Local broadcasters can leapfrog television’s 800-pound gorillas to become dominant players in the next golden age of television–if they follow these six simple rules.
The bad news network affiliates already know: the broadcast networks are embracing new multi-platform distribution opportunities. The networks’ future no longer necessarily, or perhaps even logically, includes the affiliates. The business model that affiliates have relied on for decades is, at best, being undermined; at worst, it’s vaporizing.
If there is any good news, it’s that the market forces and technological advances threatening the station business are also threatening every other player in television, including cable operators, networks and program producers. In this industry-wide upheaval lie tremendous opportunities for TV stations.
There is no reason why stations cannot leapfrog a couple of television’s 800-pound gorillas to become dominant players in the next golden age of television.
Here are some new-age-media tips for affiliates:
- Know your business.
Viewers have declared that they want what they want, how they want it, when they want it, and where they want it. This means that offering news and entertainment over all electronic media devices—both linear and on-demand, passive and interactive, portable and customizable—is not an option, but a requirement. Resistance is futile.
- Re-evaluate your business relationships.
Technology now allows for the direct distribution of content by producers (whether they are giant conglomerates or average teenagers). What was once an ordered system of production-aggregation-distribution populated by established TV producers; broadcast and cable networks; TV stations; and cable and satellite system operators, respectively, is now the Wild, Wild West.
Everyone is invading everyone else’s territory. Cable operators are launching their own networks and aggregating content for VOD, PPV, broadband and mobile; networks are supplementing traditional programming distribution with their own broadband sites, iTunes and mobile services; and everyone—absolutely everyone—is producing their own content.
Local affiliates can cry about ABC’s sale of Lost and Desperate Housewives episodes through iTunes, or they can swim up that same stream and make their own production deals with Bad Robot and Cherry Alley Productions. There is no reason local TV stations cannot alone, or in groups, go to producers and buy programming. How many times have networks passed over what proved to be a major hit? Though your wallet might not be as big as theirs, today’s hits are rarely the sole function of the production costs (South Park, Trading Spaces, American Chopper, TRL).
- Collaborate for success.
How are networks and satellite/cable companies reacting to the same industry upheaval? They want to own everything they produce in all media, so they can exploit it anywhere and forever. Are they paying more for these expanded programming rights? Nope. Will they get the great content in the long run? Nope.
The evolving content distribution model on the Web, through the likes of Brightcove, YouTube and Revver, involves revenue sharing between producer and distributor. If TV networks think work-for-hire relationships will win them the loyalty of the next generation of content producers, they’re wrong. The gates they’ve been guarding so militantly for years have come off the hinges. The walls of their garden are being overrun.
If TV stations diverged from this course, and instead reached out to local producers, directors, writers and actors in a spirit of true collaboration, they might form mutually beneficial relationships and succeed in keeping this talent from migrating to Hollywood.
Don’t believe me? Throw a party at your TV station for local producers, directors and writers who have helped create a show for a national network, and see how many people attend. Offer them a fair production deal that values their talent equally with your ad sales, production, marketing and distribution expertise, and they’ll stay.
Consider creating an open and well-equipped “broadband lab” that creates low-cost Web pilots across all genres, then dedicate more resources to those that resonate with audiences and advertisers. There is so little to lose, and quite a bit to gain. We’ll gladly help pull it together in Philly. And if it works, expect the 800-pound gorillas to imitate it. But, like pseudo-micro brews concocted by giant beer distributors, don’t expect them to get it right.
- Step up your game.
Today, “national” in TV generally means high-production-value programming with great writing and recognized stars sponsored by national advertisers with well-produced spots. “Local,” on the other hand, means “if it bleeds, it leads.” Of course, there is some great locally-produced programming, but if you plan on going head to head for viewers’ attention in a broadband world that doesn’t distinguish between local and national, you’re going to have to raise the bar in both production and advertising.
Local news might consider abandoning its present course and return to its original mandate: a public service offering a balanced view of events and their relevance for the local community they serve. We’re starving for it.
- Trade on your strengths.
What can local stations offer in entertainment and information media that nobody else can? Localism, of course.
Local means you know your audience’s unique interests and needs better than any national competitor. Why not leverage that authenticity and relevance to own the local broadband subscriber’s home page? Be their portal to the outside world.
Local doesn’t mean less access to the best talent and programming. You can attend the same markets as the gorillas, and your money is just as green.
Local means that you have better access to local talent. Besides deconstructing the broadcaster/affiliate business model, technology has also laid waste the notion that all programming of any value comes from Hollywood. Hey, WCVBÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ check out itsjerrytime.com. It was produced in your backyard, by a former employee, and rivals the best of what’s available on Adult Swim.
- Embrace change.
Fortunately, the technological revolution that led to the me-focused consumer demands has also made it relatively cheap for you to satisfy them. There is no real advantage for the 800-pound gorillas here. In fact, local stations’ smaller investment in traditional delivery systems might even be considered an advantage. There is no reason every TV station cannot launch broadband TV networks and mobile services. And with less interest than national broadcasters in protecting the status quo, these ventures are more likely to innovate and thrive.
The future of television is wide open. Carpe Diem.
Jeff Boortz is president of Concrete Pictures, a Philadelphia-based creative services agency.