Habits of future-proof TV stations

November 18, 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

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

Creating content is expensive. Once it's created, it functions as currency in a content economy. We can share it with partners, use it as leverage to get a reciprocal story from a recalcitrant affiliate, barter with it, even sell it as stock footage on the open market with licensing to Getty Images.

Part one of this series looked at how to monetize your content in multiple ways, creating it once, and re-using it on social, digital, and especially mobile.

This week, Habits 4 and 5 focus on new ways to gather content, reducing costs.

Personnel is always the highest cost in a newsroom. How many people does it take to put a story on the air? Is it one person per story like so many MMJ-driven newsrooms? Maybe you have four: the reporter, photographer, live truck operator, and the editor back at the station. The answer is not simply going with one story per person, so the MMJ turns one, and the photog/reporter team turns two. That paint-by-numbers staffing formula is tired and cliche, and literally, will wear your teams out so fast, they won't be turning any stories. What are some solutions to getting content on-air, without adding costs?

Habit #4: Reinvent how you "package" your content
When you move away from the standard package of nats, video, track and soundbites, you give yourself more options and often you give the viewers more angles and nuanced storytelling. The trick is to PLAN for these, and not think of them after your teams have already been busting their butts all day trying to deliver cinematic excellence.

Plan what you'll package and what you'll "containerize" differently. For example:

  • LOOKLIVES: I watched one reporter turn a cliche preview package of a big rally, complete with ho-hum sound bites about police presence, nat pops of pneumatic wrenches turning bolts on the lighting truss, and organizers promising it would be swell. ANOTHER reporter taped a walk-and-talk looklive. She started backstage, showing the light and sound controls being put through their dramatic paces at that moment, walked across the almost-completed stage, pointed out the beer garden and police cars on the street, and ended on a lighter note, showing the trash cans lined up for mountains of litter. The looklive offered things the package just couldn't and it added pacing to an otherwise package-heavy newscast.
  • ANCHOR DEMONSTRATIONS: Consider the value of a touchscreen demonstration (or just drawing on a white board) to illustrate relationships or maybe how an accident happened with an aerial shot of an intersection. It can be more valuable for viewers than wallpaper b-roll. For a big talker that lacks visuals, a simple show and tell might be better than assigning a reporter.  I still remember the million plus video views we got when my morning anchor explained the famous 2007 "wide stance" claim from Idaho Senator Larry Craig, sitting next to a co-anchor, and explaining how the foot touching may have occurred. It resonated, and people better understood the misconduct allegations.
  • RAW: Raw is powerful. Sometimes the best way to cover a story is just to let the raw video play, without a reporter track, or interruption. Put the reporter on the smart sidebar, and you have twice the breadth of coverage.
  • READ THE DOCUMENTS: On big stories, the documents themselves can be powerful. Have a reporter talk to witnesses or family, while the anchor reads selections from a search warrant or charging document, or victim statement. Often these breakouts can be as long as a package, and more powerful. And, you're delivering powerful team coverage, and you have more content you can re-purpose online and for the morning news.
  • LOOK BEYOND THE ON-CAMERA FOLKS:  Deputize everyone and lower the costs of content. Your sales team is likely driving around the city, seeing car wrecks, smoke in the distance, and even amusing content like misspelled signs. They can shoot HD video (SIDEWAYS PLEASE!) with their iPhone, at no cost. Do they know you want that? Can you tap editors to do a movie review? How about an expert interview, edited with video to cover a big topic. Maybe just mic up a community leader as they walk through their struggling community, and get amazing, emotional content.

          Finally, the most powerful tool for gathering inexpensive content:

HABIT #5: PUT UP AS MANY TOWERCAMS AS YOU CAN (and keep adding more!)
These are free, 24/7 content producers. Many stations have done hours of wildfire coverage with just a towercam showing smoke and some phoners and maps. On big weather days, one towercam plus your radar can give you enough visuals to do sustaining tornado coverage. Storm coming? Play yesterday's towercam in a double-box with a live shot from today, showing the 24-hour change. Timelapse them, and use them to set up coverage (not just for your meteorologist to play with!) Denver's KDVR/KWGN has a timelapse server set up by vice president of technology David Harpe that grabs frames automatically and continually, letting producers download a timelapse VO whenever they need it. Here's one they made for a wildfire.

  • Towercams are LIVE, and LIVE is one of the last remaining battlegrounds where almost NO pure play digital content producers, no newspapers, and no radio stations can really compete (yet). 
  • Towercams have become inexpensive.  No more 6 gig microwave licenses. Stream them over the Internet, in HD quality, for less than $1,000 in hardware in some cases.
  • Towercams are instant money-makers with sponsorship logos.
  • Towercams let you cater to hot Nielsen zip codes in your market, and super serve geographic zones.

What producer and meteorologist wouldn’t want to use more live pictures of downtown festivals, lakes, rivers, busy highways, airports, ocean ports, beaches, or amusement parks? 

NEXT WEEK: HABITS 6 AND 7: Legal anachronisms that give away your content. And robots.

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