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More hype than viewers for Casey Anthony trial in bay area

In some corners of the media world, television stations, websites and newspapers cannot get enough of the Casey Anthony trial.

At the murder trial's Orlando location, NBC affiliate WESH-TV became the fifth local station to begin broadcasting the proceedings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., joining the other network affiliates and cable news channel Central Florida News 13.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, media interest has been more measured, with local cable news channel Bay News 9 as the only area TV outlet offering continuous trial coverage on its primary channel. (Bay News 9 is a sister channel of CFN13; both are owned by the Bright House Networks cable company.)

CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 on Monday began airing an hourlong 4 p.m. program centered on the trial, showing live testimony and some analysis from a local attorney. Even though the program has averaged higher ratings than Inside Edition and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire earned in the time slot in May, it has just pulled WTSP into a tie for last place.

"This trial does hold a lot of attention, but it's not like the O.J. Simpson trial or anything," said Jack Harris, co-host of the AM Tampa Bay morning show on WFLA-AM (970), which recently began devoting five minutes each day to discussing the case.

For Harris' male-focused show, the Anthony trial doesn't have nearly the appeal it might have for morning news shows or daytime programs, where the story of an attractive mother on trial for killing her young child might draw more interest from female viewers.

"It feels sometimes like media picks out an event and turns it into a national (phenomenon)," Harris added. "They're trying to gin it up into a O.J. Simpson-level deal, but it just isn't there yet."

In a way, the media situation seems similar to that of the royal wedding, attracting a significant audience niche to an event that is much less compelling to the majority of viewers.

Still, many media experts agree: If Casey Anthony takes the witness stand to testify in her own defense, interest in the trial will explode.

"We're in an industry that's trying to find stories which interest people, and this interests people here," said Hal Boedeker, TV critic at the Orlando Sentinel, which has a reporter in the courtroom conducting live online chats with the public. "The ABC station here only took off soap operas that were going to be canceled in four months, anyway."

WTSP news director Peter Roghaar decided to air the trial-centered afternoon program after the station interrupted a broadcast of the trial it had been airing on its secondary, digital channel. Calls and e-mails came in from viewers who had been watching the proceedings, some who didn't have cable service, and following it closely.

Now the station offers a broadcast largely filled with whoever is testifying during the time slot, with anchor Melanie Michael dissecting the meaning of the day's testimony and lawyer Jay Hebert providing analysis.

"We don't have Ellen or Oprah in their prime, so there's a sense we can experiment," Roghaar said. "Maybe we'll gather a little different audience."

At ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, officials would not consider pre-empting the 4 p.m. broadcast of Ellen DeGeneres' popular talk show. Instead the station offers a popular video stream of the trial on its website and has a reporter gathering information for newscasts, like several other area stations.

"We determine every day the level of our coverage," said WFTS news director Doug Culver, noting they might have a peak of 500 people watching the trial webcast at any one time.

At Bay News 9, Elliott Wiser, vice president of local programming for Bright House, did not return repeated calls for comment on the station's trial coverage. Bay News 9 and the St. Petersburg Times share news and features as part of a partnership agreement.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

More hype than viewers for Casey Anthony trial in bay area 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 10:27pm]
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