Why We Use Local TV News Content in Our Online Ads

We've seen surprisingly strong performance using local TV news content in our online paid ads. In this post, I provided an overview of local TV lifestyle programming and how we use that content to drive paid performance.

The major over-the-air commercial television networks in the United States are NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and The CW (as far as I know). Each of those television networks features local news programming interspersed throughout their daily programming schedules. Here in the Jacksonville, FL DMA (where I now reside) our local ABC affiliate, WJXX, has local news programming at 6 am, 5 pm, 5:30 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm, and 11 pm.

These news programs do feature conventional ad breaks, but the content is editorially driven. As an advertiser, you cannot buy paid “organic” placements during those news programs. That’s unfortunate, as that content can really perform well in paid creatives. We believe it performs because local TV news programming in the US is generally considered credible, trustworthy, and largely non-partisan. It’s also easily recognizable as the anchors dress and speak in a very particular manner and the sets have a unique look.

Evidently, this dress is immensely popular with meteorologists.Source:https://twitter.com/LizDueweke/status/668813369638387713/photo/1

Getting organic coverage via any local TV station is a major challenge with or without a PR firm. The producers are primarily interested in local news (obviously) and thus will ignore most pitches for nationwide products & services. Assuming you are lucky enough to break through and get coverage...congratulations! You now have an asset that you can’t use in paid ads due to licensing restrictions. The news stations generally do not allow for their content to be licensed and used in paid advertising because doing so conflicts with their agreements with their on-air talent. You could use the content without permission/illegally, but you risk a cease and desist letter and, at worst, a lawsuit.

So news content performs, but you can’t use it in paid ads! Luckily the stations provide a solution to this problem: lifestyle programming. Most local stations air a daily lifestyle program, typically as a morning show. The programs are meant to be more fun and casual, though still locally focused. They don’t generally touch on serious news topics, and, critically, they allow for sponsored content.

For example, the screenshot below is from First Coast Living, the lifestyle program from WJXX. You’ll note that the anchors are wearing jeans (and a bowtie???). It’s lightly disclaimed as a sponsored segment (“SPONSOR: FELD ENTERTAINMENT''), and that the man they are interviewing is wearing a dinosaur glove on his hand.

These segments are usually 2-3 minutes long. The producers are very willing to collaborate closely with their advertisers to produce the segments. In my experience, they’ve even been willing to read a verbatim script they’ve been provided with. We’ve also regularly asked for on-the-street interviews with users of our clients’ apps/products/services. The cost for a single segment is really modest, ranging from as little as $500 to as much as $5,000 (they usually charge a bit more if they have to leave their studio). Once you have the content itself you can use it as you see fit (with some modest ongoing licensing costs). We’ve seen tremendous success leveraging that sort of content via paid ads on Facebook, Google and YouTube through app campaigns or Performance Max, TikTok, and even Snap.

Here are a few examples of live integrations via KDVR’s Great Day Colorado in Denver:

Note: These are not my clients, and I don't actually know that this content was intended for use in digital ads. I suspect these campaigns were actually run for reach/performance on a standalone basis, but I don't know for certain. Nonetheless, I think they are useful examples.

These segments do actually air on TV and there is some reach as a result. The effective CPMs of the actual TV campaigns can be as little as $50 to as much as $3,000. It’s worth noting that the audience sizes are hard to estimate as the stations all rely on Nielsen panel data which can be wonky at the local level. If a segment’s direct response is particularly strong, you also have the option to take that content and push it across the country in its current state (so essentially 1 locally shot piece gets amplified across 100s of cities). That doesn’t really help from a content creation perspective insofar as you still have only 1 piece of creative to use online, but it could make sense for direct response/performance purposes.

You can handle all of this yourself, but I STRONGLY recommend working through an agency. The agencies sometimes have cost advantages due to their scale and, most importantly, they know which producers/programs create the best content. The agencies know the space intimately and can coordinate 10/100s of these campaigns simultaneously. We’ve had instances where we’ve spent $50k to develop 15-20 local spots and then spent millions of dollars via paid ads against that content. If you are interested in learning more/intros/recommendations please contact me at adam@thesistesting.com.

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