Morning news battle heats up today

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Good morning, Orlando. You may not realize it, but you’re waking up in what has become the most competitive market for morning news in the nation — with more local news, with more national news and with plenty of surprises.

Monday morning, WESH-Channel 2 and WFTV-Channel 9 will start their early newscasts at 5 a.m. and then keep on broadcasting once their respective network morning shows go on the air at 7 o’clock. Instead of watching NBC’s Today, you can view WESH 2 News on CW 18 from 7-9 a.m. by switching over to WKCF-Channel 18. Instead of watching Good Morning America, you can tune to Eyewitness News This Morning from 7-8:30 a.m. by going to WRDQ-Channel 27.

WESH’s and WFTV’s news expansion to their sister duopoly stations sets up a local 7-9 a.m. showdown for the first time. WOFL-Fox 35 has had the 7-9 a.m. local broadcast news franchise to itself for six years since it launched its morning news in 2000. (Oh, and we can’t overlook cable’s Central Florida News 13, whose all-local newscasts do well in the mornings, too.)

WFTV was the first to announce its plans to expand its Eyewitness News franchise in the morning to sister station WRDQ. The details were revealed in early December, but the station has been planning the new morning news since July.

It was a bit of a no-brainer for WFTV to try to extend its ratings domination. Its Eyewitness News Daybreak from 5-7 a.m. finished the November sweeps as the top-rated morning newscast in Central Florida, drawing more households than WESH, WKMG and WOFL combined. It also was the top-rated morning newscast in the nation among ABC affiliates.

Still, when WESH parent Hearst-Argyle acquired WKCF-CW18 in September, GM Bill Bauman said he wanted to expand WESH’s morning news to the station — but didn’t give a time frame. It was a bit problematic because the nationally syndicated Daily Buzz show — produced from the old CW 18 studios — had the 6-9 a.m. slot locked up on WKCF.

But in stunning surprise and a bit of one-upmanship, WESH debuted a two-hour local newscast from 7-9 a.m. on WKCF this past Friday morning — beating WFTV to the morning time period by three days.

"We have been planning the addition of this morning newscast since the purchase of WKCF in September of last year," said Bauman in a news release. "As one of the top CW affiliates in the country, the CW18 platform offers us a remarkable opportunity to extend the WESH 2 News brand to an entirely new audience. In addition, localism and commitment to the community are significant parts of our vision for CW18."

"Mornings are the fastest area of growth for stations around the country," said Barbara Maushard, WESH 2 news director, "and people constantly tell us they want more local news beyond 7 a.m. We’re excited to provide Central Florida viewers with even more local news, weather and traffic as they prepare to start their day."

To make way for WESH’s news, The Daily Buzz has been bumped to 9 a.m. — meaning CW18 will offer local and national news from 7 a.m. to noon each day.

Back over at WFTV, its 90-minute Eyewitness News This Morning begins on WRDQ-Channel 27 with a twist. WRDQ becomes only the second station in the state to broadcast news in high definition — a no-so-coincidental distinction since WFTV was the first in the state to air news in HD.

"Our market research shows us that there is a strong appetite for local news in the morning after the network affiliates start to air the network morning news products," WFTV GM Shawn Bartelt said in a press release. "We are committed to local news and the timing is right for us to expand our morning news. We are excited to start this new venture on TV 27 and at the same time, launch high definition local news on WRDQ."

Some other changes at Channel 27. The WFTV-produced Action News at 10 p.m. will be rebranded Eyewitness News at 10, keeping the same naming convention as the Eyewitness News This Morning show on WRDQ.

And WRDQ will, for the first time, air national news. Channel 27 will pick up ABC’s America This Morning, from 6-7 a.m. each weekday.

"We have one of the most recognizable and dominant news brands in the country," said WFTV news director Bob Jordan. "Now we will produce six and a half hours of local news each weekday. Whether our viewers get their morning news at 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. or their evening news at 10 or 11, they’ll get the same consistent high definition Eyewitness News product on both stations."

Meanwhile, both WESH and WFTV face some huge technical hurdles in the news expansions. Both are still expected to do local news cut-ins to their respective national morning shows at the same time they are airing local news on their sister stations. It sounds like a logistical nightmare on a good day — just imagine how that might have to work on a day when there’s breaking news?

And … are you ready? …. the news expansion isn’t over. WOFL will soon start airing Fox’s new national morning show at 9 a.m., and NBC will announce this week plans to expand the Today show to four hours.

Of course, all of this begs an obvious question: Is there really a need for all these newscasts?

About Roger Simmons 549 Articles
Roger Simmons has been blogging about Orlando television since 2001. You can email him at roger@rogersimmons.com