News at 10, obits at 11

Your last hurrah may be on the 11 p.m. news.

It seems at least one group of TV stations has decided to run obituaries. Until now, obits were the exclusive domain of newspapers. I've heard radio stations read obits direct from the newspaper, but seeing TV stations run them would be something new.

A story on AdAge discussed how station WNEM-TV, in Saginaw, MI, was running on-air and online obituary stories — for a fee. The station charges $100 per death announcement. For that fee, the departed gets a last electronic blast of publicity with the person's name and photo on-air and “full-length obituary” on the station's Web site.

“The venture could make obits one of our top billers within two years,” said Jeff Guilbert, WNEM's general sales manager.

Major- and midmarket newspapers make good money publishing obits. According to one source, obits can cost as much as $1000. Why shouldn't TV stations offer a similar service?

There's a win-win here. First, the departed gets an electronic send-off, complete with photo. Second, an open-ended bio and life history gets posted to the station's Web site, where it can easily be seen by family and friends from around the country. And best of all, TV stations have a new revenue source.

Heck, who wouldn't feel better knowing you would get an extra special send-off so everyone can, for one more time, see Aunt Betty's bingo hall photo along with her name on the local newscast. The TV news reader says, “And now for today's obituaries …” The reader pauses, then says, “Stay tuned, as Rachael Ray brings us her fabulous corn fritters recipe, right after this commercial from Funeral Brothers Mortuary, where your dearly beloved not only gets buried on time, but scheduled on the news.”

It's easy to laugh at this idea, but TV stations are struggling to find new revenue-generating ideas, even if that means trying to generate another dollar with news of the recently dead.

TV stations, newspapers and cable are all competing for slices of the same advertising pie. Whoever comes up with a way to take a piece from the competitor wins, and maybe, just maybe, death announcements are another tool in a station's arsenal.

By using one of a station's subchannels, a broadcaster could run obits 24/7. It could be called the Last Channel: “Watch it until you appear.” It would be a low-bit rate, low-effort, 100-percent profit operation.

A station could easily add advertising to the obit channel. Mortuary Mac could deliver his solemn, soulful and caring words about the Macky Funeral Home. The channel could be a great platform to sell insurance, burial plots, headstones and caskets. Because there's even a company that offers electronic headstones, the TV station could sell the video production. Package it along with the obit as an up-sell, and Grandpa Fred is shown in HD video on an electronic display built inside his headstone. You can honor him with this for only another $5000. This will work!

Of course, the TV station could use the channel to upsell the obits. “For only $1000 more, Aunt Gladdis can continue to smile back at you on this channel for another 30 days. Don't let her fade into the ether; buy her one more month of exposure!”

OK, maybe that won't work.

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