NTF 2020 | Digital News In 2021? Personalization, Data And ‘Authentic’ Streaming Reporting
Wherever digital and streaming technologies may take TV news in 2021, one element will be its biggest driver.
“It’s been very easy for the TV industry, with its big infrastructure, big beautiful studios, expensive cameras to get very caught up in the technology,” said Robert McKenzie, editor at BBC News Labs, the network’s testing site for innovation. “What this year has shown us is what the audience really appreciates is great storytelling, and the ability to relate to the news, particularly in [News Labs’] case. I think there’s going to be a much bigger focus on that in the coming years.”
McKenzie’s remarks came during a Wednesday NewsTECHForum panel considering where digital and streaming storytelling will evolve next year, moderated by Michael Depp, TVNewsCheck’s editor.
Looking to the streaming side of that future, Ameya Pendse, a supervising producer at CNN who works on digital content, said audience expectations are different there than on linear TV.
“People don’t really need the polish,” Pendse said. “They’re into authenticity.”
Glen Hale, VP of digital content and audience development at Gray Television, concurred. “You have to loosen your approach,” he said of streaming TV production. “If something is a little bit loose and [on-camera talent] is talking to someone off-camera, all those sorts of things on traditional television that may be considered no-nos, on OTT those types of production values actually perform better in a way, so we’re working that into our plans.”
Hale referenced his station group’s recent partnership with VUit, launching a new live-streaming show comprised of aggregated local content. Backed by Gray’s stations in 94 markets, Local News Live is based in Omaha, Neb., but, as Hale said, aims to “get those stories and those voices that aren’t necessarily seen every day out front, in a broader way, and not just in their local markets.”
In some cases on OTT platforms, however, Pendse said a simple livestream of the linear feed — something CNN does often — is just fine for viewers.
“There’s going to be a ton of experimentation,” said Joe Fiveash, VP of strategy and media solutions at The Weather Company, an IBM Business, emphasizing his point as it relates to mobile app TV news production. “People are going to try a hundred things, and three of them are going to work, and everyone else is going to jump on that bandwagon.”
One thing he predicted is that, soon, mobile devices and TV sets will be paired more effectively, so that some capabilities, like location identification, can be shared more seamlessly.
BBC News Labs has been experimenting with personalizing news content. To date, it has been able to most effectively personalize its mobile news app, giving users the option to follow certain topics and generate a curated feed.
McKenzie believes personalization is not just about content that a user might be interested in. At BBC News Labs, they’re looking to integrate user preferences in the style in which a topic is written, the language it’s covered in, and the format in which the story is presented — say, video versus text.
“Personalization means so many different things to so many different people,” McKenzie said. “That’s one of the things we’re grappling with now, how do we produce the different varieties of content that are needed for that — at a time when the BBC is trying to save money — and how do we work out who wants what.”
Depp drew a comparison to what the Associated Press has been doing with automated publishing of quarterly earnings reports for small companies and stats for minor league baseball organizations, for example. McKenzie confirmed that it was a similar system to that of the AP’s, with slightly-tweaked software.
“We’re trying to make sure as a public service company that we’re providing something that we think is adding value,” McKenzie said, “treating people as assistants not just as consumers [and] add[ing] to the level of knowledge amongst the population.”
Personalization can come into play in weather news delivery, too. For The Weather Company, the approach to personalization has been manifested in Weather InSight, an AI-driven tool that builds a weather mobile-app experience catered to the user.
“It takes 147 different aspects of weather and builds a set of rules for personalization that’s different for each individual,” Fiveash explained. “It is constantly weighting and re-weighting factors in there; it could be the time of day, it could be the urgency, it could be location … it could be the user’s browsing history.”
InSight might know, for instance, that a user works out at 6 in the morning, Fiveash said, or that they have particular allergies. That user’s mobile weather app will be ready to display the information that user will likely prioritize most.
“The concepts, the technology, a lot of the aspects of InSight that currently lives on mobile, will come over to the television set,” Fiveash said. Of such a level of AI- based personalization, he added: “It’s a different beast.”
Data Science Solutions
The election and pandemic have been natural stories for conspicuous data presentation in their news coverage. ABC Owned Stations was positioned perfectly for such an approach to those stories because the network had recently placed data journalists in several of its larger markets and assigned another to its national news bureau.
The data journalists collaborate with local reporters, and on national segments, to figure out ways to frame a story with hard numbers. Depp asked John Kelly, director of data journalism at ABC Owned Stations, how important data journalism is going to be beyond 2020 and what it might look like.
“[It] adds this layer of precision that is using source data and original materials that help lend some authority to the information that’s out there,” Kelly said of data-focused reportage. “It’s been really important for our stations to have a handle on those numbers, to be able to show viewers our work, backup what we’re reporting, help viewers understand the sea of information — and frankly the avalanche of misinformation that’s flowing their way every day and every hour — so that they can better understand the world they live in, and make good decisions for their families.
“I don’t think that’s going to let up in 2021,” he said.
While the pandemic will likely linger through most of next year as a data-rich story, Kelly feels just about any story can be data driven — political, social or in any other category.
When it comes to data points, “sharing those and explaining those to the audience, is not only something viewers are looking for, I think it’s going to be something viewers expect from us.”
Read more NewsTECHForum 2020 coverage here.