If only it were so easy. For four years — four long years — Jeff Kiernan has been trying to do the seemingly impossible. Some might compare it to the ungodly task Sisyphus was handed in trying forever to roll that huge boulder up a hill.
We’re talking, of course, about the job Kiernan, news director at CBS-owned WBBM-Ch. 2, was given when he arrived at the station from Boston in early 2009. His goal was to take the station from third place to No. 1 in the local news ratings at 10 p.m., when each of the city’s three major network outlets present the day’s final local news report.
Anyone who has followed the ratings — and a lot of people don’t make a point of doing that — knows already that ABC-owned WLS-Ch. 7 has been the seemingly-unbeatable station in the 10 p.m. ratings competition for what seems like forever. At least it must seem that way to the top executives at Channels 2 and 5.
As we have talked about before, Channel 5 general manager Larry Wert has for years thrown everything he’s got at Channel 7, apparently convinced the station would fall. But so far, no go.
The situation has been more challenging for Kiernan these past four years. His was a station that seemed to have lost its way. A succession of lead news anchors fronting for a news department that wasn’t really sure of its mission had left the station rudderless. And the sinking ratings at 10 p.m. were a sad testament to that.
New brand positioning for news
But Kiernan came in and put his stamp on the station’s news operation, most notably in his decision to make Rob Johnson and Kate Sullivan the lead co-anchors who would become the very visible leaders of a rejuvenated news team.
There was one thing, however, that Kiernan and his former boss and WBBM general manager Bruno Cohen (who left in September to take up a new role within CBS on the west coast) didn’t do until recently. And that was to establish a brand positioning for Channel 2’s revamped news product.
But now the station has one.
And it’s impossible to miss it in the advertising and stations’ promos that pop up with great regularity if one is watching Channel 2 for any length of time.
It’s a proposition — “Original Reporting” — that, on its surface, should resonate with TV news junkies who need help in deciding where to turn for their nightly local news fix.
Who, after all, wouldn’t want to turn to a newscast that, as Channel 2’s new tagline/proposition suggests, offers more than a cookie-cutter version of everything its competitors provide?
Coincidentally, this “Original Reporting” tagline is the same line now used by WBBM’s parent CBS network to promo its own news products, including the evening news report with Scott Pelley and the vaunted “60 Minutes.”
Slick and high energy station promos
We’re told that when Channel 2 was considering what line it might use, the “Original Reporting” the network already had introduced seemed more appropriate than anything else under consideration. So WBBM went with it and, in so doing, created a bit of synergy between local and network news offerings.
But the most interesting part of Channel 2’s positioning is the TV advertising the station is now using to promote its “Original Reporting.” Developed and executed by Victoria Bouchard, the station’s director of creative services, the new TV commercials are remarkably slick and very high energy.
More importantly, the sports are smartly conceived to quickly convey exactly what this promise of “Original Reporting” entails, namely original stories, original investigations and original perspectives (an asset that may be harder for Channel 2 to come by when Walter Jacobson re-retires in February).
As watchable as Channel 2’s new promotional spots are, one could argue they are almost too slick. Too smooth. Too flashy for a news operation that presumably is there to deliver something of substance each evening. Or are we presuming too much?
But no matter how viewers respond to these Channel 2 news promos, only one thing matters in the end: The ratings.
New general manager Marty Wilke taking stock
And let’s just put it this way — the ratings at 10 p.m. aren’t where Kiernan wants them just yet. Channel 2 has in some recent months battled with Channel 5 for second place. But WBBM has yet to prove it can take over the No. 2 position at 10 p.m. and hold on to it. We will soon see where the November sweeps – now in progress — leave Channel 2 at 10 p.m.
Meanwhile, Kiernan has a new boss, Marty Wilke, formerly of Tribune Co.’s WGN-Channel 2. Just a month or so into her new role as Channel 2 general manager, Wilke is still taking stock of the situation and not talking much — which may be causing some uncomfortable uncertainty within Kiernan’s news department.
But, for now anyway, one thing is certain: Channel 2 is counting on “Original Reporting” to help give its 10 p.m. newscast a big boost.
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com