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September 18, 2013 01:30

6 CUSTOMER QUESTIONS THAT COULD SAVE LOCAL NEWS
STARTING WITH ‘WHY DID YOU HIRE THAT MILKSHAKE?’
A multi-part special series on serving our news “customers” and growing our business

PREVIOUS ARTICLE:  QUESTION 1: WHAT JOB DO VIEWERS HIRE OUR CONTENT TO DO?
and QUESTION 2: WHAT CONTENT DO CUSTOMERS WANT?

PREVIOUS ARTICLE: QUESTION 3: IS OUR NEWS PRODUCT PALATABLE TO CUSTOMERS?
 
By Brandon Mercer, RTDNA Region 2 Director
 
Newsrooms are the customer-facing side of the TV business, but too often we make key strategic and editorial decisions without taking into account the viewer experience. Most newsrooms are stuck inside a 50-year-old paradigm derived from guts, assumptions, and unfortunately, egos.  This series attempts to examine the future of newsrooms, applying some long overdue questions from the business world to what can and should remain the high calling of local news. 
 
Philosopher and contrarian observer Nassim Taleb guides businesses to reinforce against “Black Swan” events. For centuries people referred to something impossible being like a black swan -- it didn’t exist, until explorers discovered black swans in Australia.  In his book, The Black Swan, Taleb defines the concept: “First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact (unlike the bird). Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”
 
Applied to news, it’s easy to see the black swan, and to say that of course we could have seen it coming.  But truly attempt to think back to what you were doing in 1995, whether you were writing for your school newspaper, running a newsroom, or hauling your brand-new BetaSP camera off to do a story about the effects of the Dow closing above 4,000. 
 
If I had told you in 1995 that Americans would be walking around with the ability to communicate via “social media” to the entire world, and both send and receive live or recorded high definition video from a device smaller than their Walkman, most news managers would have scoffed, dismissing the importance of this, and doubting how ubiquitous our current reality could become.
 
If I had told you back in 1995 that the top-rated newscast in your market might never get beyond a 1.5 A25-54 monthly rating, but a video posted to your website had the potential to bring in $10,000 in 3 minutes, you also would have thought I was crazy.
 
Today, we know to what extent we ignored this shift in thought, while others embraced it. A decade later, one technology had enabled another, and the ideas of Steve Jobs, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and YouTube’s Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim intersected, changing our world, and our newsrooms radically.  The black swan was discovered.  So now that this disruptive technology is common, we need to ask:
 
QUESTION 4:
HOW SHOULD WE DELIVER OUR PRODUCT TO THE CUSTOMER?

If the television set is the only way we’re connecting customers to content (and sales clients with THEIR customers) then we’re doing a piss-poor job at running our business. 
 
For most of this RTDNA series, I’ve simply presented questions, but here, I am going to supply the answer as well. Two things are critical for your local TV newsroom to survive:
  • Extending your TV brand on social media (and thus to mobile)
  • Live streaming to smartphones
Viewers want content whenever and wherever they need it.  If our brand isn’t available, they’ll find another brand.  If we don’t make our brand available anytime, anywhere, they’ll still get news, just not our news. Potentially, customers will  end up gorging on a feast of one-sided commentaries, single-source videos, and not finding journalistically sound, objective reporting of the most crucial issues of our time.
 
Viewers spend 4 hours, 31 minutes a day in front of the TV according to the latest eMarketerstudy, and 5 hours, 16 minutes with digital (part of this being multi-screen viewing with the TV on). Freewheel reported this year that video viewing on devices other than a PC is up 600%. And for the 19 hours, 29 minutes we’re not  parked in front of TVs, we still want content.
 
In a landmark study (sponsored by Facebook), IDC found most of us literally sleep with our phones.  For the vast majority, our phones are with us 23 hours of the day or more.  Thinking how much time we pour into a newscast that’s only available to viewers for a fraction of their day, maybe now is a good time to ask:  What’s your mobile strategy?



Imagine the station where the 5pm news is the big moneymaker, and tops in the ratings.  It's likely that 95% of the market is not watching. What are they doing?  Driving home from work, getting groceries, watching Food Network or Lifetime, or sitting at their desks, clearing their in-boxes before heading to a Little League game after work.  Content is king, but the TV itself doesn’t easily fit into our hectic lives.
 
Social media reaches virally into places our traditional TV signal can never reach, touching those who gave up a TV, those on vacation, and those who watch once a month after “America’s Got Talent.”  The avid news viewer watches two newscasts a week. The typical Facebook user checks their newsfeed 14 times a day.
 
If the average Facebook user has at least 245 friends, (2012 PewStudy), when they share our content it means we’ve now reached a potential of 245 people, multiplied by every share.  And, unlike fickle Nielsen numbers, Facebook tells us (and viewers) right on the post how many people liked it and shared it, plus page managers get the impressions served up in Facebook metrics.
 
More importantly, our work in social media is cumulative.  A good post one day will move our EdgeRank up the next day, making it more likely viewers will see the next things we do.
 
Social is good to get viewers to our content, but what about actually consuming our content (and serving up those ads for clients)?  Video views are a huge moneymaker, and video ad spending is set to go up 41% this year (eMarketer) and live video will grow as well. And the best part? Local TV newsrooms have absolute superiority when it comes to getting live video.
 
Ooyala tracks digital video consumption, and in its latest global report, it found tablets and mobile are the first screens, and TV is secondary.  Video viewing on mobile is up 41% this year. “In the morning, they stream media  on a mobile phone or tablet, as they prepare for their day and commute to work. PC video plays pick up in the later morning, and peak at midday, as people watch video at the office during the workday.” Ooyala found PC users watch live video 15 times longer than on demand video, tablet users watch four times longer and mobile users watch live twice as long. Often these global tech trend reports spot a shift in consumers before it arrives in America. “These habits of today’s early adopters are evidence of what TV viewing will look like on a massive scale a few years from now,” reports Ooyala.
 
Live streaming every newscast to smartphones is obvious, but you’d be surprised how many stations aren’t doing it, even in the largest markets.  Go to any TV station website, and see if live streaming is available from the home page.   Many stations live stream only when the stream is active.  Others have a stream, but the video doesn’t play.  Many others don’t use HTML5, so the video doesn’t work on iPhones.
 
With legally untested companies like Aereo streaming all of your programming including news, commercials, and even your network’s primetime lineup and sports, at some point we have to compete.  At least start with news. And why not repeat a newscast over the live stream when you’re off the air?  It costs next to nothing. Some companies are ahead of the curve, already offering an “always on” live stream option. Is yours?
 
Looking back to 1995, I wonder, is this a black swan?  Were the signs there? The Sony Walkman demonstrated our desire to take our media with us. Laptop computers and cell phones should have predicted our quest for instant communication. Moores Law governing processor speed and cost told us the technology was possible, and coming.  Still, we didn’t plan or develop. Newsrooms, the creators of urgent, powerful, and life-changing content did not create or even embrace the future. Business leaders developed it, and teens and hipsters filled it with their content.
 
Now, better late than never, it’s our turn.
 
COMING LATER THIS MONTH:

QUESTION 5:
WHAT HILL CAN WE ABSOLUTELY NOT GIVE UP?

QUESTION 6:
IF WE WERE TO BUILD A COMPANY STRUCTURE TODAY TO EFFICIENTLY MAKE AND MARKET OUR PRODUCT,  WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?
 
Brandon Mercer is a content innovator, former news director, and social media consultant, who also serves on the board of RTDNA. Email Brandon.