Julie Durda seems to be everywhere these days.
Billboards, bus ads, radio and TV spots, and social media pages all promote her new role as the weekday morning meteorologist at WPLG-Ch. 10 in the Fort Lauderdale-Miami TV market.
Although local stations typically promote their anchor teams with spots, WPLG's recent campaign is different in that station officials are plugging one air personality — best known for helping drive morning ratings at her former station, WSVN-Ch. 7 — and it's stirring up all kinds of attention in the social media sphere.
"The station is trying to make the most of her arrival and beat the drum as loudly as it possibly can,'' said Ellen Fleysher, who teaches broadcast journalism at the University of Miami. "She has to be rebranded as a meteorologist associated with WPLG."
WPLG's morning weekday team is now led by anchors Jason Martinez and Jen Herrera, with Constance Jones and Marjorie "MJ" Acosta. Last month, Durda replaced meteorologist Scott Padgett, who was moved to weekend morning newscasts.
"That is the blowback to the Julie Durda campaign,'' added Fleysher, referring to Padgett's reassignment to weekends. "So a negative comes with the positive."
Indeed, South Florida TV viewers have been flooding WPLG's social media with both supportive and highly critical feedback. Some WPLG loyalists say the ABC affiliate is trying to mimic the look and style of its crosstown rival, WSVN, which has an all-female morning anchor team.
But Durda's addition to WPLG team underscores the importance of the local morning news.
In recent years, TV stations have aggressively courted early-morning risers by adding a 4:30 a.m. newscast, which WPLG did two years ago. Palm Beach County stations WPTV-Ch. 5, WPEC-Ch. 12 and WPBF-Ch. 25 have also added 4:30 a.m. newscasts in recent years.
"There are a lot of people whose lifestyle forces them to be up that early,'' said Michael Pumo, general manager at WPEC, which has a news-sharing partnership with the Sun Sentinel. "As people's lifestyle changes, there is more need for news early in the mornings."
Other stations have expanded newscasts such as WSVN, which extended its four hours of morning news to five with a 9 a.m. newscast. WFOR-Ch. 4 and WTVJ-Ch. 6 also extended their weekend morning news blocks in the past year.
"The mornings have become more important over the years,'' said Robert Leider, WSVN's general manager, whose station leads in the morning ratings followed by WPLG.
Station managers have increasingly focused on their morning programs because that's when viewers are less distracted by the Internet and time-shifted viewing devices. The morning programs have also become a critical growth area for ad revenue and viewership. In particular, advertisers covet viewers ages 25-54 who tend to tune into morning news.
"It has become a great area for advertisers to reach their audiences," Leider said.
And those viewers, who sometimes see their morning TV personalities as friends or members of the family, can be sensitive to any on-air talent change.
"People have very tight relationships with on-air talent," Fleysher said. "This relationship is even tighter, more profound and more personable in early morning television."
And thanks to social media, those viewers have local forums to voice their concerns.
"We miss you every weekday morning, it's just not the same,'' Dominick Napoli wrote on Padgett's WPLG Facebook page.
"The morning show, except for Jason Martinez looks like a TERRIBLE rip off of WSVN,'' another morning viewer wrote on the TV blog, sfltv.com.
On Durda's Twitter page, one follower tweeted: "Actually took a moment and smiled while watching … Great energy Julie & team."
WPLG general manager Dave Boylan acknowledged the station has been going all out to promote his new morning weather anchor.
"She was a strong player at WSVN, she has a strong following, and to be able to bring that to our station is a real plus,'' he said. "When you have a person with the following that Julie has, to be able to get the message that she is now at a new station is very important."
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