Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush are looking for a crowd in the fourth hour of ‘Today’

By | November 24, 2022

Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager are pushing to shake up their morning routine.

Last week, the duo hosted the 10 a.m. episode of “Today” in front of a live audience at NBC’s Studio 6A, a major change for the show, which is often closed to the public. They were able to give audience members who were going through difficult or emotional times the luxury of respite and connect with audiences they would never normally see.

The experience has given the two hosts such a burst of energy that they are trying to make the home crowd a regular feature of their show. “It adds energy and juice,” says Kotb.

The hosts and producer Talia Parkinson-Jones hope that NBC will have most of its broadcasts live in the studio by 2023, although they recognize that the economics of doing so will require sponsorships and some productions to appear on air as part of promotional deals. The network is interested in seeing such a format gain new interest, according to a person familiar with the matter. But doing so can take time and resources, especially as media companies navigate a tough economy.

“We want this to be a show,” said Parkinson-Jones of last week’s run. We want to be with our listeners every day. We want to be with our audience every day. Among the concepts being considered for such a program is creating a special audience for certain guests, like first-generation college students visiting with former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The push for closer ties comes as he faces new scrutiny from the media companies that produce the news programs. TV networks rely heavily on news and sports to garner the big audiences advertisers crave and cable distributors crave, while TV shows like drama and comedy move to stream those formats when audiences choose. For example, NBC News replaced the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” with a new hour of NBC’s daytime slot.

That has led to many innovations and adaptations of some of television’s most revered programs. For example, ESPN has created “alterna-casts” for sports programs such as “Monday Night Football,” in which athletes like Petey and Eli Manning are at a bar talking about the game in progress. Even CBS’ “60 Minutes” added something new this year — a final segment designed to give viewers a brief glimpse into the program.

Last week’s “Hoda and Jenna” saw a huge spike in viewership. The five-episode Nov. 14 broadcast posted growth of 10%, or 43,000, over the previous week among viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic most coveted by news programming advertisers. All editions of “Today” showed a new strength among viewers during last week’s “Advertiser Show”. Meanwhile, Nielsen data showed fourth-hour total viewers rose 9 percent, or 135,000.

“We had high expectations, but what happened last week was magic and we felt it,” Bush Hager says.

Kotb and Bush are not breaking new ground entirely. NBC News tried a live audience for their show in early 2020, promising a twice-weekly event, but had to stop when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread in the US. Other news programs have also worked to include live audiences. Chris Hayes’ “All In” on MSNBC and Megyn Kelly on “Megyn Kelly Today.”

The travel packages awarded last week were sponsored by Expedia as part of a deal that will run a portion of the partnership with NBC News. NBC News has long been wary of connecting Kotb with advertisers because she is one of the main anchors of “Today,” which airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and anchors hard news and anchor interviews. But there is room for sponsorships for various news programs, and Megyn Kelly’s show has also included product giveaways and promotional combinations.

News managers think live audiences will give new energy to Kotb and Bush’s country efforts. Advertisers can weave productions into a show that features the hosts’ classics and the stories of struggling audience members. The fourth hour of “Today” generated an estimated $33.8 million in ad sales in 2021, according to data from Kantar, compared to $42.9 million in 2020. Major sponsors in recent years include Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Novo Nordisk, Progressive Insurance, Eli Lilly and L’Oréal.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Bush said, adding that Hager has no intention of abandoning the tone of the program as seen today. “We are still eating the same food. We are adding sweet sauce.” The final recipe for such a venture should be decided by NBC.

Category: tv

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