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Tag: broadcasting

Thoughts on Marketing from Inside Local Television Stations

I just ended a 14 year run in local television marketing and promotion that took me from Grand Rapids to Chicago back to Grand Rapids to Colorado Springs.  My short description of the work: running an in-house agency to build brands, drive viewership, and increase our overall standing with all stakeholders.  So, my side was the business-to-consumer marketing that results in business-to-business selling of audiences (basic content around advertising model).

I’ve greatly enjoyed the first decade and a half of my career.  I’ve worked for some great companies and done excellent work with wonderful people.

Here are some thoughts and observations from my experience in the local media industry.  They’re focused primarily on traditional television broadcasting, rather than multi-platform content distribution and marketing.

These thoughts and observations are simplified and bullet-pointed.  I’m happy to elaborate upon or talk through any of this in more detail.  Use the Connect with Ethan page to find me – or just leave a comment on this post.

TV set, television set, t.v., tee vee, boob toob, boob tube

What a TV looked like when my career began. (Image from Photobucket user alex54j )

 

Working in Local TV Marketing and Promotion is Fun

  • It’s a nice combination of creativity and strategy.
  • You get to work extensively with words and ideas.
  • You get to create and manipulate images, both still and moving.
  • You get to work with music, sound effects, and natural/ambient sound.
  • Promos are always more exciting than the news packages – you get to pack all the best video and sound into :30!

The Work Itself is There, Then Gone

  • This is a basic function of linear broadcasting.
  • The display of your work is immediately fleeting and the work itself is highly perishable.
  • You get plenty of immediate gratification; what you just made can be put on TV within minutes.

Marketing to Anonymous Masses Provides Limited Satisfaction

  • The ability to track and measure, to connect directly efforts to results, is weak.  Research budgets are limited.  Nielsen’s measurements of viewing behavior are (insert adjective with negative connotation here).
  • In short, it’s more art than science.
  • Very few people like advertising.  It’s an interruption of what they’ve come to see or experience.
  • Nearly everyone wants and expects content and marketing to be increasingly personalized and customized (rightfully).
  • Television broadcasting is linear and monolithic, not personalized or customized.
  • It’s impossible to be consistently relevant, and therefore satisfying, to a mass of people.
  • That’s because they’re not a monolith; they are individuals who happen to be consuming the same media at the same time.
  • Tools like Facebook have taken phone call and email feedback to a new level that approaches direct relationships.  Even those individuals, though, tend to be treated as a mass.

Local News is Very Static and Homogenous

  • Every station has pretty much the same stories as one another and the same kinds of stories every night.
  • Every newscast provides pretty much the same experience it did a decade ago … but shinier.  It’s predictable.
  • Locally, this is in part due to stations all watching each other.
  • Nationally, this is in part due to all stations being consulted by the same handful of consultants.
  • Overall, this is because “news” is defined rigidly by the journalistic institution.
  • This is why ubiquitous, generic “area man” headlines from The Onion, America’s Finest News Source, work so well.
  • This is why we all immediately recognize the visual and verbal patterns in the videos that close this post.
  • The formula from which newscasts are made seems to work well enough that there’s no compelling reason to make anything more than minor tweaks and conservative decisions.  Related: newspapers have only just found their savior and his ideas don’t seem especially radical.

Financially, Local TV Broadcasting is Challenged

  • As with most businesses, costs are constantly increasing.
  • This effect is mitigated slightly by technology and automation.  The hubbing of core operations, for example, is a fundamental operating strategy for Lin Media (22 broadcast signals originating from just 2 master control centers; 100% of traffic operations run from just 1 location (see 2010 annual report, page 4).
  • Revenue is flat/declining and dominated by TV revenue.  Though it varies by station and company, I’d guess that 90-95% of revenue is still generated by television ad sales.
  • Profit margins, naturally, are tighter than ever.  A broadcast license was once a license to print money; stations enjoyed profit margins above 50%.  Though it varies by station and company, I’d guess that they’re more in the 15-20% range in a good year.
  • For a stronger future, some local news operations will have to be shut down (see above – Static and Homogenous).  This is a natural result of competition.
  • As fragmented as the media landscape is (that fragmentation fundamentally threatening the TV business), television is still the only place to find mass.  This is why network prime time shows command higher ad rates, despite smaller audiences.
  • Among the younger set, it’s cool to hate TV and its advertising.  However, Apple loves it!  Go figure.
  • Television still enjoys an amazing windfall from political advertising.

Local Television Advertising’s Effective, But …

  • Is it cost effective?  By migrating dollars into other channels, the large-scale, sophisticated television advertisers say no.
  • I just finished Joseph Jaffe’s Life after the 30 Second Spot, published in 2005.  At the time, DVRs were the threat to effectiveness.  Forms of digital capture and distribution have increased dramatically in the past 6 years.
  • Digital pureplay companies offer relatively inexpensive marketing and advertising options … and they’re 100% trackable.
  • With inexpensive tools to create and publish yourself, “every company is a media company.”  There’s less need to pay for exposure.
  • Some traditional TV advertisers have flipped the situation upside down, selling advertising themselves.

