Here’s the thing about Fox’s break-all-the-rules-this-one’s-for-you-young-folk newscast, Chasing New Jersey: they’re chasing the right viewers in precisely the wrong places. A year after its buzzy launch, TVNewsCheck reports Fox-owned WWOR has seen its ratings evaporate:
WWOR has taken a big hit since launching the 10 o’clock newscast on July 8, 2013. Only 11,000 viewers tuned in during the May sweeps, down 62% from the conventional newscast that aired in the slot in May 2013, according to Nielsen.
There’s no doubt Fox Television Stations boss Jack Abernethy had the right idea when—largely alone among major station groups—Fox set about trying something different. The demographics are not encouraging for station owners, who know their core audience is aging, and the viewers advertisers want to reach just don’t sit down to watch a local newscast. Six o’clock news, you say? Sure. And you want me to buy a copy of the morning newspaper, too?
Last year Abernethy declared the era of the “typical anchorman” was over, and described Chasing New Jersey as an example of desperately needed innovation in an industry that’s frustratingly resistant to moving past a business model with roots in the 1950s:
It’s “easier to start from scratch at times than waiting to evolve.”
“It replaces a traditional newscast, uses new technology in a fast-paced, cost-effective environment that can best be described as TMZ for local news,” Abernethy said.
The debut of Chasing New Jersey was designed to lure them back. Gone was the anchor desk, the news-weather-sports structure, and the anchor-to-reporter-to-package-and-back format. In came young reporters with GoPros and iPhones, more attitude, more opinion, and fewer rules.
Vice News has staked a claim to these very consumers, arguing that “no one is reporting journalism that speaks to today’s youth.” Vice has linked with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and sent young reporters around the world, producing some engaging stories and sparking a debate about what constitutes TV news in 2014:
“[Our reports] are largely unvarnished or unmediated, as much as they can be,” he said. “We have millions of people watching this stuff, no issue has been raised in the five months since launch about trust. It is news to me that there is a trust issue for Vice News. Is not an issue. Is not there. People are coming back.”
He said Vice Media is breaking the mould of the historical rigidity of the TV news format, broadcasting a bulletin made up of short edited video packages and some live reports at fixed times of the day and out of step with a youth audience that lives in an on-demand world.
But Chasing New Jersey has yet to catch fire, or find its audience–and that’s entirely to be expected. Fox seems to be missing the biggest reality of them all: young viewers can be reached, but you simply can’t expect them to follow the decades-old rules of appointment television. They just won’t show up to check out your cool new show at a set time on a set channel, and they sure won’t watch it live. 10 p.m. on channel 9, you say? Yeah. Whatever.
But that’s exactly what Fox is demanding, in return for a “hip” show that has killed off the “traditional anchorman.” The clearest proof of this sits online at the show’s website, ChasingNJ.com. You might expect to find a ton of video content designed to lure young viewers–and ready to be shared away from the newscast itself. Instead, the site screams its cluelessness with a blunt message: you will report to your TV tonight at 10. Then–and only then–will we give you the fun you’ve asked for: “Chasing New Jersey. Weekings at 10 p.m. on My9”. And that’s all you get. To young news consumers, that’s pretty much a screw you. (You can also go the http://www.my9nj.com/category/267012/chasing-new-jersey and find some video posted from the show, but in a format that is indistinguishable from any other local news website in America)
Imagine Vice News using its website and app exclusively as a means of trying to send its audience away from the media they do use, and back to the legacy media they largely ignore? No way. Go to https://news.vice.com/ and you’ll find a ton of content ready to be consumed. No waiting. The way young “viewers” expect it. Sure, there’s a path to Vice on HBO, but nobody expects you to figure out when that show’s on, and then make plans to be there if you want content.
But Fox insists the Chase is on, and they will succeed. Good luck.