Not so long ago, most television viewers were content to while away the midday hours watching soap operas, game shows and courtroom dramas.
Not anymore. Many of those daytime viewers now can instead catch up on high-end shows such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones” on their DVRs, or stream the latest hot series on Netflix or Amazon. The radical shift in viewing habits has cut into the number of people watching traditional daytime TV. Viewing fell 4% in the 2016-17 season from the previous year. Among the 18-to-49 age group that advertisers covet, the drop-off was more dramatic, 7%.
Now some programmers are betting that a diet of celebrity gossip will draw viewers back. Starting next month, a daily half-hour program based on the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column will come to Fox-owned TV stations.
CBS Television Distribution, meanwhile, is launching “DailyMailTV,” a version of DailyMail.com, the breezy news website from the British tabloid that has made a major push into the U.S. in recent years.
The new entries are attempting to capitalize on their popularity among gossip-hungry and viral-video-devouring audiences at a time when first-run nationally syndicated TV shows — which are licensed and distributed to stations throughout the country without using a network — are hitting a wall.
Long-running established syndicated hits such as “Judge Judy” and “Dr. Phil” continue to be successful for media companies such as CBS. But launching new shows has been a challenge.
The talk show genre, once the bread and butter of syndicated TV, has not produced a significant hit since Steve Harvey’s program was launched in 2012. Shows hosted by high-priced names such as Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira and Queen Latifah didn’t generate ratings big enough to justify their costs.
TV stations that buy syndicated programming are also less willing to pay high licensing fees for new offerings, given the recent failures. Some TV station ownership groups are creating their own shows instead of buying them from big program suppliers.
Still, syndicated TV remains attractive to advertisers, many of which find TV commercials more effective than online ads because they can reach mass audiences quickly. Ad spending on first-run syndicated TV programming is up 6.5% through the first seven months of 2017 to $1.9 billion, according to Standard Media Index.
Frank Cicha, senior vice president of programming for Fox Television Stations, said “Page Six TV” will have the topicality of a news program, giving viewers incentive to choose it over DVR and streaming alternatives they can watch anytime.
“It’s going to be the only way to survive going forward,” Cicha said. “We like stuff that’s fresh and immediate and can run all over the schedule.”
“Page Six TV” will run at 7 p.m. on the Fox stations in Los Angeles and New York. It will also show up in daytime and late night in other markets across the country. The half-hour program, which debuts Sept. 18, is produced by Endemol Shine North America and distributed by Twentieth Television, the TV syndication arm of 21st Century Fox.
The show will be hosted by stand-up comedian John Fugelsang and feature New York Post reporter Carlos Greer, Variety writer Elizabeth Wagmeister and Sirius XM radio host Bevy Smith. Each weekday they will break down the stories appearing in the Post column as well as present their own celebrity and entertainment news scoops. A guest commentator will also sit in with the group each day.
“The entire cast including myself are all insiders,” said Wagmeister, a red carpet reporting regular in Hollywood who is moving to New York for the show. “We’re not just talking heads. We’re bringing our perspective and adding another layer to the stories.”
“Page Six TV” will coordinate with the editorial staff at the New York Post to update breaking stories on the show. The program will also get exposure on the paper’s website, which reaches 49 million users a month, according to comScore. (The Post is owned by News Corp., the newspaper company founded and controlled by 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch.)
While the Page Six column appeals to a New York-centric audience of media insiders, Jesse Angelo, Post publisher and chief of digital advertising solutions for News Corp., believes the TV show’s conversational take on entertainment, culture, finance, real estate and politics can play in the rest of the country. During a brief summer test run last year, the highest ratings for “Page Six TV” were in Philadelphia.
“What happens in New York reverberates around the country for sure,” said Angelo, who is also an executive producer on “Page Six TV.” “It’s not just celebrity. It’s billion-dollar divorces and $100-million apartments. There’s a reason that 44 million tourists come to New York every year. There’s a reason it’s called the crossroads of the world.”
Like “Page Six TV,” the new program based on the DailyMail.com is depending on a potent established brand and topical content instead of a big TV star to draw viewers.
The London-based DailyMail.com has been raising its profile in the U.S. since 2011. It now has 200 journalists in New York and bureaus in Los Angeles and Washington. The site generates 1,600 stories, 800 videos and 12,000 photos each day and gets 84 million visits per month in the U.S.
Martin Clarke, chief executive and publisher of DailyMail.com, said the website already has a constant presence on American television. Its wide range of stories — including celebrity wardrobe malfunctions, grisly true crime reports, viral videos of kiddie meltdowns and British royal gossip — get regular exposure on cable news and programs such as “Today” and “Good Morning America.”
The site even had some political scoops during the 2016 presidential campaign, including the revelation that Anthony Weiner, the husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, had an online relationship with a 15-year-old girl. It led to the reopening of the FBI’s probe into Clinton’s emails in the closing days of her losing presidential campaign.
“Every mainstream TV producer in America comes to our website every day to take ideas,” Clarke said. “I have no problem with that. That’s the news business. The idea now is that rather than provide TV ideas for everyone else, we’re going to provide TV ideas for ourselves.”
“DailyMailTV,” which has talk show host Phil McGraw and his son Jay as executive producers, will be offered as two daily half-hour shows to TV stations, which can choose to run it as an hour. Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcasting Group are the major station groups carrying the program hosted by Jesse Palmer.
The program will have to prove itself before it cracks the daytime lineup at Tribune’s KTLA in Los Angeles. The show is starting out at 3:30 a.m. on the station. On Tribune stations in New York and Chicago, it will air at 2 p.m.
Clarke said the website will use “DailyMailTV” to break stories. The website’s user data will help determine which stories to feature on the TV program. “We’ll be working in tandem,” said Carla Pennington, the program’s executive producer. “It’s a partnership.”
The increase in gossip and celebrity news isn’t going unnoticed by the genre’s longtime leader, “Entertainment Tonight,” which is also distributed by CBS. Starting this fall, the entertainment and celebrity news program will air live for stations that carry it at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, which will give the producers a later deadline to provide more breaking news. It had previously been delivered to stations early in the day.
“It’s not done as a reaction to anyone else,” said “ET” executive producer Sharon Hoffman. “We want to make our show as immediate as possible. We’re No. 1 by a mile and we want to stay there.”
Bill Carroll, a consultant to TV stations on programming, said the ratings will decide whether the celebrity news marketplace is too crowded. But he believes if “Page Six TV” and “DailyMailTV” can give a distinctive spin to big stories such as the Oscars, a royal wedding or the death of a major celebrity, they have a chance.
“Whenever a major event happens that’s when these kind of shows have their greatest audience,” Carroll said. “If they establish a unique way in how they deal with those topics, then viewers go to them to get a special take. It’s a difficult landscape, but not impossible.”