Habits of future-proof TV stations

November 11, 2013 01:30

By Brandon Mercer, RTDNA Region 2 Director
First in a Series - Part 1 of 3:

In 1998, Apple officially threw in the towel on trying to sell a pocket-sized mobile device that could browse the web, take notes, and run a score of productivity apps.  The Newton was ahead of its time, and the power of digital music, touch-based computing, and cellular data networks just weren’t available to create the consumer demand.

Fast forward nine years, and Apple’s Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone and iTouch. The concept changed our culture and our intimate relationship with technology forever.  Apple’s stock had also gone from single digits in the 1990s to again becoming the most valuable company in the world this past summer.

When local TV stations stream newscasts to the web, employ multimedia journalists filing stories throughout the day, or shoot stories on iPhones, it may seem like the ROI isn’t there, depending on your station.   If you were doing this five years ago, there definitely was little Return On Investment.   Today, though, is our iPhone moment.

Don’t be afraid to resume something you gave up a few years back. The ROI may be there today, and the practice may even become a business necessity as we enter the latest transition from “Broadcast Television News” to a “Content Brand.”

This series highlights seven ways newsrooms that “get it” are getting ahead of the pack when it comes to digital plans and newsroom technology. Here are three:

1. Hire one or more multimedia journalists to produce and curate content solely on social media.
Future-proof stations anticipate their customer’s needs and extend their brand to every device, on every mainstream delivery method. Just as your newscast isn’t defined by Comcast, or DirecTV, or AT&T, social media isn’t about Facebook or Twitter.  These are just ways to connect your viewers and listeners with your content (and also connect clients with customers).  

Your station invests hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure your television signal gets to homes, but how about getting to everyone who doesn’t have the TV on, or the 95% of viewers who are watching the other channels? A single Facebook post often reaches more viewers than your primetime topical, and far more than your newscast’s lead story.  If 200 people share your post, multiple that by 245 (the low estimate for average number of FB friends people have, according to Pew), and you may have reached 49,000 people.  The average person can actually connect with 156,569 people! And, people with smartphones check Facebook 15 times a day.  Social media is addictive. That’s a fact proven by a University of Chicago study, which found it more addictive than alcohol or tobacco. TV channels would kill to have viewers check in 15 times a day.  But, if you do not have someone continually delivering your content via social media, you won’t be there in your customer’s news feeds, and your content won’t be top of mind.    Moreover, if you don’t engage your social media followers, you might have 100,000 friends, but they’ll never see your content because of Facebook Edgeranking.  Only content that is engaging shows up in newsfeeds, so make sure you have a plan to post, and then foster a discussion.

Future-proof stations have gotten over the idea of Facebook or Twitter being competing brands.  Some managers have thought, "We’re not in the business of helping grow Mark Zuckerberg’s company.”  That’s the same as saying, “We’re not going to be on mobile, because we’re not in the business of selling iPhones.”  Social media networks are just a way to reach our content.  Viewers don’t go to our home pages very often.  Instead, they discover our content in a link their friends posted on Facebook (when they checked in one of those 15 times today).

Finally, future-proof stations experiment and try new networks.  Google Plus is hugely important to your search rankings.   If your reporters are acknowledged as authors by Google, your content will be tops in searches.  Instagram is a powerful medium, especially for those of us used to working in visual storytelling.  Plus, it’s easy.   Watch what’s resonating, and if it makes sense for your station’s strengths and opportunities, embrace it and be a leader on the platform.

2. Live Stream EVERY newscast to every device.  
Customers expect to be able to watch WHATEVER they want, WHEREVER they want, on WHICHEVER device they have available.

Would you believe several major market stations are not streaming their newscasts?  Others bury the link so far in their digital diarrhea that you can never find it.  

When the power goes out, or the hurricane hits, the live stream may be the only way viewers can find out what’s going on.  If you’re not streaming now, you won’t be streaming in an emergency.  Get ready now, and be there for your customers.  Does your live stream work on the iPhone and Android? Know the answer to this, because if your consumers try to stream you on their iPhone and can’t, they may never try again.  

3. Think MOBILE first.
Future-proof stations’ digital strategies are tied to mobile, not desktops.  Future-proof stations think like their customers.  

Smartphones are in the hands of 57% of Americans, that’s 26 million more phones than last year, and 79% of smartphone users reach for their phone within 15 minutes of waking up. Video views on smart phones tripled from 2011 to 2012, and the numbers continue to soar.  

Viewers watch your video on their cell phone, and read your articles inline at the grocery store, not on their office desktop computers.  Do you watch content like your viewers?  How well do you understand the mobile experience with your content?  Have  you even downloaded the new station app?

It’s like a chef who only tastes food in the kitchen. What does that soup taste like when it’s slopped into a bowl, sits under the heat lamps, is delivered to the table, and served to the customer?  Is it cold? Congealed?  Did a fly land in it?   Taste the soup as a customer, not the chef.

Mobile is how the majority of customers connect with your content.  Know how you look on mobile, and try it on multiple mobile operating systems.

REPORTERS/PRODUCERS: When you check the story you posted, check on mobile. Does your site feature “responsive design” that works on laptops, tablets, and phones?

SALES: When an account executive checks the client’s banner ad (do you still sell those?) check it on a mobile device (it probably won’t display).  If your client bought website wings, how do they realize an ROI for mobile?  Hint for sales: Going back to #1, social integration campaigns ALWAYS work well on mobile.  Entercom and Gannett are selling social media integration. How about you?

The future is about thinking about what you’re good at, what your customers and clients want, and then monetizing everything so news is a profit center, not just an expense.

NEXT WEEK: HABITS 4 & 5: Creating content is your biggest expense.   We'll show two future-proof ways to get more local content, at minimal cost.

Brandon Mercer is a content innovator, former news director, and social media consultant, who also serves on the board of RTDNA. Email Brandon.