kind of product and what was working.”
That evolution began almost three years ago, and after incubating LX-style storytelling, mostly on YouTube, last year (as we reported here), Goldberg and his team went live on June 1 with two-hour morning and evening news programs, both called LX News. “That was our marching order: how do we create content that appeals to a younger audience? What we found in that process and that journey is that it’s really about depth and context,” Goldberg says.
Delivering on that promise is the job of four hard-working hosts, all new to LX this year: Jobeth Devera and Tabitha Lipkin in the morning, Ashley Holt and Nic Zecevic (“Nic Z” on the show) in the evening. No surprise: they are all young, engaging, and comfortable with the camera. “We wanted people who wanted to do things differently and wanted to be really natural,” says Goldberg.
The programs originate at NBC-owned KXAS in Dallas from a new studio that suggests a combination of a startup’s open-plan office and a living room (although with a really nice TV set). “The whole concept was, let’s bring people into our workspace,” Goldberg says. “Let’s take away the formality of the show.”
There are about a dozen recurring franchises with irreverent names like “One Less Than Ten” (a gentle jab at top-10 lists), “News You Meme to Know,” and “Binge This.” There’s even a recurring segment by contributor Fernando Hurtado that’s delivered in a whisper. (I’m not kidding.)
But informality aside, much of the content on LX News is serious bordering on earnest, focusing on politics, the environment, technology, social issues, and of course the pandemic and the movement for racial justice. “I don’t think anyone could have predicted we’d be launching in this environment — probably two of the greatest stories of a generation,” Goldberg says.
The hosts dive into detailed explainers, sometimes aided by a touch-screen, and lengthy interviews with experts, officials, celebrities, and ordinary people caught up in the news. There are sound bites from newsmakers, some drawn from other NBC networks, that tend to run longer than on a conventional news program, but far fewer tape reports. The LX “storytellers” whom we told you about late last year contribute in-depth pieces, and Dallas-based Clark Fouraker often drops in to interact with the hosts in person. NBC’s owned stations send in stories that fit the LX News sensibility (and also air re-cut LX News stories on their own local newscasts).There are also long-form videos from “our friends at The New York Times,” a prominent content partner.
From the beginning, NBC executives have said that LX is for consumers who aren’t watching conventional TV news. Goldberg describes the target viewers as “completely dissatisfied with all those other options. And I think all those other options are very similar.” But while it’s important for LX News to be different from “all those other options,” Goldberg believes viewers will still find value in a linear news experience. “They don’t want us to think for them. But I think what they want is this type of content — in this case, this type of news content. And ‘I appreciate that you’re putting all of that together for me and not having to curate it myself.’”
Still, LX News is designed for the digital consumer in multiple ways. The content is not time-sensitive — in fact, both two-hour news programs run three times a day. LX News appears over the air on multicast channels in more than 40 markets and on a growing number of cable systems, but cord-cutters and mobile users can stream the live feed or find clips on LX.com; on the NBC owned-station apps and websites; and on a number of over-the-top streaming platforms. Perhaps most important, while LX News is ad-supported, the commercial breaks are noticeably shorter than on conventional TV — so much so that the hosts have commented that it’s hard to switch locations in the studio that fast!
“One of the core missions for us, in addition to finding that young audience, was also to experiment so that all of our TV stations could evolve,” Goldberg says. And LX News itself is evolving before our eyes — another way in which it’s more like a startup than a traditional news program. “You know, we do a lot of experimentation, and I’ll admit there are times when we do things and say, ‘Yeah, let’s not do that again,’” says Goldberg. “But we also do a lot of things that really feel right. We’re going to continue to do things differently, break the rules and really see what works.”