“I love being a storyteller and I love crafting those narratives,” ABC Owned Television Stations Group president Wendy McMahon told Adweek earlier this month at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. “For me, broadcasting was always a passion. I think some looked at it and thought: ‘Wow, she has a strong ethic,’ but for me it was just spending my free time doing what I loved.”
In her role, McMahon oversees eight stations across the country, including stations in America’s three largest markets: New York (WABC-TV), Los Angeles (KABC-TV) and Chicago (WLS-TV).
WABC in New York is the most-watched local TV station America.
McMahon was NAB’s Digital Leadership Award recipient this year. We sat down with her before NAB’s Achievement in Broadcasting Dinner, and she had much to tell us about the broadcasting industry in 2019 and beyond.
TVNewser: Talk about this honor and what the National Association of Broadcasters means to you in 2019.
McMahon: I have worked in broadcasting for 25 years, seven different local television stations. And in 2009, I came to ABC—the ABC owned stations, and started as the vice president of programming and marketing at KABC in Los Angeles. Became the head of digital and now of course the president of ABC owned stations, and I will tell you that broadcasting—I feel fortunate that I discovered it early on. LSU has an excellent mass communications program, and so I learned very early that I loved to write, shoot and edit television. Obviously, when you’re passionate about something, you hone that skill. So, that’s very much how I evolved as a broadcaster, and now what an honor to receive this award tonight to recognize the profession that I’m so passionate about, and then each and every day have the honor to lead these television stations forward, incredibly strong, market-leading stations as we re-imagine the future of local.
You come from a digital background. How do you transfer your experience as svp of digital to your current role running the entire show, so to speak?
So, it’s two things. First, my background—I spent 20 years in marketing and content, and I spent three years in digital. The reason I moved into digital was because I was a marketer, being close to the consumer, I saw the change and I saw the evolution that was happening for the audience. How they were engaging with our brands and with our content differently. So, I wanted to be close to that, and I wanted to understand that. When the digital opportunity came up, I raised my hand because to me, the entire ecosystem was moving to a digital one. So, when we talk about audience development, when we talk about technology, when we talk about next generation storytelling and content, we’re not even talking about digital anymore; we talking about what we need to do to be relevant, to be successful now and in the future. So, one of the first things I did in my current role was actually eliminate the role of “digital” at our ABC owned television stations because each and every person that works in our stations needs to inherently think multiplatform. In the way they think about the TV product, they need to think about the digital products.
To follow up on that: Let’s be honest, folks who tune into local newscasts tend to be on the older end of the spectrum. How are you reaching younger viewers?
The breakdown is a bit more sophisticated than older people watch television and younger people are on digital. It’s more of a frequency and reach conversation.
First of all, let’s take a step back. People are as interested in local news and information as they ever have been. Ever more so. It’s now there are more touch points, especially in our markets—New York, L.A., Chicago—there are more touch points for them to engage with that content. So it’s spread out. So you don’t have that one powerhouse channel or newscast that everyone comes to. Now everyone is engaging with ABC 7 Eyewitness News on their phones, on their OTT channels, live on the linear newscasts. So it’s really more of a question of spreading out and finding what platform works best for the consumer. That has something to do with age, but it also just has a bit to do with situation. We see, like in a breaking news scenario, for instance, when there is a big story, when there is severe weather in any one of our markets, that age point that you just mentioned goes away.
People come to the channel they trust to get the information they need in that moment. I would say that the frequency piece is what has really changed in our business versus the tendency to think of the linear newscast as an older newscast. And even our OTT is pretty interesting. Amazon Fire TV—We have an increase in 93% in year-over-year viewing of our live linear newscasts. The biggest ask we get is if our live newscast isn’t available on a platform, people ask: “Can you please stream your newscast?”
The product is still inherently valuable. It’s not an old and young scenario, not from what I’ve seen.
Tamron Hall is coming to ABC Owned Stations in the fall. What was that process like bringing her on board, and what can we expect from her going forward?
Our distribution, our syndication team produces that show and sells that show, and obviously we were the launch crew and had many conversations and had the opportunity to meet Tamron [Hall]. We obviously know [The View-turned-Tamron Hall-ep] Bill Geddie very well. He originated from The View. I will tell you that I am so excited about Tamron’s authenticity. She truly does have this magical quality of just being herself; and those moments, I am confident, you will see that each day in her show. And I really do believe that there is a strong opportunity for her in daytime, and we’re thrilled to have her on our stations.