The broadcast business model doesn't work anymore and needs a top-to-bottom overhaul of technology, operational approaches and attitudes to succeed going forward, says Jerry Gumbert, president and CEO of Audience Research & Development. Gumbert, who delivered one of the keynotes during the News Technology Summit produced by Broadcast Engineering and Broadcasting & Cable magazines Sept. 24-25 in Dallas, contends broadcasters must ask themselves a fundamental question.
“We all have to step back and ask, ‘Based on changing media consumption by consumers, based on the multiple platforms that they are consuming news and entertainment on, based on technology evolution and innovation, what's the best way to march forward to do things at the highest level of production, to be as productive as possible and to be as impactful as possible?’” he says.
Gumbert, who advises many of the largest media brands, including News Corp./FOX, Time Warner, Viacom/CBS, ABC/Disney and Media General, says broadcasters must shake off business as usual in today's media environment and focus on improvements to productivity.
“Clearly, we can't keep using at any level in the television station the core operational systems in place for the better part of 40 years,” he says.
In particular, Gumbert identifies the newsroom for sweeping changes because for most local stations with a serious commitment to news, they are the central moneymaker.
“First and foremost, when you look at a television station, you have to look at the newsroom and the people who make the most money there, and those are the anchors,” he says.
While anchors should remain the face of the brand, much more will be required of them going forward.
“Anchors can't just be newscasters; they have to be the chief journalists of the television stations they serve,” Gumbert says. “They have to be productive and impactful in that position.”
Improving productivity isn't confined to anchors. What's needed are multimedia journalists who “have skill sets that journalists of the past and unfortunately many who are working journalists today don't possess,” Gumbert says.
While multimedia journalists are journalists first, they also possess a broad variety of skills beyond interviewing, writing and presenting.
“These people shoot their own video. They shoot their own still photography in the print world. They are real comfortable with posting on the Web and HTML. They're graphic designers, and they are video editors,” he says. “In today's world, that is not it a difficult thing to do based on the technology.”
These changes are needed so stations can fulfill their primary goal: putting more people on the street gathering news and information.
“If we do what the print world is doing — putting fewer pages in the paper because ad volume won't support the business model — that just lessens the value proposition between customer and media company even more dramatically,” he says. “If there has ever been a time when we should be giving customers more, not less, it is now because they have so many choices.”
Gumbert acknowledges these prescriptions for what ails TV news may bruise some egos. But managing their way through ruffled feathers is only a first step for stations. For this medicine to work, stations must spend money and time equipping their journalists with the skills needed to become multimedia journalists and for their anchors to transition into chief journalists.
“If we don't step up and make that investment, then our ability to grow our revenue is not only going to be eclipsed, our revenue will begin to deteriorate at a rapid rate because we are not equipped to deliver what the consumer needs,” Gumbert says. “We can either catch up to consumers and give them what they want, or we are going to lose out in this game.”