Habits of future-proof TV stations

November 25, 2013 01:30

Adapting Your Digital and Newsroom Technology to Build Your Future Brand

PREVIOUS ARTICLE PART 1: Habits 1, 2 and 3: Social, Live, and Mobile
PREVIOUS ARTICLE PART 2: Habits 4 and 5: Packaging and Towercams

By Brandon Mercer, RTDNA Region 2 Director
Third in a series: Part 3 of 3:

Before I started work for him, a wise general manager said to me, "Broadcast television will change more in the next four years than it has in the past four decades."  That was in 2004, and it turns out he was wrong, sort of. It changed that much in just THREE years.

What changed?
Really just one thing:  How viewers consume content.

Sure, stuff evolved.  Nielsen People Meters and automation and live trucks and digital TV and HD and dot two's and deregulation and mega station groups and 3D and 4K, but those are inevitable things that we could have predicted. In fact, we did predict them. We prepared, and budgeted and project managed, and got it done.

While most stations meticulously planned how they would continue creating TV, most stations don’t meticulously plan how to meet viewers’ needs for content. Today, we can reach more people with a single Facebook post via iPhone than we ever could with the 800 foot, megawatt broadcast antenna.  (For solutions to the challenge of focusing on our customers, please see
"6 CUSTOMER QUESTIONS THAT CAN SAVE LOCAL NEWS")  This past summer, actor Kevin Spacey nicely summarized the change in viewer behavior, saying we must now, "...Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in."  He added that if we do this at a reasonable price, people will even PAY us for it!

The game began changing at least five years ago, but the ad revenue, our content delivery method, and the rules that govern our content are not doing a good job of keeping up.

In part 3 of this series on future-proof TV stations, it’s time to examine what may not have evolved with our viewer's content consumption. To quote Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living." 

Part 1 and Part 2 we touched on mobile, gathering content in different ways, and having staff specifically tasked with distributing it.  The final part of this series focuses specifically on contracts and automation.

Habit #6: Examine whether vendor agreements retain their ROI in the digital and social age.
How much do you pay for any given service and how much revenue does it bring in? How many other services do you and your staff WISH you had, but can’t afford because of the existing contracts? And what obligations are you under to give away your content to some other entity? Finally, are your contracts restrictive of a future-proof practice you need to implement?

Think about weather. Do you have the legal right in the contract to distribute weather graphics on mobile, apps, online video, dot 2 and dot 3 channels, and through partners?  If not, you may be missing revenue opportunities.

With wire services--how much do producers rely on them? If your focus is on local news, do you need national wires? Back when newsroom computers didn’t have a way to access the web, it was ESSENTIAL to have a satellite feed of articles streaming into your newsroom computers. Today, they might not be as critical since everyone can read articles on their smartphone and desktops. If you think you need it online, look at how many pageviews AP articles get when you post them.  Remember, they’re already on 10,000 or more other sites.  Could you invest the cost of wires back into more local coverage? You’ll still get alerts and live video from your network news feeds.

What about third party content providers?  Many stations have agreements to license syndicated feeds of news and lifestyle content. They’re promotable and easy to use, but the game has changed, and by publicizing these third party stories, you may be helping their brand more than you help your own.  Unless you have a sponsor and a good deal, consider changing the equation. The conversation might be, “How much will your company pay us to continue running those stories? You’re getting pageviews and brand awareness through this arrangement, and you’re using our airwaves to do it.”  Consider at least asking for the content free of charge, in exchange for clear mentions and endorsement of their brand.

HABIT #7: Embrace automation.
Ross, Ignite, whatever system, use it. Get over your fear of computer-assisted directing.  When used properly (often with a separate, live human running audio), automation gives producers amazing power, and lets directors do things never before dreamed possible. 

Imagine rolling four video clips simultaneously, and routing them instantly to 12 monitors, and then sequentially wiping to another set of videos on the fly?  You simply can’t do it without automation.  These systems are the great equalizer, making every station from market 150 to market 5 have the same caliber of production value.  With station mega groups, you can share beautiful graphics packages within your company, and look like a million bucks, while shifting salaries from production back to local content creation, which brings in more revenue.

An absolute caveat though: Never deviate from doing the newscast you want  because of automation. The computers do what you tell them.  If someone believes Ross or Ignite can’t do something, call B.S. You can do a live, off-the-cuff, interactive morning show using automation. You just need to practice and create the methods that allow this. The machines are a vehicle to reaching your goal, so adapt the machine into your workflow, not the other way around.  Call other stations for advice if you struggle with this one.  Then, invest the savings from automation back into local content creation.

Content creation is expensive, but the more we can create, the better because CONTENT is CURRENCY. If you can find ways to create and use content more efficiently, you get a higher ROI per story, and can invest more in local content. Partnerships are key.  Finally, think like your customers and clients, and make decisions from THEIR perspective.  The perspective from within the newsroom walls is far different than the view from your target demographic’s couch. Or from their mobile phone as they wait in line at the store, watching your story and sharing it on Facebook with a few hundred friends.

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