Sustained Urgency: An AM Mandate

To produce a morning newscast in 2015 - think two thoughts that are NEW to this moment in time.

  • The first screen the majority of viewers wake up to is their smartphone.
  • Viewers believe UPDATES ON ALL STORIES is of equal importance to Breaking News (a discovery first noted recently by SG research VP, Tony Calfo).

These two thoughts are connected: The more viewers get information from digital sources, the more it makes them expect even more updating from TV news - throughout the entire broadcast.  It’s true in all day parts but particularly acute in the morning as a result of the smartphone being the first screen.

The findings have led to coin the phrase, SUSTAINED URGENCY, and it carries with it clear implications:

  • Gone are the days when we celebrate a morning newscast that did a great job on two Breaking News stories while the rest of the newscast was regurgitation of stories from yesterday.
  • Gone are the days when “soft” news blocks (later in the half hours) could sustain ratings in a metered market.
  • Gone are the days when viewers will accept repetition because they had no other choice

At this point you might think you’ve heard this kind of stuff before, but it’s incumbent on us to amplify our message.  So let’s be blunt.  

In recent morning dial tests, EVERYTHING that wasn’t about urgency - including elements in the weather presentation - took a major nosedive.  Repetition, frivolous material, and lengthy anchor chats were bigger turnoffs than we’ve ever seen.

The retort to this - a fair one - is:  ‘We can’t just strip morning news of personality and fun.  Too much urgency will make us seem icy.’  

There’s some truth to that kind of statement which we frequently hear.  

  • Viewers still want to wake up to pleasant people who are enthusiastic about what they’re doing - a team that’s having fun, but not trying to be funny.
  • They still want some balance of content that’s not just hard news - some consumer, some uplifting local news, and viral video or two (Hollywood stuff almost always tanks). 
  • But they want it in small doses because their main goal is to know the weather for the next 12 hours, see what traffic looks like, and get UPDATES on as many stories as possible.

We’ve heard these footsteps coming; now they’re at the door.  We need even greater commitment to a new mantra: SUSTAINED URGENCY will keep TV alive in a digital world.  


We’ve already taken some precautions, adding LIVE/BREAKING NEWS desks, forcing reporters to change their live shots from one half hour to the next, showcasing NEW THIS MORNING and BREAKING OVERNIGHT.  Those can be good tools, but there must be even more.  

  • Better sources for morning news teams/desk that can get new information - even at odd hours of the night and morning.
  • Better enterprise reporting specifically for morning newscasts.
  • Better planning for LOOK AHEAD stories - getting information, video, sot with more texture.
  • Eliminate any national/Int’l news that’s not a big story that’s breaking/developing.  Digital media users are often getting the bulk of nat/int’l on apps and online.

The other key consideration - from the two major points we’ve raised - is how essential it is that morning news teams connect digitally with morning news viewers, or they may not watch at all.  Whether it’s on your app, website, or through social media keep in mind that URGENCY will be the biggest driver from digital to TV - seeing something NEW, getting NEW information, learning what’s NEW in the forecast, knowing NEW changes in traffic.   

So, it’s not only about executing SUSTAINED URGENCY on TV, it’s about using digital media to help cement the belief that is who you are.