Unique Content, Better UX Sustaining New Local Viewers On Digital
Broadcasters have turned a spike in viewer numbers earlier this year into ongoing growth through a mix of strategies.
The jump in numbers earlier this year is largely attributed to COVID-related stay-at-home orders and Black Lives Matter protests, broadcasters said during TVNewsCheck’sTV2025 conference Wednesday in a panel on optimizing multiplatform audiences. The source mix for reaching new viewers is shifting, and keeping those viewers coming back for more requires a variety of approaches, including differentiated content, improved user experiences and loyalty programs, panelists said.
While March, April and May were three of Allen Media Broadcasting/Heartland Media’s highest months on record, they also show a 60% increase in viewer numbers over 2019, said Lisa Bishop, the company’s chief digital officer.
“We saw just over 250% growth in OTT consumption” with Roku leading the lion’s share and a 56% increase in Alexa use, Bishop said. With the strategic use of signup widgets, “newsletter subscriptions ballooned,” although numbers have started to flatten out.
Adam Ostrow, Tegna’s chief digital officer, said Tegna’s traffic is up 79% year to date over 2019 and that growth has been sustained. The source of traffic, he said, has shifted from about 60% coming from social media to about a third each from social media, search engines and direct from Tegna sites and apps.
Tony Katsur, Nexstar Media Group’s SVP, digital strategy, corporate development and operations, said its numbers are up about 72% for 3Q 2020 over 3Q 2019, although audience numbers have been spiking since the prelude to COVID, with additional surges during the Black Lives Matter protests and hurricanes.
At Gray Television, OTT numbers have continued gaining share month over month, said Mike Braun, SVP digital media. While some of that comes down to larger national news, he said, local weather situations drive numbers. “Viewers are finding us on those platforms, and they’re sticking around,” he said.
Getting found is half the battle. Bishop said Allen/Heartland didn’t focus initially on discoverability when it first launched OTT apps in late 2016 and early 2017.
“There was a ton of self discovery going on,” she said. “Our Roku consumption was growing with little to no promotion.”
Viewers were searching for the app or brand specifically, she said. “We are not out on any other distribution platform. That was the only way they could find us, to search for our brand.” Viewers searched because “we were sticking true to what we are. We are local, local news, local weather, local sports. We were delivering something you could only get in a local format.”
Braun said Gray has found it’s important to deliver content differently across different platforms. More than half of Gray’s markets feature an OTT desk that is streaming live news, allowing for simultaneous OTT and linear feeds.
“We’re trying to figure out what type of content is being consumed and … where does audience like to receive it,” Braun said. “We’re starting to find the common denominator that the content does matter on each platform.”
Seeking a way to bring more video “outside what we consider traditional news” to viewers, Gray has invested in Syncbak’s VUit, which is “live, local and free” to the audience, Braun said.
VUit provides a secondary stream of video without taking away from the linear channel, he added. “The audience stays on average more than 20 minutes at a time. We’re excited about where it’s going.”
While content is critical, Katsur said, “it all starts and ends with the user experience.” To that end, Nexstar has redesigned all of its assets to promote low latency and ease of navigation.
Beyond that, Nexstar employs data scientists and a modeling team to help inform the broadcaster about the type of content the communities are looking for, he said.
Tegna’s effort to drive and convert a new audience revolves around loyalty products. Over the last couple of years, Tegna has invested in product technology, including a proprietary content management system that can be used to create custom user experiences, Ostrow said.
One of those is a loyalty newsletter. In the past, automated newsletters had gone out, but now they are curated with “personality,” Ostrow said. “We’ve gone from zero subscribers a couple of years ago to a couple hundred thousand subscribers now.”Digital executives from Tegna, Gray, Nexstar and Allen Media said they’re holding on to some of their surging COVID and protest audiences by ramping up their digital user experiences, cultivating loyalty programs and offering up plenty… Click To Tweet
Verify, Ostrow added, has been key for grassroots engagement and audience building since Tegna initiated the program in 2016. In short, Verify seeks to combat the problem of misinformation online. Viewers send in stories they’re seeing on social media and ask whether these are true or false, and reporters check into the veracity of the story.
Now, Verify is available through Snapchat Discover, covering topics like the presidential debates, COVID and social justice. The majority of the audience Tegna is reaching through Snapchat Discover is under 24.
“The demographic on there is really different than what we’re reaching on other platforms,” Ostrow said. It’s building “long-term loyalty and affinity for what we’re doing.”
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