Many factors contribute to success at local news operations. Each of my positions over the years afforded me the opportunity to look at content and presentation and distribution through a changing series of lenses. This period also coincided with the tsunami disruptions to mainstream media, especially the birth and growth of social. Here’s a baker’s dozen of suggestions gleaned from life lessons over the years.
American Cable Association President Matthew Polka: “The arrival of CBS All Access means at least two positive developments: The forces in favor of consumer choice have won the debate and critics like TVFreedom need to find a new agenda because it is impossible for broadcasters to explain how it’s possible to be ‘just a little a la carte.’ “
We are only weeks away from the 2014 mid-term election. In an election year, I always get a lot of questions about FCC political ad rules, and they come at an ever more furious pace as we get closer to election day. Typically, they run the gamut of political broadcasting issues. This cycle, however, the hands-down winner is how to handle third-party issue ads.
But a more sophisticated software platform can make life much easier for agencies and media. It affords better workflow management of the content, ensures quality control checks of the various formats, reduces manual mistakes and saves time.
Sens. Rockefeller and Thune’s “Local Choice” retrans reform proposal allowing the à la carte sale of channels to cable and MVPD customers would affect consumers, broadcasters, MVPDs and cable program suppliers and policy makers. Here’s how.
Every GM and news director I know who oversees a local newsroom has taken severe weather very seriously. We spend millions of dollars on early warning equipment, radars and other software to make sure we can get the information on the air as quickly as possible. We are local broadcasters. We are the only source of instantaneous information showing the storm, explaining where it is heading and what viewers need to know right now to protect themselves. This is what a local TV station does. It focuses on your community. Your home.
Along with a growing number of companies serving the TV industry, there has been a change in technology leadership. Both computer companies and smaller U. S. entries commanded growing positions. This is a direct byproduct of the shift from hardware to software as the dominant factor. There was still plenty of hardware for sale in Las Vegas, but most of the buzz was about the cloud, collaboration, workflow, streaming, social media, software tools and solutions.
Congestion on a cellular network can pose a challenge to media organizations, as live video transmission from overcrowded areas may experience interruptions. On top of traffic issues, the physical terrain of the streaming location may also affect cellular connectivity, including distance to cell towers, and physical barriers between the cellular devices and the towers such as walls, buildings and natural terrain. However, there are several tools that can be used to help guarantee a stable signal.
Robert Gessner, president of MCTV: “When you consider how the costs of a cable TV network and basic cable TV programming have changed, it is clear that the network cost has increased by slightly less than the rate of inflation and programming cost has increased by about five times inflation.”
When used properly, certain analytics can help stations make smarter and more accurate selling decisions, providing insights necessary to identify sales opportunities. Here are three key analytics that give you the advantage to sell more.
If your station has rows and racks and piles of old videotapes, you have a storage expense that you can turn into an asset. The reasons to digitize archived news videotape are based on value, the score that businesses use in deciding to act. So where’s the potential value in digitizing the videotape library? There are at least eight great reasons, including providing valuable legacy content for both on air and online.
Ted Stephens, VP-GM of KCWI-KDMI Des Moines-Ames, Iowa, to Twentieth Television: “As a broadcaster I am incensed by how you sold our industry down the river. The double standard you demonstrated in the terms of the syndication rights to Modern Family for cable and broadcasting is nothing short of unethical.”
Phil Robertson’s religious beliefs are of no interest to me or to a great many other Americans, I should think. I have no idea why GQ magazine, which is aimed at fashionable men, took an interest in a scruffy guy with a beard. Now, however, the host of A&E’s Duck Dynasty has become a rallying point for those who oppose the aims of GLAAD, after the civil rights group called attention to his anti-gay remarks in the magazine. Great. That’s just what gay rights need, a popular spokesman for homophobia. If GLAAD had not called attention to Robertson’s GQ interview, it probably would have got all the attention it deserves, which is to say almost none.
