Got Two Minutes, We’ll Give You The News

WNBC Experiments With Super Condensed Newscast on OTT Platforms

Many stations around the country are experimenting with digital newscasts, but a station that the Knight-Cronkite News Lab featured a couple of weeks ago for its Instagram TV newscast Listen Up — WNBC-TV in New York — followed up to tell us about a new twist with interesting implications for platform and content strategy aimed at new consumers.

Two months ago, the digital team at WNBC began producing a two-minute, condensed newscast called, News 4 Now. It’s a custom, digital-only newscast produced for its OTT platforms — YouTube, Roku and Apple TV. In that short time, this show has already greatly out-performed similar shows that WNBC produced for other digital platforms.

While Listen Up has had mixed results on Instagram TV, according to WNBC’s digital vice president, Ben Berkowitz, News 4 Now’s early success has exceeded even his expectations.

“We have been incredibly heartened by the audience reaction,” Berkowitz said.

According to Berkowitz, the completion rate for News 4 Now segments has been “stunning to us.” He compared it to a daily news brief that WNBC used to post on Facebook — one that the station produced for a few years preceding News 4 Now — and said the completion rate for the current show is about 30 times higher than the Facebook version.

One reason Berkowitz gives for this success: how the platforms are laid out and the audiences on each. “The Facebook audience is transitory,” Berkowitz said. “Scroll, scroll, scroll some more,” which makes actual engagement hard to come by. And on top of that, Berkowitz said, the Facebook audience is not typically looking for news.

On Instagram, the audience — typically younger women — won’t often spend two minutes watching a video as they scroll through their feeds, so the flexibility of skips in the Stories format wins out there.

By contrast, people are actively seeking WNBC’s content when they come to the OTT platforms, he said, “so it’s a much more attractive opportunity for us if we can serve them effectively.” According to Berkowitz, this group of viewers — typically slightly older men — wants the news, but they want it to fit their schedule.

The format for News 4 Now is simple: five stories — short VO’s read by one of the station’s anchors — in a two-minute segment that goes out every day at 7 p.m. on the station’s three OTT platforms.

WNBC wanted to “create something custom for this platform,” Berkowitz said. The digital team looked at what other stations around the country were doing, and decided it wanted to do more than take the TV newscast and put it on other platforms.

What sets this show apart from many other digital newscasts, according to Berkowitz, is that it uses a custom location, custom script and custom graphics that are all created by the digital team and unique to the News 4 Now broadcast.


Screenshots of News 4 Now (left) and WNBC’s nightly TV broadcast (right). (Photos from WNBC YouTube and nbcnewyork.com).

The station tries to make the content somewhat distinctive as well. News 4 Now covers a combination of stories from the evening TV newscast — generally from the A block — and items aimed specifically at the digital audience. For example, former President Bush’s death was predictably the lead on News 4 Now, but the OTT newscast ended that day with a search-friendly story about a Facebook event created by fans of Tekashi 6ix9ine to break the rapper out of jail. This kind of mix is typical because “this is what the audience wants,” Berkowitz said. “You’re trying to tailor the content to the digital audience rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”

And it’s not just the mix of stories that is tailored to digital realities — so is the staffing. In fact, a single staff member — Darren Price — writes, produces, edits and publishes News 4 Now every day in what Berkowitz said is a less than a five-hour process — and he also writes Listen Up.

“This is achievable” for stations, Berkowitz said. “This doesn’t have to be a heavy lift.”

Is your station experimenting with digital-only newscasts? If so, email us your examples at cronkitenewslab@asu.edu, and we’ll check them out.

Related:

Article: From Nieman Reports: Reinventing local TV news might require going over the top. Read here

Article: Millennials don’t hate the news, they just don’t watch it on TV. Read here.

Tags: ,