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Show to have paying 'guests'

Published June 21, 2006

When news broke nationally that Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch 8 had created a morning show in which some guests paid to be featured as guests, the program sparked critical newspaper columns and threats of congressional action from powerful politicians.

But less than three years later - as rival WTSP-Ch. 10 prepares its own Today-show-style program featuring advertisers who will pay to chat with hosts - so many other TV stations have adopted the format that complaints about the blurring of lines between paid and unpaid television content may seem almost quaint.

WTSP executives wouldn't say much about their new show, dubbed Studio 10 and expected to debut in August within the 10 a.m. time slot now held by the Tony Danza Show. But the program would join similar mid-morning broadcasts already airing on TV stations in Cleveland, Atlanta, St. Louis, Denver, Sacramento, Calif., and Tulsa, Okla. - many of which were developed by WTSP's owner, Gannett Corp.

"We would rather be more local, ... in control of our own destiny," said Sam Rosenwasser, general manager at WTSP, who resisted notions that his show would draw the same criticism as WFLA's Daytime.

"I don't think they WFLA were nearly as clear as they needed to be (about which segments on Daytime featured paid advertisers)," said Rosenwasser, who would not divulge many details about Studio 10. "We're still working with the format and the content. But it's important (for viewers) to recognize what is a paid segment and what is not."

An executive at the St. Petersburg Times, which once re-published a Washington Post editorial calling Daytime's mix of paid and unpaid content "boneheaded," said the newspaper considered conducting joint advertising sales calls with WTSP, selling space in both the newspaper and the TV show at the same time.

But the newspaper now will wait to see the finished program before deciding on any joint efforts, said Marty Petty, publisher and executive vice president of the St. Petersburg Times. The Times also shares news and features with WTSP through a partnership agreement.

"Because we were looking at this as a new sales opportunity - and that's all it would be - we're going to wait until the fall when it debuts so we can see the actual product," Petty said.

Some experts say the spread of such programming is directly tied to the new challenges facing local TV stations as digital media rewrite the rules of television. With increasing amounts of network TV product available online and more advertisers shifting dollars to the Internet, stations need new methods to hook advertisers and new, localized content to hook viewers. A recent Wall Street Journal story noted double-digit reductions in spending by important local TV advertisers such as Ford Motor Co. and a 9 percent drop in local broadcast revenue nationwide in 2005.

"I think this kind of advertising placement is prevalent all over television ... in response to digital video recorders like TiVo and the way consumers can control their commercial exposure," said Brad Adgate, a TV analyst at the Horizon Media ad buying firm in New York.

"The average consumer sees 3,000 ads a day. If you see (an advertisement) within the content of the programming, the idea is that the message will stay with you longer," Adgate said. "(But) the average home has 96 channels. ... If it gets to be too much of a hard sell, they're going to change the channel."

In 2003, WFLA's Daytime drew criticism from some - including this critic and Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz - who said the program's content looked too much like NBC News' Today show and didn't adequately inform viewers of paid content. WFLA executives countered that the show, produced outside the station's news department, was not "pay-for-play" journalism or an attempt to fool viewers.

After a story by Kurtz drew wide attention and lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., considered tightening payola regulations, WFLA began to notify viewers within the program of paid segments, along with a notification at the show's end.

Rosenwasser denied that Gannett officials inspired the creation of Studio 10. But WTSP has circulated videotapes of Colorado & Co., a similar show created by Gannett-owned KUSA-TV in Denver nearly two years ago, as an example of the content Studio 10 might offer. Featuring breezy chats on subjects such as Maytag appliances with a male and female co-host, the program mirrors content often seen on WFLA's Daytime.

KUSA general manager Mark Cornetta said the idea for developing such programs came from Gannett Broadcasting Division president and chief executive officer Roger Ogden, who has suggested that all the corporation's 21 TV stations consider creating similar shows.

But in Sacramento, where Gannett's KXTV debuted Sacramento & Co. in September, Sacramento Bee media writer Sam McManis derided the show as "boring" because it features "a bunch of people doing infomercials" instead of guests picked for their entertainment value.

"I think (viewers) assume people are featured on TV because they deserve to be," said McManis. "Viewers aren't going to make the distinction between advertorial content and editorial content."

Rosenwasser cited Studio 10 - along with a new, 24-hour localized weather channel dubbed 10 Weather Now WTSP is developing for digital cable channels later this year - as examples of the station's growing focus on boosting its local content.

"We've got a lot of things underway now," he said, declining to reveal other local-content projects under development. "We just think (Studio 10) makes good sense for us now, and our goal is to try and make it an interesting show."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Reach Eric Deggans at (727) 893-8521, or

[Last modified June 21, 2006, 06:27:36]

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