Know thy audience

There are some stations that have addressed their national audiences since their inception, but others seem to have missed the boat.

The first thing that any business needs to do is to establish who is going to use its products. There is absolutely no point in designing anything unless you also know the user, how the user will want to work with it and whether the user is going to pay you what you think it is worth. Manufacturers advertise in Broadcast Engineering, for example, because they know the readers make decisions in the purchase of their type of equipment. The same manufacturers might also advertise in a major financial publication so that the investment community understands the corporate directions the companies are taking. But those manufacturers are not going to advertise in a comic book, for example: wrong audience, wrong message and wrong product.

These basic facts don't seem to be universally understood, however, and particularly not in the broadcast/entertainment community.

Take Internet radio, for example. When you listen to your favorite station — maybe because it carries your alumni football games, or perhaps it was where you were raised — what do you hear in the advertising that is appropriate for you, the Internet listener? I'm sure you get commercials for local pizza or a used car lot that really is making the best deals ever, but do you ever hear national advertising? No. They might take a lesson from nationally syndicated talk radio, which has clearly identified that although local stations might broadcast some local advertising, the real money is being made by the national advertising. Radio stations that provide a feed on the Internet and have a statistically significant national audience would do well to re-think the old truism that radio's strength is its “local” nature. Not true on the Internet.

The same confusion comes across on the TV airwaves. There are some stations that know they have national audiences and have addressed that fact since their inception — the name Turner comes to mind, and WGN in Chicago has been on national cable systems long enough that it seems to have gotten the message. But others seem to have either missed the boat or just ignore it.

A new group of superstations has emerged with satellite TV. The four — WPIX, KWGN, WSBK and WWOR — have a huge following outside their respective geographical areas, but you wouldn't know it from their websites. For example, WSBK doesn't even use its call letters for its URL, and WWOR prefers its New York upn9 slogan. They address their local communities only. They may feel that they have an obligation to their licenses, but they can surely do that at the same time as picking up a lot more nationwide loyalty. It is an incredibly wasted opportunity.

The ultimate lack of recognition of the product that these stations carry was probably demonstrated by KWGN in Denver. On a recent Saturday evening the station pre-empted the penultimate episode, ever, of Xena, Warrior Princess to carry live pictures of crowds gathering in downtown Denver after the Stanley Cup Final. This was not a riot situation, just a bunch of people gathering in the streets — crowds that probably increased in size when the live coverage by this and other Denver stations encouraged them to seek their moment of fame. Was it news? Nothing had happened of any consequence, so it probably wasn't by most people's definitions.

Here, station management clearly demonstrated that they are ignorant of their market. Yes, there is probably considerable pressure on the station to be a “local news” outlet and they have a particular percentage of the audience targeted for advertising, but the people who tuned in to that station at that time on that Saturday were not people looking for news of downtown Denver or hockey results. I would bet, however, that they were frustrated — and that's not a good way to treat your viewers, especially when they have the choice of watching the same programming at another time on one of the other super UPNs or WBs. In fact, the satellite audience that was potentially ticked off by the ego-news coverage of the station is clearly in excess of the population of Denver.

If you're taking advantage of new technologies, be they streaming radio or satellite broadcast, to reach an audience beyond your own area code, you'd better work on establishing whom your new constituents are and what their demographics are. Then work out how to deliver a product that they want and yourself the advertisers to best support it, or you might as well be taking out space in comic books.

Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.