• Ike Made the Call

    May 27th, 2008

    It was the most important weather forecast in history.  Hundreds of thousands of Allied Troops waited for the word to invade Europe.  And President Eisenhower made the call.

    My teachers had never brought up the weather-related issues involving D-Day, so I was surprised to learn of the situation as I was researching a weather paper that I am writing.  This forecast – in 1944 – was much more important than what passes for major weather concerns today – like will it rain on my outdoor wedding or class reunion?  This forecast impacted the course of world history.

    D-Day was actually set to launch on June 5, 1944.  Aircraft, ships, and troops were poised and ready to go – and then the weather intervened.  Eisenhower and Churchill, and other top military brass convened on June 2nd to get the weather forecast for the invasion – scheduled for three days later.

    It was not good – rain and heavy seas would complicate the attack.  Ike decided to postpone the invasion to June 6th.  President Eisenhower and the brain trust gathered again on June 4th and were told the rain would end and there would be breaks in the clouds by the afternoon of June 5th.

    So, Ike made the call – deciding to to invade Normandy on June 6th.  If he didn't attack that day, Ike knew the tides would hamper any invasion for the next two weeks.  He feared that would give the Germans time to learn of his plans.

    D-Day, as you know, was a huge success, as some 160,000 troops, some 10,000 air planes, and 4,000 warships stormed Normandy.  Ike – wearing his weather forecaster's hat – had made the right call.


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  • DTV Test Update

    May 22nd, 2008

    Here's an update on the special DTV test conducted this week by KGMB9 in Honolulu.  I wrote about this test a few days ago.  The station ended all its newscasts on Monday with a 10 second test for viewers to see if their TV sets are ready for the conversion to digital TV next February.

    KGMB9 marketing director Candace Hirleman reports that the test went well and generated viewer feedback, as well as articles in a Honolulu daily newspaper, and the local business journal.  The Hawaii blogosphere was also buzzing about the test.

    Candace says the most surprising reaction came from viewers who called the station to report that their TV set had failed the test – and to ask "does that really mean I can't get digital TV?"  She says it was like they could not – or did not – want to  believe their TV could become obsolete in a few months.

    KGMB9 plans to run the DTV test again in early 2009 – as the digital deadline approaches.  Candace says there is also talk about an electronics chain sponsoring the test next time.

    Jim Willi

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  • Just say "NO" to Nielsen?

    May 19th, 2008

    First, to offer full disclosure, I am not a fan of the monopolistic company called Nielsen.  In fact, I think they are one of the most arrogant, inaccurate, over-priced companies in America.  Back in my days as general manger of a TV station in Columbus I took great delight in battling my Nielsen rep at every turn.

    So I had to chuckle when I read their news release on the need to move the February sweeps to March in 2009 "to ensure the most accurate measurement with no glitches."  My first thought – why should the 2009 sweeps be any different than any other NSI sweeps period which is always inaccurate with glitches?

    In talking to a number of group heads and vice presidents, I have learned there is growing sentiment to simply throwing out the "March" sweeps.  That is understandable since moving the sweeps back a month causes many problems – such as taking the Super Bowl out of the ratings period, and putting the NCAA tournament right smack in the middle of the March sweeps as it disrupts viewing and newscast times for all CBS affiliates.

    So, I have a suggestion for all of you – band together as a group and tell Nielsen "no" – tell them to simply cancel the "March sweeps" – and, by the way, tell them you are not going to pay them for the month of February either.   After all, if they are so concerned about inaccuracies due to the HD switch, why should your station suffer with, and pay for, wobbly numbers?

    Maybe that will get their attention!

    Jim Willi


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  • A Viewer-Friendly DTV Test

    May 15th, 2008

    Your viewers are being bombarded with announcements about the fast-approaching switch to digital televison.  Which of their TV sets will work?  How will they know?

    Well, KGMB in Honolulu is offering a quick, easy, and very viewer-friendly test next Monday so their viewers can quickly know if their sets will work once the analog signal is switched off.   You might consider a similar test for your viewers.

    Here's what KGMB is saying in their news release:

    KGMB9 will flip the switch early and simulate an analog shutdown on Monday, May 19, 2008, during all evening newscasts.  This unique 10 second test is designed to eliminate confusion about the upcoming DTV transition. KGMB9 will show viewers first hand what will happen at the stroke of midnight on February 17, 2009, when full-powered television stations across the United States are required by the FCC to cease broadcasting in analog.

    The test and the forthcoming transition will not affect viewers watching KGMB9 through cable, it will only disrupt service for over-the-air viewers who do not have a digital-to-analog converter box or a new digital television set.

    The simulated blackouts will begin during Monday’s 5 p.m. newscast. KGMB9 will repeat the test at 6:00 p.m. and again during the 10:00 p.m. newscast.   During each simulation, KGMB9 anchors will explain to viewers that if they don’t lose their signal after the switch they have nothing to worry about come February 2009.  Those who see static, however, should act now to make their television sets DTV-ready. 

    KLAS in Las Vegas ran a similar test some months ago, and was heavily praised by the FCC.   I believe this is a very effective way to draw attention to the switch – without those irritating crawls and other messages that appear over programming, and I am sure are ignored – or cursed – by most viewers.

    To see more go to KGMB9.com.

    Jim Willi


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  • Crawls drive your viewers Crazy!

    May 12th, 2008

    Before you invade the lower third of your viewers' TV screens, you need to step back and ask yourself – "Is this really necessary?"  Or – are you needlessly upsetting your viewers?

