Chaotic 2020 Sparks News Streaming Creativity
If 2020 has been a hellacious year to live through, it has also been a hell of a year for programming experimentation in news streaming.
“I could not waste a moment taking advantage of everyone trying new things and the culture of knowing that we had this opportunity to seize,” said Catherine Badalamente, SVP and chief innovation officer of the Graham Media Group, of her time working through the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. It was a period of “everyone just having the right ideas, and us being able to try things we were never able to try before,” she added.
The observations were made during a panel discussion, “Pandemic, Protests: Programming OTT in a Remarkable Year,” on Tuesday at TVNewsCheck’s OTT News Summit. In a conversation moderated by TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp, Badalamente and other news industry leaders said this tumultuous period has been a boon for streaming viewership and programming opportunities.
“The numbers we are seeing in streaming are well beyond any of our original projections because of these events,” said Adam Wiener, EVP and GM of CBS Local Digital Media. “They drove people to the product and they created discovery for us. For all the hardship it has created, it has created growth for the industry and a new product.”
Matt Goldberg, VP of content strategy at NBC LX, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations’ youth-targeted news brand, agreed that the current period has sparked dramatic creativity. “It just forced us as an industry to jump off the cliff together and force us to take more risks than I think we were willing to take,” Goldberg said.
Surviving the trip has taken tremendous ingenuity and agility on the part of newsroom staffers.
“The traditional newsroom environment … to an extent, overnight, disappeared,” said Craig Wilson, Avid’s product evangelist in the broadcast and media enterprise and market solutions division. “What we saw was a real explosion in delivering the ability to work remotely, whether that was working from home or working on location, but still providing the capability and the technology for teams to collaborate,” he said.
Some of the tools Avid provides, either mobile- or browser-based, helped news producers cope, suddenly thrust into the fore after existing on the fringes of newsroom work.
Goldberg said his team “leaned in” on cloud technology, which has provided optimum flexibility.
“What it’s turned into in this environment is we’ve got a storyteller who is in Los Angeles, one is in New York, and they’re working together on a story remotely, never even setting foot in the same building, doing it all through collaboration with technology,” Goldberg said. “That’s something I didn’t really see that would be commonplace and it really has become a weekly thing where we’ve got reporting happening in multiple cities, with two people who’ve never worked together.”
For six years, the Fox-owned studios for KSAZ and KUTP, based in Phoenix, housed an OTT streaming news initiative dubbed NewsNow. Depp described it as a “one- or two-person shop where there was a multimedia journalist sort of DJing the news for multiple hours of the day.”
Once the pandemic struck, NewsNow — which also had a one million-strong YouTube subscriber base for on-demand viewing — was commandeered by all of Fox’s news enterprises and transformed.
“Given the magnitude of the story and the continuous updates, we pivoted and rebranded NewsNow exclusively to coronavirus coverage and [gave it] its own website,” said Mark Rodman, SVP and GM of KSAZ and KUTP. For CoronavirusNow content, the team tapped not just Fox-owned properties, but the BBC, USA Today and the Associated Press and other sources for stories.
“We saw it as an aggregating site, collecting up-to-date stories on the pandemic, from newsrooms around the world,” Rodman said.
Badalamente said Graham was fortunate to have OTT technology already in place before the pandemic, giving the group “the ability to go live across every platform, including OTT, via the push of a button.” Such capabilities, she said, “was exactly what [audiences] were looking for.”
Executives from NBC LX, CBS Local Digital, Graham Media and Fox Television Stations say the pandemic, protests and other news developments have spawned creative programming decisions, along with innovative new remote workflows to… Click To TweetDepp noted that NBCU’s LX has prided itself on a more unorthodox — sometimes irreverent — approach to news. He wondered if Goldberg and his team felt that they had to button things up a bit, given the intensity of the COVID-19 story and the social justice protests.
“Not really,” Goldberg responded. “At the end of the day, the brand of LX is about depth and context, and all of the research we did led us to that point, in addition to the experimentation and the franchises that we do.”
If anything, Goldberg says LX “doubled down” on what it’s always done, and with desired outcomes. The crises’ developments sometimes called for two-hour long, in-depth shows, which “a lot of broadcast[ers] can’t do or won’t do because it doesn’t follow the formula,” he said.
Find more OTT News Summit coverage here.