The newly appointed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has pieced together a top staff that comprises three “blue-ribbon, card-carrying members of the FCC club” and two “true believers” who seem to become more liberal and interventionist the older they get.
While marijuana advertising might be acceptable and entirely legal under local state law, accepting such advertising presents substantial risk to a station. The rules have not been tested and further guidance from the Justice Department is important before broadcasters begin to accept this advertising.
With all the recent mergers and acquisitions among TV station group owners, the question is no longer whether or not there will be a small group of local TV empires. The question is which ones will succeed and which ones will fail? Empires that succeed and endure have created the best “social glue” and it turns out home-grown glue is the best. And nobody does local better than local television broadcasters.
Porter Novelli’s Brian Frederick: “The NAB’s charges [that the vast majority of retrans blackouts involve DirecTV, Dish Network and Time Warner Cable] are ludicrous, as anyone with even a basic understanding of how business works can attest. There is nothing more frustrating for TV consumers than blackouts so it’s absurd to think that pay TV distributors would intentionally upset their customers and risk losing them. As long as distributors are prohibited from importing a distant network signal and broadcasters can drop signals on cable and satellite, broadcasters can demand whatever they want for a local signal, knowing that most viewers primarily just care about network programming anyway.”
Notwithstanding the fact that internships are promoted heavily under FCC policy for its EEO program, it is also becoming dangerous to have an unpaid internship program without a thorough understanding of the law and creating important legal safeguards. While it might be an opportunity to provide training for prospective employees, it also might expose a company to liability for unpaid wages and overtime. Here’s some advice and helpful hints.
As a sales manager, do you know what steps you need to incorporate now to make sure that your sales pros are properly positioned to take advantage of the advertising shift to digital products? The answer lies in four categories: people, knowledge, products and return on investment.
On Saturday and Sundays, many TV stations are sticking to the script of network sports, news and public affairs, repeats of weekday programs and paid programming — way too much paid programming. It isn’t offering anything to viewers or long-term prospects. But if you’re smart, you can use weekends to broaden appeal and differentiate yourself from the pack.
The parallels between TV stations today and newspapers in 2005 should be heeded by local TV executives. The trends are equally troubling and there is much they can learn from newspapers’ experience and response. Clearly, audience and advertisers are moving to digital platforms. But TV stations confront the same challenges as newspapers: digital is returning significantly less revenue than the core product and advertisers don’t yet know how to effectively buy across media channels.
Communications attorney John Hane: “Unless it can find a way to make all of the other players in the television industry smaller, the FCC should throw off archaic broadcast ownership regulations that skew the market against the only television service that is free to Americans who don’t want to pay.”
Broadcasters have an alternative to converting over-the-air networks to cable channels to thwart Barry Diller’s Aereo and Charlie Ergen’s AutoHop Dish DVR: the “Dual Stream Strategy.” Each TV station would feed a new, modified visual format of programming to their transmitters for OTA reception. This would consist of a station’s programming lineup in a reduced-size video window, surrounded by continuous weather, news and community information graphics and visual ads. The second stream would consist of the core programming full-screen, just as it is now, for MVPDs with retrans deals.
In response to last week’s commentary by Ed Rabel critical of local TV news, the president-GM of WXII Greensboro/Winston-Salem, N.C., rebuts: “We live in a new golden age of over-the-air television. Leading stations with strong newscasts find themselves offering more services to more people than ever before.”
What if you could buy a 50-inch television, mount it anywhere in your house, and receive dozens of channels on it for free and without any futzing around? What if most or all broadcast signals, in their native form, were easily receivable on tablets and smartphones?
One of the biggest myths is that broadcasters need a lot of bandwidth to import good video from the field via the cell networks. It isn’t true. One modem and 500 kpbs will do the job. And many broadcasters don’t realize that the more modems you stream with, the higher your on-air latency.
Embedded audio has become dominant because of its benefits, but it does have a downside: It is inflexible. Taking cost-effective advantage of the operational and cost benefits of embedded audio requires careful assessment of need and evaluation of the available technology, as well as solid planning and system design.
