QUESTION: What are sweeps and how do sweeps affect television coverage?
ANSWER: Start bracing yourself for ratings-grabbing segments, sensationalized series on hidden dangers (that will likely kill you), guest stars from network programming and basically anything to help boost audience numbers.
The reason you will see more stunt-news casting and “very special” episodes of your favorite primetime drama is because sweeps are the largest deciding factor for determining local ad rates (not so much national rates that are gathered yearly) and thereby the revenue of the local newscast – which gives stations a huge incentive to get those ratings as high as possible using any means necessary.
You may not have heard the old newsroom adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but it never may be more true than when it comes to sweeps periods.
So what does this mean to you and how does it affect your story making it on air? Because of sweeps, local television news programs have less airtime that can be dedicated to sponsored content and are much more picky during these periods as to what type of segments they will book.
There are four sweeps periods every year – February, May, July and November. But, generally the May and November are considered to be more important – followed by July and then February.
You don’t have to avoid sweeps periods at all costs – but certainly if it is not necessary to your message that the story to out during sweeps you may want to consider choosing another more “friendly” time to book your interviews.
But don’t fret – there is hope should you need to get your story on air during sweeps. To counter the challenges of booking during sweeps be sure to get out there early with your story. Usually the optimum lead time for a satellite media tour pitch is 6 weeks – but during sweeps that changes to about 8 weeks. The earlier you are able to start outreach the better you are to beat the competition to the punch.
And, as always be sure to make your segment stand out. This is never more critical than during a sweeps period. Think celebrity spokesperson (as long as the celeb fits the message), novel tips and fun twists on dull topics so that your segment stand out and be sweeps worthy.
After a comprehensive review of news station broadcasts in several markets, we were able to determine how much time is devoted to different topics.
Typical 60-Minute Newscast
As you can see from the above – the bulk of an average 60-minute local news broadcast is geared towards the local viewer with coverage of the local news, sports, weather and traffic.
This does not leave much left of the pie for your segment to make air. Just over 20 percent of the news rundown – about 2-4 minutes of a 30-minute news rundown and 6-9 minutes of a 60 minute rundown – is dedicated to feature stories (health, business, entertainment, kicker).
The audit also revealed that celebrity stories (other than breaking news about the celebrities themselves) do not make the news that often. In fact, stations in smaller markets rarely, if ever, covered celebrity news.
BREAKING THROUGH THE CLUTTER:
Most of the news desks we contacted confirmed that they gain a portion of their news from outside sources (b-roll pitches, media alerts, news services, etc.) on a daily basis. But because their audiences demand that the program focus on local events/news /weather/sports – there is not much time left in the rundown for feature type stories. And, the competition is fierce – with many of the hundreds of pitches made to stations each day not making it beyond the assignment desk.
So, how do you compete to break through the clutter and get your story on the news? News desks across the country provided us with some solid insight into how a story is assessed internally and the questions that are being asked before a segment makes air.
- Is there a sponsor and is the story overtly commercial? If yes, does the news value/appeal outweigh the commercial aspect of the piece?
- Will the story appeal to the majority of my audience? Is it news they can use?
- Is there a way the story can be teased to gain viewers for my news program?
- Is there a local angle to the story?
- How much time do we have to devote to tell the story?
- Will our audience be better served (tune in) with an interview segment?
- Do we need outside visuals for the story – or will a reader do?
- If it is an event b-roll. Are visuals so quirky and amusing that the location of the event does not matter?
So what does this all mean? Simply, it shows us that the newsroom is like a business – and their business is getting local audiences to tune is so that their ratings and revenues increase. When developing a news or interview segment, it is imperative that we take into account that stations are also our customers and create segments that will appeal to their audiences.
Here are some of Boom’s “down and dirty” do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when reaching out to guest bookers at television and radio stations. Some may seem simple – but always worth a revisit:
- Know Your Media: In the internet age, it is easy to check out a station and get a feel for who and what they book. Do take the time to figure out what type of guests and topics they are usually interested in before making that initial pitch.
