APTN National News, the nightly half-hour broadcast, is re-branding in an effort to reach a wider and more mainstream audience, at a time when news agencies have widely reported a slump in revenues. It means at least one highly visible change for news, involving a kitten.
Karyn Pugliese, executive director of news and current affairs, said the show will continue to serve up award-winning journalism aimed at serving the current audience, while increasing viewers, and therefore advertising revenue in a highly competitive market.
“For broadcast to survive it made sense to learn from new media and increasingly popular social media trends, meaning we must rethink news. News is no longer about communication, but about relationship management,” said Pugliese. “We’re trying to both increase our audience and manage them higher up the engagement ladder. In short: we want more eyeballs and, online, we want more clicks, more shares.”
Key changes to the newscast come after an in-depth marketing report was conducted for APTN by a third-party company. Research was gathered using cutting-edge techniques which included data-mining Facebook, Youtube and Twitter to discover what the report calls “trends from the many.” In other words both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people were profiled for common interests, to discover what grabs attention and interaction among both groups. The report then makes several recommendations on how to tweak the daily news show, by incorporating the mutually popular trends.
Among the more surprising information was the discovery that both audiences, regardless of age group, region or political affiliation were five times more likely to engage with content if it was branded with kittens. A slight gender skew was found demonstrating that the trend was slightly more popular among female viewers.
“We obviously weren’t looking for trends involving animals at all, as a news department we just don’t focus on trends that way. But perhaps that’s the problem and we need to start. At first we joked about it, you know, why not rez dogs instead of kittens, but at the end of the day the results come from marketing research and they are what they are,” said Pugliese. “The question became: what do we, as a news agency, do now that we have this information?”
Early ideas considered by news management included having reporters file daily stories on kittens, or on kitten-related trends as features, but this led to concerns that doing so might dilute the uniqueness of the APTN brand of “telling the stories others don’t and won’t”.
Ultimately it was decided to incorporate a kitten onto the news desk as a co-host, but only for the “C block” which, in television news, is that last block of news which is usually lighter and contains entertainment and features.
In what was kept a closely-guarded secret, APTN News management hired a talent scout to search for the cat or kitten who would ultimately become the new co-host of the entertainment/feature segment. The famed “Grumpy cat” was sought out at first, but proved to be too expensive. Grumpy cat, who has more than 2.4 million followers on Instagram, regularly solicits six-figures for appearances. Kittens bearing a similarity to the cartoon icon “Hello Kitty” did not test well in focus groups because the “imaginary” nature of the Hello Kitty brand was seen to be an incompatible juxtaposition with the factual nature of news reporting.
Instead audiences strongly identified with the brand of “hang in there” kittens which have become a popular meme on social media. They likened that message to feelings compatible with the real-world conversation about reconciliation. With multiple “hang in there” kittens online, the search narrowed its focus to finding the right one, which turned out to be Misty, a six-week-old orange Persian female tabby with a mackerel pattern and blue eyes. She is described as playful and intelligent. Persians are an ancient breed, Indigenous to the old-world region once known as Mesopotamia.
Misty will be joining the newscast for the C block nightly. The kitten will not “read” the news but will be on the desk to react as co-host Dennis Ward recites the lighter stories of the day. Misty’s image will also be used as a meme to accompany arts and entertainment stories online.
“This is a highly unusual direction for a newscast, we know that,” admits CEO Jean La Rose. “However the world is changing, the media environment is changing and it’s time to think outside the box. Anything that serves our audience while increasing viewership is a good thing. Profiling, segmenting and targeting groups of consumers for ad dollars is what modern marketing is built on. Clearly in this climate it is wise to modernize news and reach a broader market.”