Pandemic Reveals NextGen TV’s Opportunity
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven, once again and in a big way, the value of local TV news. Ratings are up, trust is up. Audience engagement is through the roof, as TV personalities literally welcome audiences into their homes. Even their cats are becoming stars.
At the same time, ad revenues are down, while station executives are working overtime to keep their widely dispersed staffs safe and operations humming.
So, is the present time, while TV news is both outperforming and overstressed, really the time to focus on the future of emergency news with NextGen TV? As one news thought leader told me, it’s the best of times and the worst of times to be talking about NextGen TV. News teams are focused like never before on new ways to cover emergencies, but they’re also preoccupied with just getting out the news on a 24-hour cycle.
Timely or not, we know a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. The pandemic — overwhelming but moving at a slower pace than a tornado or wildfire — combined with the imminent launch of NextGen TV, creates a unique window to talk about the future. Fortunately for the TV industry, NextGen is about taking what you’re already doing well now and elevating it to a whole new level. It’s about cementing your leadership in local news for years to come. It’s about building strength on strength.
A recent survey indicates that news professionals are beginning to understand the opportunity. In a series of webinars that the AWARN Alliance produced last summer for TV news professionals — attended by nearly 200 people — we polled the audience on this question: “Is ATSC 3.0 a game-changer for TV news?” An amazing 96% answered “yes.” When TV news pros learn about NextGen, they get it.
There also is a broader dimension beyond covering the news: NextGen and AWARN may be the key to getting ATSC 3.0 receiver chips in smartphones and connected cars, which would unlock enormous economic value for broadcasters. Improving public safety by improving alerting is a powerful argument for extending the reach of TV stations beyond fixed TV sets.
What would NextGen emergency news and information look like? It starts with geo-targeting existing newsroom workflow, aggregating it with content from public sources and distributing the feed or stream through hybrid networks. Broadcast and digital news and weather, public websites, and other ready sources may be bundled and offered to consumers in a dashboard user experience (UX).
The service may be automated or semi-automated and transmitted both over-the-air with ATSC 3.0 and over the web. Consumers might see a small icon on their TV or mobile screens telling them that new geo-targeted emergency information is available to them if they choose to select it.
Information like weather updates, flood levels, road closures, shelter locations, news conferences with emergency authorities, access to closed neighborhoods or photos of missing persons would be made available at consumers’ fingertips.
In the case of COVID-19, it might be notification that a new person within, say, five miles of where you live has tested positive for the infection.
Major news stations might use the feed as a bridge when they choose to end live, wall-to-wall coverage of an event and return to regular programming. It may serve as a source of localized news for their D2 channels that also can funnel viewers to the news channel.
Public stations that do not provide regular news coverage have expressed interest in taking emergency feeds from news stations or creating their own automated feeds as a geo-targeted lifeline for their viewers.
Through an upcoming pilot project and regional (virtual) meetings, we will continue our engagement with news professionals to develop UX templates and model workflows for launching NextGen emergency alerting and news.
We also have started parallel discussions with leading emergency managers to gather their ideas about working with their local broadcasters to use the platform. Then we will bring them all together to build model templates that can guide local stations for their own NextGen TV emergency news deployments.
Creating best practices and shaping the future of emergency news and information with NextGen TV can only be accomplished with a united industry behind us. We are proud of support from our current members in the U.S., South Korea and Japan. But many broadcasters large and small, including major networks, TV set manufacturers and B2B players are sitting on the sidelines.
We urge our potential industry partners — broadcasters and consumer electronics — to look up from the urgent business of managing the pandemic today and help the AWARN Alliance build new tools for the inevitable crises of the future.
In his management classic, Good to Great, Dr. Jim Collins shared a key finding from his research: great companies don’t assign their best people to their biggest problems, they assign them to their biggest opportunities. Successful coverage of the pandemic combined with the emerging technology of NextGen TV creates an immense opportunity for local TV to secure its place in an interconnected but vulnerable world.
John Lawson is the executive director of the AWARN Alliance and president of Convergence Services Inc., a consulting firm.