- Contact Preference: There is no harm in asking contacts their preferred contact method. You will find that some contacts still want to hear the pitch and others want to quickly go through e-mails to vet potential guests. And, still others want an e-mail and a call to alert them to the fact you sent one. Each contact you have is an individual – be sure to treat them like one.
- Pitch Window: Figure out the best time to pitch the contact. Some have morning meetings before their show and others after the show. Be sure to know when they are available to listen and really hear your pitch. And, know when they leave for the day. For the most part, the bulk of our outreach to morning news and morning drive happens well before noon.
- Pester: The squeaky wheel does not always get the interview. Many times, when bookers do not get back to you it is their way of saying, “No thanks!” As much as you try you will not always be able to get feedback as to why a producer/booker is not interested in the segment you are pitching. It is always important to follow up and check in with contacts but there is a fine line to walk when reaching out to media. So be careful that your continued outreach does not border on stalking so you don’t burn any bridges.
- Ignore Deadlines: Don’t call 5 minutes before your contact’s show goes on the air. They are on a deadline and will not have time to talk with you and will likely be irked that you didn’t know this would be a bad time to reach out to them. And, always answer their questions as quickly as possible – any delay could mean ultimate disinterest in the segment.
- Offer a Commercial: Stations make money from selling ad space and are not happy to be pitched overtly commercial content. This will reflect poorly on the client/product you are pitching as well as may hinder success for you when pitching other content down the road.
- Bait & Switch: This is one of the biggest (and angriest) complaints we receive from producers – that they are offered a very interesting interview and then when they go live it turns into a commercial segment or worse: something uninteresting and unappealing to their audience.
Click Here for VLOG Version: Boom in the Room: Behind the Scenes in a Newsroom
While watching the news on TV, you may never get a sense of what is actually going on behind-the-scenes. The newsroom is a frenetic, energetic and sometimes chaotic place; where it can be difficult if not downright impossible to break through the clutter and get your story into the right hands.
You may wonder—WHO are these people in the newsroom and WHY aren’t they airing my story. You know your story has all the necessary elements — great visuals, relevant news, no branded mentions – or maybe only one – and even local statistics – but the producers still won’t bite. What gives?
Try to see it from their perspective. When a producer gets pitched a story their first thought is usually not: “Wow – what a great segment!” Instead they are most likely thinking, “Do you know how busy I am? I have to get a newscast on air in a couple of hours?!! And I haven’t even eaten yet today.”
Their next thoughts – if they are even entertaining the pitch, are: “Is this story something my viewers will tune in to watch? How will I convince my news director? Have we done covered story locally recently? And, then… who is the sponsor and how is it being worked into the piece?” All too often – their final word is “Sorry, we’ve got way too much going on today.”
While there are more newscasts then ever, there also seems to be less available time for sponsored content. Why is that? A typical 30 minute newscast only has a few minutes for outside produced content so all too often outside produced segments are the first to go if there is a breaking news story, or if the weather or sports anchor decides to go a “little long” that night. So even if your piece does make the initial cut and the station had plans to run the segment – it can still get bumped from the rundown at the last minute. And by the next day—the producer has been pitched at least another 10 story ideas and your piece goes to the back burner.
And that’s a typical day in the news cycle. As you can tell it’s a tough environment out there—no question. So before you commit to a news package – take these questions into consideration:
- Does my story have real news value? Will it break through the clutter?
- Will my story have appeal in New York AND Boise?
- Is this a story that my local news program would air – have I ever seen /heard something similar on my local news program?
- Can the station localize my story? Does the news affect the viewers in all markets?
- Is there another reason to produce footage beyond television coverage? Can the production be justified for other uses?
- Is my story overtly commercial? – can I make it less so and still meet my client’s objectives?
- Can the station tell the story without my news package? Are the visuals an essential part of the package?
- Is it visual? Should we consider radio opportunities?
The bottom line is that unless you have breaking news, the only opportunity to get your story on air is through broadcast public relations. So with the right counsel and the right story idea—a broadcast news package may be the right tactic for to get out your message. Let Boom help you determine the best way to get your news seen and heard.