As Media Stocks Dive, Broadcasters Need to Rediscover Creativity

Local TV stations show little to no effort in content creation
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‘Engagement’ is a key watchword for media businesses. Shows are trying to outdo each other with on-screen tweets, Orange rooms, lower third crawls and Facebook pages. We are desperate to create opportunities for our audiences to engage with our programs by contributing pithy commentary and parrot hashtags via social media related to the topic of the moment.

Desperate is an apt term. As we watch the breadth of media stocks miss their numbers this quarter, one has to wonder if we are doing enough. I don’t think we are.

NO NEW CONTENT

What seems odd to me is that while all this effort is put into social dialogue, little or no effort is put into creating actual content to capture and hold an engaged, younger, social media-aware audience. The airwaves fill with costly, syndicated content that does nothing to reinforce the connection between the station and its community. At the same time, audiences are fragmented and tuned out. They’ve abandoned local stations for their DVRs and streaming services, ignoring the local scene all together. Cable companies are similarly pressed to attract viewers.

I’ve long been baffled by the lack of local production at TV stations and cable networks beyond news and public affairs. When the news ends, stations turn out the lights, studios sit empty, and control rooms gather dust. I’d have assumed by now that in the drive to innovate and capture audience, someone would have tried to create a local game show, local sports coverage or talker that would engage younger viewers and give them a reason to take another look, or increasingly even a first look, at the ‘old media.’

When I’ve asked general managers to explain this lack, their quick answer is that local productions are too expensive. How can that be? Is it really more viable to leave a huge capital investment in infrastructure lying fallow while the station’s brand dies during quiet times?

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'Love at First Skype' is an example of a new breed of live television. It uses Video Call Center technology that was developed for use in co-productions for broadcast and cable television networks and stations.

I’m not suggesting that local programs would be free. Of course there would be costs in terms of staff and the cost of promotion, but the opportunity for capturing a new, untapped audience should at least be worth a look. New technology solutions for remote control, high quality video call-ins, and even remote hosting mean stations have economical options for producing live, local conten 

What makes local news work and the reason it continues to ring the cash registers for hundreds of stations, after all, is its immediate relevance to the community. I think there is a tremendous opportunity out there for local stations to capture young viewers. I think the biggest obstacle is one of mindset. Local stations today think of themselves solely as local programmers with local advertisers and local competitors. Outside of news, they’ve completely ceded the role of content creator.

ENGAGING ENTERTAINMENT

Today’s emergent audiences are specifically looking for engagement with their entertainment, hence the popularity of services like Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, SnapChat, as well as interactivity-driven ‘channels’ such as gaming network Twitch. Local producers can embrace this ethos. Outstanding local programming such as call-in talk shows with a focus on a particular niche can deliver the engagement stations crave. Done well such programming even creates an opportunity for local stations to syndicate content themselves or expand their audience virally using OTT distribution direct to the consumer. It is even possible to grow local, non-news talent into regional and national figures. Imagine what could be done with a polished studio, a skilled host, and modern technologies.

Fortunately there are innovators who are waking up to the opportunity:

  • CBS launched ‘Upstate Sports Edge’ featuring hyper-local coverage of local high-school and college level sports on Monday, Aug. 31.
  • The Video Call Center has begun creating compelling, DVR-resistant live, interactive talk television. Its unique format features callers dialing in via video calling such as Skype and the entire show is controlled by the on-air host with no control room. It’s now offering its innovative technology to TV and cable channels to create their own programming. 
  • We are starting to see personalized news options that know the viewer. Think of it as a hybrid of your newscast with a social media-style “like” button. It’s early days, but to get a sense of what is possible take a look at http://watchup.com/ or http://www.reuters.tv/.

If we want to see this business grow, we’ll need to dust off the cobwebs of TV creativity and create our own opportunities. It is time for local stations to recapture what they do best, engaging a local audience.