Oasis™ Powers Repurposing at 47 Raycom Stations

Sep 28 2010

Raycom Repurposing With a Purpose – Will create national show from local news clips as group moves away from Oprah and Dr. Phil, By Michael Malone — Broadcasting & Cable, 9/27/2010

Raycom will unveil a significant investment in its local offerings next month when it debuts the homespun America Now show on all of its 47 stations. Offering a best-of roundup from the group’s news-producing stations focusing on human interest, lifestyle and health, America Now is designed to replace some of the syndication giants on the Raycom stations—and free up much of the license fees tied to those shows.

America Now will debut as a weekend program and will likely play a larger role next year, leading in or out of news during the week. The hour-long show debuts in late October and will initially feature 52 weekly episodes.

Raycom’s news stations produce some 975 hours of content a week, according to President/CEO Paul McTear, and America Now is an efficient way to make the most of the best video. “For years, we toyed with the idea of what to do with this stuff,” McTear says, “and how we could put it to use across a wider platform.”

America Now is hosted by Bill Rancic, who won the first edition of The Apprentice, and is a co-production with Los Angeles outfit ITV Studios. Mc- Tear says the show will be around 75% Raycom programming, with the remainder coming from ITV—including a panel of experts talking about pets, cars, finance and other wide-appeal topics.

NBC Local Media’s The Daily Connection features a similar model, greatest- clips shows packaged from NBC’s myriad networks. That show airs on WRC Washington, WNBC New York and KNBC Los Angeles.

McTear and Raycom VP of News Susana Schuler describe America Now as fun, informational, timely, topical, down-to-earth and useful, with the homey content of the old PM Magazine series and the splashy look and feel of Entertainment Tonight. “I know it’s a trite saying, but it’s ‘news you can use,’” McTear adds.

No sponsors were yet on board at presstime, and McTear says branded integration is on the table—although such opportunities would reside in the ITV-spawned portions of the show, not those from Raycom’s newsrooms.

McTear says Raycom made a conscious decision to cut back on syndication expenses for next year. That The Oprah Winfrey Show is departing broadcast TV helped free up much of those costs, and the group also decided not to renew Dr. Phil. Couple last year’s dismal economy with the loss of what McTear calls “two heritage shows,” and Raycom was compelled to whiteboard a whole new concept.

The Raycom brain trust was initially nervous about heading to Hollywood to brainstorm the project, but appreciated that the ITV execs, including CEO Paul Buccieri, a former Fox exec, and Dana Millikin, who has produced at KTTV Los Angeles and KPRC Houston, among others, knew the local TV world. “It helped that we knew we were working with someone from our side of the business,” says McTear of Millikin, who is the showrunner.

Raycom owns and/or operates 47 stations in 36 markets, including WAVE Louisville, WOIO Cleveland and WBTV Charlotte, and has a strong Southeastern U.S. presence. Making such a venture possible is BitCentral’s Oasis system, which stores edited packages on local servers and lets them be browsed through a Web-based interface. The setup links Raycom’s newsrooms, enabling them to share content when there’s a topic of regional interest, such as a hurricane.

Back in June, when all of America was fixated on the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast, five Raycom stations in the region joined forces to produce the hour-long live special Coastal Crisis: Impact Alabama. “We utilize technology to share hyper-local regional coverage every day,” Schuler says.

Raycom’s executives are curious to see if the show will appeal to stations beyond its own group. Buccieri hinted at a syndicated model in a statement when he mentioned “working with Raycom under a new model which allows us to produce compelling programming for Raycom, but which we believe also has appeal for wider local audiences.”

Raycom’s general managers are excited to see how America Now fares on their air. “We’re one of the stations where the show will be seen by a lot of viewers,” says WWBT Richmond Regional VP/General Manager Don Richards. “We’re going to get behind it.”

McTear knows he has a lot on the line with America Now. “We’ve discussed this kind of program for years,” he says, “but never had the courage to step forward.”