    The latest victims of bad judgment were Orlando golf nuts who were subjected to three hours of "breaking news" crawls during the nearby PGA tournament on Sunday.  For most of the tournament coverage of the final round on NBC, WESH covered up the scores of the golfers to bring the all-important "breaking news" of smoke from brush fires obscuring the view along I-95.

    The crawl ran non-stop from 4:30 through the end of a sudden death playoff at 7:30.  And get this – they NEVER UPDATED the crawl during the entire three hours!   Now that's giving your customers great service.

    The lesson here is clear – before you decide to throw a crawl on your air, or interrupt a program for a cut-in, take a minute or two and step back from the situation.  Put yourself in the viewer's easy chair.

    Is this a life or death situation?  Do we have to go right now, or can we wait for a break or to be sure no one is about to sink a winning putt, or that House isn't about to solve the disease of the week?   Sometimes, in the case of a tornado warning for instance, you must go right away.  But in most other situations, you can wait to make the cut-in less intrusive for your viewers.

    And never put a crawl up for three hours with no new information on a "breaking news" situation that isn't.  By the way, those smoky fires destroyed one home – 60 miles away from Orlando on Sunday.


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  • "Sell me a pencil"

    May 9th, 2008

    This is a story about listening to your customers – whether you're in sales, news or at the switchboard?   You'll never be successful if you don't pay attention to their needs.

    There is a sales manager at a TV station in San Diego who always asks prospective sales people the same question – "sell me a pencil?"  He then sits patiently as they enthusiastically launch into their sales pitch – extolling all the benefits of the pencil.

    After they've run out of superlatives about the pencil, he asks them the most important question – "How do you know I even use a pencil, you never asked me?"  As the sales prospect sits there in silence, he explains that he may prefer a pen because he never makes a mistake, or he only uses a computer keyboard or there may be many other reasons.  The bottomline is the sales prospect was so busy trying to sell the pencil that he never asked what the buyer's needs were when it comes to pencils.

    There are obvious implications from this story for your sales department.  But, what about the news department?  Are your reporters so busy thinking of the next question that they are not listening to what the interview subject is actually saying?    Are they missing information because they are not asking the right follow-up questions?

    What about the receptionist or when people call the news department?  Are you too busy trying to get rid of the caller so you aren't listening to what they are saying?  Are you missing great stories by brushing off these callers without asking a few questions?

    Are you missing the opportunity of converting a new viewer because they are upset enough to call you – but you are too busy to spend a few minutes listening to them – and asking the right questions?

    "Sell me a pencil!"

    Jim Willi 


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  • Do your primetime topicals attract or repel?

    May 7th, 2008

    You do them every night – primetime topicals designed to draw viewers to your late newscast – but do they send people away instead?  That's what I hear from viewers all the time in focus groups.

    I remember one woman who said – "I think they are a public service.  You can decide whether or not it is worth staying up for the late news."   That's right, while you may feel these topicals are attracting viewers to your newscasts – they may be helping them make the decision to go to bed instead – based on what your topicals promise.

    And, I have heard some real snoozers already during these May sweeps:

    • "Tonight tips on switching to a vegeterian diet."
    • A K9 attacks his partner triggering changes at the highway patrol."
    • "Tonight a breakthrough treatment for cellulite."
    • "Is yogurt really good for you?
    • "Too late to quit smoking – for women – that's not true."
    • "Workout without feeling you're in a fish bowl."

    If you had to pay for primetime air time for your topicals the cost would be enormous – yet many stations treat them as throw-aways.  Do you audit your topicals?

    There is only one question to ask – "Would this topic and this copy compel me to stay up for the late newscast?"  Remember you're biggest competition at 10 or 11 p.m. is the "off" button.

    I'm going to be collecting more of these primetime snoozers for future blogs – please feel free to send me your favorite worst topicals too.

    Jim Willi



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  • Network Newscasts = Dinosaurs

    May 5th, 2008

    If you had any doubt that network evening newscasts are dinosaurs – and totally out of touch with the needs of their viewers – all you had to do was to watch all three of them tonight.  It also made it perfectly clear why CBS and Couric are in last place.

    On a day when oil flirted with $120 a barrel, and there were stories of people forgoing food to put enough gas in their car's tank to get to work and back, CBS inexplicably launched into ten minutes off the top of their newscast on tomorrow's presidential primary.  Why?  So they could show Katie Couric's one-on-one interviews with both candidates – as if it were some kind of coup America was dying to see.

    Didn't CBS news execs notice that Obama and Hillary have been on every channel and every show possible?  Oh, and when CBS did get to the continuing rise in gas prices – it was brushed off in two sentences.

    Meanwhile, ABC was leading with the the story of the horrible cyclone in Myanmar that may have killed 10,000 people.  This is a very tragic story – but based on my focus group encounters with TV news viewers over the past few months – Americans will feel for the victims – but still will be focusing on their own wallets and pocketbooks.

    Besides, I believe that the only reason ABC led with the Myanmar story is because they had "exclusive" video – which is the way they sold the intro to the story.  So their purpose was competitive – not because of the loss of so many lives.  After 4-5 minutes of the Myanmar story ABC moved on to the presidential primary.  I believe NBC was the only one to get it right on this night.  They led with excellent coverage of the rising price for oil, and high gas prices – and how it affects the average American and small businesses.  They used special graphics to bring the story home.  Then, after the break, they came back with an interesting story on how airlines are flying their planes slower to save fuel.

    In this era of instant gratification, the network evening newscasts are dinosaurs on the brink of extinction.  If they keep leading with stories like this evening, they will hasten their demise.

    Jim Willi


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