Broadcasters Boost Afternoon News in Bid To Thwart Streaming Rivals

Thinking about a job in broadcast news? The two top spots have long been co-anchoring one of the nation’s big morning programs or leading the evening newscasts. These days, there appears to be room for a third.

Each weekday at 1 p.m. on ABC, Amy Robach. T.J. Holmes and Dr. Jennifer Ashton host an afternoon hour of news that seems to be gaining traction. “GMA3: What You Need to Know,” originally launched as an entertainment-focused extension of the Disney network’s “Good Morning America,” but it has evolved. On Monday, the trio opened their hour with a look at how monkeypox is affecting children as well as flooding in the southwest. But there is also room for stories that are less dire: Actor Colman Domingo paid a visit last week, and Fridays feature a segment devoted to faith.

“What we have found is that viewers really are hungry for news in the afternoon,” says Cat McKenzie, executive producer of “GMA3,” in an interview. “They want to know what is happening, They want that update from what was happening in the morning, or they want to just dive deep into certain topics.”

In September, NBC looks to expand the field. The Comcast-owned network is bumping the long-running soap opera “Days of Our Lives” to the Peacock streaming hub and will replace it with an hour of “NBC News Daily,” a show built out of programing already streaming on the video hub “NBC News Now.” The premise: Depending on the hour of the day, Kate Snow and Aaron Gilchrist or Morgan Radford and Vicky Nguyen will update viewers on breaking national and international stories. Local stations will be able to add segments to the mix as well. Snow, who leads the weekend edition of “NBC Nightly News,” is one of the bigger names at the news division to take on the daytime assignment. What’s more, “NBC Nightly News” is getting an afternoon perch in some parts of the country starting September 12. The east-coast version of the show will air at 3:30 p.m. in Los Angeles and at 4 p.m. in San Francisco.

Afternoon TV viewers in a different era clicked their way through soaps, talk shows and syndicated reruns. But in 2022, when anyone can call up a favorite show via streaming, TV executives are seeing more utility in news. “When something happens in the world, people want to see that live, but an entertainment program like a soap opera is something people typically watch on a time delay,” says Ben Bogardus, an associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University.

Local stations are getting into the mix as well. In Los Angeles, Paramount Global’s KCAL plans in the fall to televise 7 consecutive hours of news coverage between 4 a.m. and 11 a.m., while KCBS will broadcast “CBS Mornings” both live at 4 a.m. and on a delayed basis at 7 a.m. New York’s WCBS is launching a 9 a.m. newscast in September, with a half-hour on the station and a full hour on its streaming counterpart.

Meanwhile, the broadcast networks have found themselves pre-empting hours of daytime programming in the past several years, thanks in no small part to the coronavirus pandemic, charged Senate hearings and a volatile political environment in the U.S. In 2017, ABC News pre-empted daytime hours for a special look at a unique solar eclipse. Yes, viewers have hours and hours of cable-news programming they can watch every afternoon, but at least one news executive thinks the broadcast outlets offer something unique. “I think it’s not unreasonable to think that an hour of hard news — objective, traditional, non-partisan — is also going to be appealing,” says Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News.

One reason for the new flow of daytime news is a growing supply. Some viewers are working from home, and developing new routines that include an afternoon check-in on the headlines. Thanks to streaming, local stations and news divisions of CBS, ABC and NBC are creating content and new segments throughout the day. “NBC News Daily” will use hours already being commissioned for the streaming-news site NBC News Now. And “GMA3” appears twice more on ABC News Live once it has made its debut on broadcast. The team that produces it works for the ABC News Live part of news operations.

In the morning, anchors typically tell viewers what happened last night and what they can expect in the day ahead. At night, evening-news presenters generally relate the biggest stories of the day. In the early afternoon, however, sometimes news is breaking, and anchors are on the ground.

TV executives may be looking at other dynamics as well. Both “GMA3” and “Days of Our Lives” are supported largely by the ad dollars of big pharmaceutical companies hoping to reach older Americans. But the soap opera won about $30.8 million in advertising last year, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, compared with about $43.4 million for “GMA3” — a difference of around 40.9%. In the first quarter of 2022, “Days” generated about $4.2 million, while “GMA3” took in nearly $11.9 million — a massive gap of 183.3%.

The broadcast networks “are trying to figure out how to use the fact that people want news on demand, and they can also grow talent there and perhaps they can experiment,” says Jane Hall, an associate professor at the School of Communication at American University.

At ABC, “GMA3” has been something of a trial-and-error process. The show, originally called “GMA Day,” debuted in 2018 hosted by Michael Strahan and Sara Haines, then added Keke Palmer. Before its launch. Strahan billed the program as “very fun,” suggesting that viewers “probably need to be taken away from some of the more serious things out there.” As the coronavirus pandemic unfurled, however, ABC News executives changed the format, and the show provided welcome medical updates from Dr. Ashton. As the nation navigates its way to a more normalized landscape, “GMA3” has evolved into an hour that mixes the latest headlines with segments focused on entertainment and inspiration.

“GMA3” won’t stop giving viewers updates on top headlines, says McKenzie, but it has room to test other waters. “We are responding to what viewers need. They need a lot of things,” she says. “People do want to laugh.”

“NBC News Daily” is also likely to develop. “I think it’s going to take time to find a new audience in that time slot,” says Oppenheim, since viewers are still accustomed to entertainment programs and talk shows. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but I do believe in the long-term appeal.” Meanwhile, the networks appear to be building a bridge they hope will carry morning-news audiences to afternoons before they settle in for evenings.

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