It’s Always Something
3/23/2010 12:49:50 PM
Never has the local TV business been more of a
moving target than it is now. The federal government
wants its spectrum back. Networks
have reversed the affiliate-fee model, are taking a cut
of retransmission revenues and getting ready to demand
something for Mobile DTV rights. Now the latest
Pew research on media consumption contains a red
flag, even though prima facie, it seems to validate local
Pew’s survey of 2,259 people indicated that local TV
was their platform of choice to get news; 78 percent
watched news on a local station. Most, however, used
multiple delivery platforms—radio, newspapers, TV and
the Internet. There’s nothing too surprising about that.
Almost everyone I talk to about watching TV is simultaneously
online, looking up terms, products, reference,
schedules, etc. And Pew didn’t drill into temporal data,
but I’m guessing there’s a radio time of day—probably
morning; and a TV time of day later on.
So multiplatform use alone is not the caveat in the Pew
Research. The correlative age breakdown is.
People who consume the most news were 65 or older.
That’s logical to a degree, because we can assume they’re
retired and have the time. The next highest-used group
was the 50-to-64s who aren’t out there running half-marathons
after work anymore. Etc., etc., goes consumption
downward with age.
The pattern is similar for platform usage. Older demos
rely on local TV more for news. Younger ones go online.
Local TV users tended to be African American, female
and 65 or older.
“By comparison,” Pew’s results stated, “those who are
Internet users and those who have a cellphone but no
landline are less likely to get local TV news on a typical
day than non-Internet users and those who have a landline
Ars Technica wrote in December that 700,000 landlines
are being dropped every month, and that 22 percent
of U.S. households had “cut the cord.” The nexus of
trends here suggests a shelf live for local TV, unless it pulls
a meaningful reinvention. Local news still looks like it did
when I was 12 and we were hammering Clovis points.
It’s a news/weather/sports wheel with two earnestly
coifed, genetically selected anchors behind some polyvinyl
deskage; one smart-alecky sports guy and a slightly
deranged meteorologist. And yes, what bleeds, leads,
but people watch the news precisely to know where the
wackos are hitting and where traffic is piled up behind
people formerly driving badly. There will always be an appetite
for local information, but local TV’s delivery format
needs a makeover.
That’s admittedly a tall order because messing with
what people are used to can backfire in that New Coke
kind of way. But doing nothing also appears to be certain
death. Local stations need to adopt a product approach
and funnel some of their capital outlay into research and
development. It’s time to ask people what they want rather
than assume from platform usage trends that they’re
already getting it.
-- Deborah D. McAdams