Friends, something funny has been happening at work recently that wanted to share here on our family blog. As most of you know, I left still photography at newspapers and now shoot video (and some stills!) at KARE11, an incredible TV station here in the Twin Cities. Anyway, lately I’ve been perpetually annoyed by how often I’m in live-shots in the newsroom. I get a weekly text along the lines of “Ben! I see you on TV!” It’s so weird, there’s a newsroom full of beautiful people and they choose me, a balding middle-age white fellow as the background. Never understood that. And it’s a total bummer to have to keep my desk clean 🙂
I’ve since learned that everything in TV news is super analyzed in terms of how things look — how the set makes you feel, etc. Apparently Tegna, our corporate owner (who owns bunches of stations around the country) has a 6-person Washington DC-based “Perception Development” team where they use focus groups to study local news broadcasts from around the country. We’re getting secretly focus grouped! Very weird.
Anyway, our news director met with me earlier this week after returning from a trip to the mothership in DC. Evidently the newscasts that included me in the background slightly outperformed others in terms of viewership, especially with women millennials, a key demographic. This was entirely unbelievable to me. There had to be other factors involved they weren’t considering. Time of day, weather, what the story was actually about. She said that was possible but that the Perception Development team cited a 2012 study from the Wharton School’s Sage Journal titled “Short Scalps and the Perception of Male Dominance” (first highlighted in the UK and made fun of in Buzzfeed and the WSJ) about how ‘bald men imply authenticity’, etc. Apparently just seeing a bald man made people feel comforted, as if we’ve “lived long enough to know something.” Other words that kept surfacing in the focus group were ‘tidy, confident, accepting of change, ripped’. Just seeing me in the background— a “handsome approachable bald man”—they said added a certain gravitas that made the news seem more important and credible.
The Twin Cities is a hyper competitive market, four local news stations struggling to top ratings everyday. That pressure inevitably leads to creative approaches to scrape together as many viewers as possible. Which apparently means they want me in as many liveshots as is feasible and “believable”, whatever that means. It’s not really a problem since I have a laptop and can edit anywhere with a little advance notice, but it’s certainly a little weird. I’m a TV star! Kind of fun in truth. Here are a couple spots they put me this week:
My wife Jessica, who is especially tickled by all this, suggested I contact an agent. A couple reporters at the station gave me a contact so I called, paid a one-time consulting fee and have since renegotiated my contract with KARE11, more than doubling my salary—plus a $275 monthly clothing allowance on top of that! (As a side note today I was just contacted to act as host of a convention in October for a group called Bald R Us, apparently I’m somewhat of a celebrity in that circle now.)
From the 10 o’clock news:
As you might expect the Perception Development team in D.C. has been closely studying the on-air effectiveness of all the segments with me in them and there has indeed been a measurable (if tiny!) increase in viewership for the days I’m on air. So that’s cool. Awkwardly they’ve started asking if I could wear more ‘weather appropriate’ clothes. And the weather has been warm… I got the message! And to be entirely honest I’ve been inundated with email from women (and some men) asking to ‘see more’, etc. It is a little sad we live in such a image conscious world where all viewers want is to see more skin and tighter shirts. But I’m not above it! Especially when I got these guns to back it up.
one-man ratings juggernaut as backdrop to the great @jayolstadtv
for more: https://t.co/8yzFfsuPRN#outtakes @kare11 pic.twitter.com/Y9eBjk5SeA
— bengarvin (@bengarvin) April 1, 2016