Broadcasters say they must seize the opportunities of multicasting, retrans and the Web and simply get better at selling.
For nearly 200 small market broadcasters gathered in San Diego last week, the big issue was change, and the willingness to take a few risks in order to capitalize on it.
“Broadcasters don’t take risks, as you can see by looking at things like USDTV,” said Liz Burns, president of Morgan Murphy Stations. She referred to the now-bankrupt effort to distribute cable networks over digital broadcast channels.
“One of the things we heard here was that we need to think about taking on risky new things in steps,” she said. “If you can’t do video on cell phones, you can start out by offering text messaging services, and then move up to video later on.”
Burns co-chaired the NAB Small Market TV Exchange conference, which kicked off with the annual Small Market TV Roundtable, in which more than two dozen station group owners, CEOs and division chiefs met for a day to discuss their concerns.
There, the top issues were retransmission consent fees, multicasting and the Internet, Burns said.
Small market broadcasters face a particular challenge convincing cable operators to pay them for carrying their signals, Burns said. “Most operators just say no,” she said, but pointed out that it was Nexstar Broadcasting, a small market station group, that has taken the lead in garnering retrans cash. To get similar results, small market broadcasters “just have to keep pushing for it,” she said.
The Internet offers a particularly interesting opportunity for small market stations, Burns said.
Participants in the two-day Exchange heard about how much more revenue local newspapers are reaping from Web sites than broadcasters are, Burns said.
But there was a silver lining to the bad news, she said. Small market newspapers haven’t been nearly as aggressive at marketing their Web sites as big market ones have, opening a window for broadcasters to take the lead.
Fox affiliates may get an added incentive to push forward online, Burns said, as the network is considering creating a Web site template that stations can customize or simply use as-is. “The idea is to bring a big-city look to small market stations,” Burns said.
After the top executives pondered the big issues at the Small Market Roundtable, close to 200 station managers, general sales managers and promotion managers spent two days focused on the day-to-day concern of marketing TV in a changing advertising environment.
There again, the big idea was trying new things. “We have the same challenges as big market stations, but fewer resources,” said Madelyn Bonnot, managing partner at National Communications (KVHP Lake Charles, La.).
Options on the table include everything from video-on-demand and mobile programming to the Internet, said Bonnot, who with Burns co-chaired the Small Market TV Exchange.
The potential in new advertising categories, such as medical services and real estate, caught the eye of Johnette LaBorde, senior account manager at KVHP, a Fox affiliate in Lake Charles, La.
She too said the message of much of the convention was to embrace risk. “We really need to stop making excuses and move forward with the times.”
Several other broadcasters mentioned the need to get better at basic selling. “Our sales teams have to be better than ever if we’re going to remain relevant,” said Ted Fortenberry, vice president and general manager of KAIT Jonesboro, Arkansas.
As local broadcasters develop multiplatform opportunities, the consultative sell, in which account executives explore the needs of the advertiser and then create proposals tailored to those needs, is more important that ever, Fortenberry said. “One advertiser might need a multiplatform approach, while another might not.”
Along with mining new categories and media, broadcasters need to remember to market their industry by taking advantage of the excitement surrounding it. “When you go to a party and someone asks you what you do, they light up when you tell them TV,” Bonnot said. “We need to bring the showbiz back to our industry.”