If you look at the basic structure of a newscast, it has changed very little since it was invented more than fifty years ago. Back in the days before clicker-happy viewers, the audience was more tolerant of less-interesting portions of a newscast. Changing the channel meant getting up from the chair. Now, viewers make snap one-second judgments about news programs. If you don’t entertain them right NOW, they won’t hesitate to blow past your newscast like teenagers headed for Florida on spring break.
All newscasts have points where viewers are more likely to switch away – just before the break, after the lead story, and after weather, are some of the more common ones. The beginning of a package is one of these vulnerable moments. Viewers will watch the intro to a story, then make a judgment. This means the beginning of any package is a vulnerable time.
For generations, we’ve followed a classic formula when building a news package.
1) Anchor introduction
2) Toss to reporter in the newsroom or field
3) Toss to the recorded story.
Problem is, all the good stuff is in the last part. If you follow this format, the first 30 seconds of your package will be talking heads. At the very point where viewers are making the decision to watch or surf out of there, you have an extended period of lip flap. All that great, interesting video, fascinating interviews, and field shots are yet to come. Most all packages reach their peak two-thirds of the way through the story. By that time, a lot of your audience may have cruised on over to the Speed Channel. It makes more sense to put some good stuff at the top, at the very place where viewers make their decision.
Mix up the structure of your packages. Start packages with the best components, the sound and video. Grab ’em with the good stuff, then, go to your anchors. They’ll have interesting content to react to, creating a nice moment. The anchors won’t be forced to cold start every package using just words. They’ll appear more interesting and animated because they have the full support of great interesting video.
Making this change is never easy. It means reporters must be willing to “give up” some of their best material so the anchors will look better. Most reporters are hesitant to do this with simple facts, let alone precious video and sound. Win them by showing that more people will actually watch their package if they begin the intro with a bang.
Take a hard look at the structure of your packages. Is that newsroom toss adding to the story, or just putting more lip flap in front of the great video and sound? Break the mold on your package, and redesign it so great content gets used where it will hold the most viewers.
Graeme Newell is a broadcast and web marketing specialist who serves as the president and founder of 602 communications. You can reach Graeme at firstname.lastname@example.org.