Are Local TV Stations The Next Media Domino to Fall?
The media landscape is changing SO fast, it’s hard for legacy organizations to keep up. Newspapers have been feeling the brunt of these changes, as they have been cutting back and even shutting down in unprecedented numbers… and it remains to be seen if Amazon’s Jeff Bezos can resuscitate the once proud Washington Post.
But newspapers aren’t the only threatened media species these days. Local broadcast TV stations, long the dominant cash cows for networks and station groups, are starting to see some significant chinks in their armor. Half of TV station revenues come from local news, not the network-supplied programs we see if primetime and elsewhere in the station schedule. To help maintain that crucial revenue stream, stations have been adding more and more of the three things they think viewers want:
Today, 40% of those local newscasts (and even more during morning drive-time) are completely dedicated to those three segments. So beefing up budgets and time-spent on those areas make sense, right?
If only it were that easy.
The problem for local stations is that two of these three areas are being overtaken by new players and technologies. Google Maps (which now provides real-time traffic updates) is already one of the most downloaded mobile apps on iOS and comes already installed if you have an Android device. And Google Now has the capability of automatically providing me a complete traffic report for my route to work, and the weather forecast is already built into my Welcome screen. On iOS, Yahoo’s weather app is included in every iPhone and iPad.
But perhaps even more significant is people’s shifting usage patterns in their morning routines. There was a time when we flipped on the TV first-thing when we got out of bed. But today, what do YOU look at first? A recent survey showed that 80% of Smartphone users turn on their phone within fifteen minutes of waking up… not turn on their TV.
So if you can get local traffic and weather (and any combination of news & sports) via your mobile device, where does that leave local TV… especially as these devices become more capable and customized to our needs?
Sure, local TV stations have been doing their best to fight back with their own websites and mobile apps. Traffic to some of these sites is significant, and stations are able to monetize that traffic to a certain extent. But web banner ads, click-thrus and affiliate sales programs will NEVER replace local spot sales dollars that traditional TV ads have generated since the television medium began.
Then what do local TV stations do?
Well, if stations are losing the battle over traffic & weather, perhaps they need to rethink their strategy on the third driver of local newscasts: sports. Technology is good for drawing on data for generating weather & traffic info… but not so much in covering local sports. The DC area is awash in sporting events, teams and all the crowds who follow them. Consider Montgomery County: there are 26 public high schools alone that offer an array of sports programs, with participants that have stories to tell and legions of parents and fans who follow them. Many of these programs (often not fully covered by local media) already have parents, boosters and student journalists covering them with video. Why not create a multiplatform media portal where all this content could be not only aggregated but facilitate engagement with the communities that follow them. And yes, for God’s sakes use one of the local station’s nascent digital channels to include some of this content as well.
Are local TV news operations still profitable, even with the decline of audiences and market share? Yes, by and large most of them are… including our DC stations. Yet the handwriting is on the wall.
Newspapers were once profitable and seemingly untouchable in generating local revenues, but they were too slow to respond to new technologies that disrupted their business models. Local TV stations are content-generating machines that CAN be leveraged and monetized in this new world, if only they will adjust to new realities and not hang onto the old ways of doing things.
Let Siri be Siri. She can’t replace everything… yet.