How a TV Consultant Can Bring Success to a Television Station

A picture of a consultant watching the news
A TV consultant's advice, coaching and market research information have an impact on what viewers see on a TV newscast.. Photo © Greg Pease / Getty Images

A TV consultant will never have her face or name on the nightly news broadcast. But this expert, who is hired to work behind the scenes, can be credited with transforming a television station's newscast into a program that is successful, delivering higher ratings and more profits, by having a keen sense of knowing what an audience wants to see.

A TV consultant is a market research expert

It's not common to think of market research and a television newscast being connected.

That's because many people would think a TV newscast simply reports about what happened in a community, while market research is something a company would conduct before launching a new line of cars, cereal or cosmetics.

But a TV consultant can look beyond the array of house fires, murders and court cases that make up a typical newscast to find out what an audience wants from a news program. That's an advantage a TV consultant has by being hired from outside the company -- she has a distance from the news product so she can more easily ask questions to find out if it's reaching its target audience.

If a station wants to reach more women in the 25-54 age demographic, a TV consultant might suggest shortening the nightly sportscast to add more health news. A viewer at home might not even realize a subtle change has been made in content, but the station might find that its Nielsen ratings are reflecting the shift by drawing more female viewers, which can be used to sell TV advertisements to them.

A TV consultant knows how to use focus groups

An important part of conducting TV market research is holding focus groups. These are small groups of viewers who are gathered to be asked specific questions about their attitudes toward a city's TV newscasts in general and about the client station in particular.

About 15-20 viewers are chosen based on gender, race, age and possibly income. Typically, a TV consultant will conduct a meeting with them while the TV station's management watches behind a one-way glass so that they can't be seen.

Questions are usually asked to find out how a client station is viewed in the market. A TV consultant might ask in a focus group, "Which station has the best newscast -- and why?" or "Do you know which station says it has the most advanced Doppler radar?" If a station spent $1 million on a radar system and the viewers say in a focus group that a competing station has a better weathercast, it signals to management that there's a problem, either with the promotion of the radar or possibly with the station's weather team.

Focus groups can be asked detailed questions about a TV station's on-air news team. That's why anchors and reporters are rarely invited to witness a focus group discussion and may not even be aware that one has taken place. If viewers suddenly see a longtime anchor get dumped, especially to make room to hire an anchor from a competitor, that could be a signal that focus groups preferred the competitor's on-air talent.

A TV consultant helps a news team fine-tune its newscast

While a TV consultant's work in conducting market research and focus groups is usually kept secret from most people in a TV station's newsroom, she is still a familiar presence. That's because a TV consultant's contract usually includes working with anchors, reporters and producers on ways to make the newscast more appealing.

For those on-air, a TV consultant provides clothing, hair and makeup tips. In addition, it's common for a consultant to coach the anchors on vocal delivery, ad-lib skills, posture and pacing. Reporters are given ways on delivering better live reports and how to ask better questions during interviews.

News producers and writers aren't forgotten. They are given exercises in how to write stories that are easier for the viewers to understand, that aren't filled with journalese and take advantage of the compelling news video that the videographers record each day.

A TV consultant's work is never finished. In many DMAs, each of the major stations has its own consultant doing the same research and suggesting the same strategies on how to increase the audience. A handful of TV consultant firms control the vast majority of business at stations across the country. That's one reason why a station that uses "Coverage You Can Count On" as its slogan as it becomes the top-rated station in its DMA will be copied by countless others which adopt the same motto and marketing plan. Even so, a TV consultant is one of the most important people in a TV newsroom, even if she's never on the payroll.

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