Changes in the television industry since the last wave of M&A activity will spur new deal-making and change its very nature. Retrans fees — which had not yet matured as a meaningful second income stream as of the last M&A cycle — will now be a new catalyst for growth and achieving scale. Add to that the differentiating value of broadcast television — its ability to generate cash, the near-term value of huge spending in political advertising, and the emerging (and, yes, changing) shape of station economics — and you have newly ripening incentives for buyers and sellers.
Stations need to begin streaming their live signals, and to offer streams of past programs, before the future passes them by. The first steps are to fashion a business model and secure the necessary rights from broadcast networks. It’s in the networks’ interest to extend those rights to affiliates, which are still the strongest distribution platform around.
With the move to file-based formats, storing and managing video that pours into TV stations is not as easy as it was in the days when it was on tape and you could label it and put it on a shelf. There is no single, cookie-cutter solution that will suffice for all stations. The needs of today’s file-based workflows, combined with the need for reliability inherent in any broadcast environment, require difficult decisions.
The long-awaited FCC report, “The Information Needs of Communities,” was released last week. Had the report endorsed radical (and preposterous) things, like a federal tax credit for investigative journalism, it would have attracted more ink, and been the subject of conversation far longer. But it’s a credit to its authors, and to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, that it did not do so, because it shows they possess both a realistic view of the scope of the FCC’s limited authority and a healthy respect for the First Amendment.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is now in his 10th and final year as commissioner and he still isn’t happy with the state of media and the journalism it supports. If he and the rest of the FCC couldn’t fix things during the last decade, perhaps the problem all along hasn’t been consolidation or avarice as he argues. Maybe it’s been that what ails the media, and the way forward, are more complex than to be availing of the kind of nostrums Copps has been peddling.
Broadcasters can extend their branded content to a global audience to capitalize on new revenue streams such as subscriptions and online advertising. But multiplatform distribution is technically complex, requiring support for thousands of mobile handheld device models, each with its own technical specifications. And while we’ve made great strides in solving the technical problems of serving media to thousands of mobile handheld devices, there are still creative problems yet to be resolved.
Without an automated workflow, you either can’t deliver dynamic media content to mobile devices or you’re very limited in terms of the quality you can send effectively.
Stations in each market must band together and share master control and other technical facilities. It’s the key to operating the traditional broadcasting business most efficiently, and to entering the new worlds of mobile and OTT. Locally outsourced and cooperatively operated on a centralcasting model, such Media Processing Centers will empower TV stations to become right-sized and more profitable while implementing new services. For the participating stations, they would replace heavy capital and uncertain maintenance costs with steady monthly payments.
The controversy over Time Warner Cable’s plan to distribute cable programming on tablets has implications for broadcasters. Like many cable programmers, most broadcasters don’t have all the rights needed to distribute programming on the Internet. Also, viewing on tablets is unmeasured. Do you want your station’s viewing shifting to unmeasured devices?
Reacting to last week’s Jessell At Large column, the head of the NAB’s Science and Technology department says broadcasters should be applauding NAB’s moves to absorb MSTV and expand its technology expertise and “not get misguidedly drawn into the realm of uneasiness that dominates the tone of…[Jessell’s] article.”
Energy efficiency is often overlooked in station operations, but a smarter physical layout, multiviewers, LED and flourescent lighting and an updated UPS can cut the electric bill and improve earnings With some planning, and often for a surprisingly low investment, you can significantly improve the energy efficiency and improve the workplace.
TV stations in a market should band together and and create a facility that would provide centralized play-out services for all of the stations’ multiple program streams.The synergies could be huge, and would not be burdened with the heavy fiber connectivity costs that have discouraged regional and national centralcasting efforts.
Rather than taking spectrum away from broadcasters, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski ought to consider giving stations more flexibility is using their spectrum. Freeing broadcasters from the constraints of the ATSC digital standard can be done now. The question is not whether spectrum should be used for broadband or broadcasting but whether it should be used for broadband and broadcasting.