Thursday 12 January 2012

Broad-casts, Narrow Models by Tshaka Armstrong from My Fox11 LA

Here is a guest post from my friend Tshaka Armstrong from My Fox 11 in Los Angeles on his insights into broadcast television and the internet.

Broad-casts, Narrow Models

Recently I was in a Hangout with some folks on Google+ and the topic of how the internet has/is/will change the face of local news broadcasting came up. This is something I've put considerable time into thinking about since I've been in the news business for roughly 15 years. I've seen so much change technologically, while I've watched so little change with regard to the corporate mindset on social media/social networking (ie, the technology used to produce the product has changed dramatically and yet the tech used to connect with the audience has been embraced at a much slower pace).

Tshaka and Maria
The local broadcast TV News biz has been very slow to adopt social media unlike some of their cable news counterparts. I think this is due in part to the fact that cable news programming has a national, and in some cases, international audience and budget constraints have required people to come up with creative ways to keep costs low while still being able to bring viewers news from around the world. I can only surmise that local news, because of being local, hasn't really faced the same issue. Microwave vans and satellite trucks have allowed local TV newsrooms to maintain the status quo.

The problem though is that the accessibility the internet provides has turned the tables and what used to be a local news broadcast has become increasingly narrow by comparison. Let's take a look at one local station.

New Orleans ABC affiliate WGNO-TV improved its year-to-year audience by doubling its rating from a 1.2 to 2.4 for its 5PM broadcast according to the Times-Picayne. The problem with that is each rating point in New Orleans is only worth 1% of the total local homes (635,860) which comes to 7630.32 households (source: The Times-Picayune). This means that they did something successfully to double the number of people watching their broadcast and yet those numbers pale in comparison to some YouTube users who do not have millions of dollars of equipment and personnel.

Tshaka and Liz
Let's think about that for a second, shall we? A broadcast TV station has approximately 15,000 viewers tuning in to its 5PM broadcast and yet there are several YouTube users who put out content regularly, reaching audiences far larger than that. Back in the local TV broadcast news business there have been people working on the inside trying to get local news up to speed with the rest of the world and social media but many have been resistant, often discounting the power and reach of new media and social media. I think some of this has been because those making the decisions haven't completely figured out what the return on investment is going to be, or even what that return looks like financially. Therein lies the problem. While those in the corporate world have waited and watched to see how the changing technological landscape could be leveraged for their ends, others have used it and gained mass followings and supplemented their own incomes and in some cases, created primary sources of income that feed, clothe and house their families.

We have to, as an industry, embrace the interwebz and related technologies, but with a larger mindset than the one previously held. We have to become just as good at multi-tasking as everyone else in this culture. We have to focus on the hyper-local while not missing out on opportunities to connect to the larger national and even international consciousness. Opportunities to connect with movements like #OccupyWallStreet and the people at the polls this election season, not just the candidates, will help local newsrooms stay relevant. In the end though, content is king. Citizen journalists have more access than ever to create compelling content that connects with large swaths of internet mindshare so it's imperative more than any other time in history that the local newsroom focus on enterprise stories and use what professional resources they have available to create equally engrossing content that provides regional context for larger stories.

Local broadcasts aren't so broad anymore. If we're to cast our content to a broad audience we're going to have to jump in with both feet! If we're about being broad the internet is the place to be. It truly is broad. We either find the synergy between the traditional and the cutting edge or we start calling ourselves Narrow-casters.

What do you think? Have you seen some of the same issues in your own news rooms? Have you noticed this as a viewer?

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