WRAL Raleigh Launches Six FAST Channels with Cable TV Format

WRAL News – Capitol Broadcasting’s WRAL Raleigh, N.C., launched a news streaming channel so popular out of the gate that the company carried it over to linear TV and radio simulcasts. A quick turn to profitability followed.

A little more than a year ago, WRAL, the Raleigh, N.C., NBC affiliate owned by the Capitol Broadcasting Co., jumped on the streaming bandwagon and launched WRAL News+, a channel available through various digital platforms. But unlike a number of other TV news groups, leaders at WRAL were not content with simply tossing productions built for their linear channel onto the station’s digital offering.

“We went out and hired a group of people,” says Joel Davis, WRAL VP-GM, including anchors and an EP focused solely on WRAL News+ content. “We do weather every 10 minutes, updates at the top and bottom of the hour with the anchors, and then have some of the best-of content scattered in between there,” Davis continues, “but it’s a standalone news product.”

Davis and his colleagues believed it would take three years for WRAL News+ to break even. It took three weeks.

“It saw such usage on streaming, and then we eventually started to think, ‘Well, geez, how would this play on linear?’” Davis says.

Around the same time as the WRAL News+ launch, Capitol had purchased low-power WNGT-CD in the market. Without any other immediate use for it, the WRAL decision makers figured they might as well beam the streaming content from WRAL News+ to TVs tuning into it.

“It was an interesting experiment to see whether that could translate back over to pseudo linear television as well,” says Heather Gray, WRAL’s station manager. “The news post product, in addition to over-the-air carriage, is on some of our FAST channel agreements as well, so it gets a little extension over there.”

After a handful of months, they saw the first quarterly book of Nielsen ratings on WNGT and were taken aback by its success.

“It did terrifically well,” Davis says. “It made us think, ‘We’re kind of on to something here,’ where this … turns [everything] back on its head — where everybody’s thinking about streaming and getting these products onto streaming platforms, they also work on linear TV.”

Davis praises Capitol for its focus on innovation, and he was unsurprised when the company went still another step further in best leveraging its WRAL News+ content.

“Since we own some radio stations in town, [we] put the audio on one of the radio stations,” Davis says. “So, if you’re on your commute, you can listen to the morning news and get the traffic reports and so forth — and same thing when you’re driving home at the end of the day.”

WRAL News+’s audio, then, is also heard on 99.3 FM in Raleigh. That slate of programming replaced what amounted to, as Davis describes it, “a lower-tier sports station.”

Even though WRAL News+ Radio’s audience understands they’re listening to the audio version of content intended for a visual medium, Davis says the station is “very competitive” among other local radio news talk channels. “We think as it grows and we draw attention to it with the promotion we’re doing it will become even more so,” Davis adds. And, according to recent Nielsen TV ratings provided by Davis, WRAL News+’s linear station, WNGT, tops numerous market competitors, including WTVD and WNCN’s morning news programs, as well as Spectrum News, Fox News and other stations across entire days.

On the technical side of the equation, WRAL pulled off this linear programming by making the recently purchased WNGT its ATSC 3.0 lighthouse. In a channel-sharing agreement with themselves, WNGT is also broadcast as part of WRAL’s high-power transmitter stick, which allows WRAL News+ to come across as a high-power 34.1.

“The number of over-the-air homes watching WRAL News+ is strong, at 80%,” says Jimmy Goodmon, Capitol president-COO. “While there have always been OTA news viewers, it’s clear there is demand for continuous local news content. Some viewers may be reacquainting themselves with an OTA experience while a whole new generation is learning about OTA and what it provides as a service: free over-the-air quality TV.”

Meanwhile, WRAL is learning much about the audience of its streamer. According to data sets provided by the station, viewers of WRAL News+ skews female and lower income compared to the rest of the North Carolina GEO. It’s also comparatively more diverse, with a 25% greater likelihood that a WRAL News+ streaming viewer identifies as Black or Hispanic.

All of this information is crucial to ad sales, and Davis reports that WRAL News+ has been successful in that regard, with viewership running at about 17,000 consumers a day, measured with Google Analytics.

“We thought, quite honestly, that number would probably be there four years into the product,” Davis says of the viewership figure. “And it’s there one year into the product.”

All this is at the cost of just five new hires — though Davis says other WRAL news corps personnel, including meteorologists, saw a rejiggering of responsibilities so they could also contribute to the streamer. Davis estimates the investment into WRAL News+ amounted to about $300,000. He credits the anchors and the integration of new technology for making the streaming channel efficient.

“The two anchors have a Tricaster in front of them, so they kind of anchor and direct it live themselves,” Davis says. “I watched this and it’s phenomenal to see how they are able to talk and reference live video coming in while they’re punching everything up at the same time. We’ve got a couple [people] who are just really ambidextrous and really do a great job of that.”

Gray adds: “And it obviously helps, Monday through Friday, when we’re producing 11 hours of news on the primary channels. There’s quite a bit to pick from for that team to place in their wheel.”

Due to existing contractual agreements, the streaming channel runs old sitcom episodes during overnight hours, but outside of that it’s all news — and pretty profitable.

“We didn’t expect much out of this to begin with, we’ve been really surprised with the quick success on it,” Davis says. “So, we’ve redone our revenue plans for next year, substantially, based on the impressions we’re able to deliver.”

“I often talk about, whenever we start a new product — whether that’s podcasting or something else — we need to make sure we focus on the thing that we do best, which here just happens to be local news,” Gray says. “We thought there was likely an appetite with new audiences around local news. We certainly have seen that with some of our other digital products, but it was gratifying to see it across a more traditional platform.”

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