Even as Tribune struggles with its long, drawn-out bankruptcy, the TV group is working to shore up a station portfolio that has been languishing over the years, particularly the "second" station in four duopoly markets. The latest station to get a makeover is KMYQ-TV, the MyNetworkTV affiliate in Seattle, which is set to relaunch Monday (Sept. 13) as Joetv, with new call letters KZJO, and new branding and programming that defies traditional TV models.
Late last year, Tribune switched around programming on WTTV-TV, The CW affiliate in Indianapolis, adding more high school sports popular in Indiana, and pre-season Colts games. The Hartford CW, WCCT-TV (now WTXX), got rebranded as "The CT" in July. New Orleans is next on the list.
Tribune has nothing to lose. In these four-duopoly markets, the second stations have been running at the bottom of the ratings.
Joetv is positioned to be the grittier side of Tribune's Fox affiliate. "Our market is irreverent, independent and not beholding to authority; that's how we came up with Joe. We asked ourselves, what would Joe do? What would Joe watch?" said Pam Pearson svp and general manager of Tribune's Seattle duopoly. "Though we're pulling in male demos that are difficult to get, it's not just a guy channel," Pearson added.
Sean Compton, president of programming for Tribune, took his cue from the packaging and promotion practices made popular of cable channels and from his background in radio.
Joetv is both a brand name and an attitude, skewing to a younger male audience, with programming and promotions to match. Beginning at 5 pm, Joetv is airing a four-hour animation block packaged as "Cartoons from Hell," beginning with King of the Hill, South Park, and Family Guy, leading into an hour of The Simpsons in prime time at 8 p.m.
During the day time there is a "Law and Disorder" block pairing Judge Pirro with Nancy Grace. Local news produced by Joe's duopoly sister station, KCPQ, continues to air at 9 p.m., the only local news in the market in that time slot. Following the news, Joetv airs Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm. To make the program changes in prime, Tribune talked to Fox about moving the MyNetworkTV programming to 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Those wild and crazy radio guys at Tribune have already demonstrated they're not afraid to try to break (some may some may flout) with longstanding TV traditions. Some time this fall, Tribune will launch on KIAH-TV, The CW affiliate in Houston, "Newsfix," an anchorless, fast-paced newscast that's been reviled by many traditional local news execs. The company is also working on a morning show to air 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., with a similar approach called "Eye Candy".
"Local TV news hasn't been reinvented in decades. Historically, stations have reinvented by putting new anchors behind a new desk with a new weather map," said Lee Abrams, chief innovation officer for Tribune.
While many of the new approaches have yet to be tested, Tribune is getting some positive traction in Hartford. The CT, with the slogan "The CT is the place 2B" has a social media, emoticon-style face graphic and sound bumper (called an air avatar) that drive the "texting" vibe of the station. Programming is packaged into blocks such as The Docket (court shows), Dysfunction Junction (The Office and My Name is Earl), and JunkFood Theater (weekend movies).
"The station was lost in a sea of mediocrity," said Rich Graziano, vp and general manager. "We're treating the station more as an experience. We took the best of radio, social media and the Web. Before we weren't in the field at all, now we're out in the market much like a radio station."
The station's younger-skewing image has already attracted new advertisers. Dunkin' Donuts recently sponsored the station's College tour of 7 local colleges. "Advertisers view it as a way to breakthrough and identify with a targeted audience," Graziano said. Since the new Web site, now ct.com instead of wtxx.com launched in July, page views jumped in August from 60,226 to 561,589, an 832 percent increase.