Local Television Stations Are Important

  • Local television stations have incredibly strong brands.  They’re local instituions.
  • They inform, prepare, and connect people; they provide a sense of local identity and community.
  • People take your calls when you tell them you’re calling from a local TV station.
  • The role and responsibility of the best local news and weather teams will continue to be important, no matter how distribution changes.  The challenge there is to stay relevant day-to-day, rather than simply being a go-to place in times of crisis.
  • High definition television signals are free for the taking – and they’re the cleanest form of television signal.

In Summary

I’m grateful for all the opportunities this industry has presented me and the dozens of excellent humans who helped me along the way.  I hope for the best for the individuals who make the industry.

As you might expect, I’ve got many more thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  I’m happy to have a threaded comment conversation, a real conversation, or an email exchange about any of this.

My Local Television Employers

Related Posts at ethanbeute.com

Upside Down: Traditional Advertising Relationships

Good News: You Get to Decide What’s News!

Broadcast Television: In Praise of a Relic

Our Nation’s Common Medium: Why Just One?

 

Bonus Videos
Both employ coarse language. The first is more slowly paced. The second is more direct and more coarse. Both employ the immediately recognizable patterns to which I referred earlier in this post.

 

 

 

Disruptive Innovation: Clark Gilbert and Deseret Media

As a business, television is obviously being disrupted on at least two sides.  On the viewership side, lifestyle and technology changes mean less and less appointment viewing (and commercial watching).  On the revenue side, pure play internet companies with wholly measurable and cost effective solutions are creating far more competition for local advertising dollars.

In the face of this, I’m fond of saying that people will always seek and find great content and money will always seek and find people.  There are, however, several significant distribution, cost structure and business model hurdles standing in front of traditional broadcasters and publishers.

Where do you look for ideas and inspiration when in need of new business models due to fundamentally disruptive threat in and around your industry?  Perhaps to a former Harvard Business School innovation and entrepreneurship scholar who’s since gone real world.

The keynote address below was delivered by Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, at the Borrell & Associates Local Mobile Advertising Conference last September in Dallas.  I’ve watched it a few times and decided to give it the same treatment I gave a month or two ago to an excellent presentation from Gary Vaynerchuk of WineLibraryTV.com and VaynerMedia.

Based on his involvement at Harvard and in the Newspaper Next project, Gilbert makes two fundamental points about disruptive innovation.  First, only 9% of companies in disrupted industries survive the shift.  Let’s be generous and double that; still, fewer than one in five traditional broadcasters and publishers will survive if historical trends hold.  Second, a necessary precursor to that survival is the establishment of a separate division, physical location, profit/loss statements, sales team, content team, technology team, etc.  The teams should include a significant portion of “outsiders” to the traditional, disrupted industry.

Walking the talk, Gilbert now heads up the newspaper, radio, television and digital operations of Deseret Media, which is owned by the LDS church.  Certainly, the Mormon connection provides several advantages, like an automatic, worldwide audience that trusts you implicitly.  Regardless, he provides a ton of excellent insight in this presentation.

Because it’s a local mobile advertising conference, Gilbert covers well SMS, mobile/geo and deals programs.  In addition, though, he covers his entire turf, including the insanely well-trafficked KSL.com, among other properties.

One of the more interesting themes that runs through his full presentation is mindset, semantics, framing – changing the way you talk about something in order to change the way you perceive, understand and think about it.  Listen for key phrases that he repeats to help re-frame things toward a new perception or understanding.

I highly recommend the full version, but I can only embed here the 5-minute highlights edit posted to YouTube:

Borrell used this nice content tease on YouTube to drive traffic into his site for the full presentation, which can be seen here.

Here’s a content breakdown, so you can choose an appropriate in-point, should your time be limited:

1:20  The Newspaper Next project – how disruption happened in the past, historical look, put in context of newspapers

4:10  Gilbert starts, gives up on newspapers/media, refusing to learn, 10 years of communicating same message

6:10  Digital assets – what’s under his control as CEO of Deseret Media

6:45  Parallel story of disruption in another industry (mainframe, minicomputer, personal computer)

9:30  Waves of disruption, historical media trends

10:50  Empirical evidence that’s overwhelming, inarguable and irrefutable – in the face of a disruptive threat, you must have a separate division, location, p/l, sales force, content teams, etc.

12:00  Success rate of responding to predictive threat is 9%

15:30  Red Sox Nation effect – what the web allows

17:15  KSL.com stats

18:15  How he built his team

19:30  Strategy is never more than 49% of the solution

21:30  Symbiotic relationship between trust in news product and relevance in online marketplace – driving traffic

23:30  SMS – old technology, standard across platforms, local market spend forecast

26:00  Self-serve model beneficial and NECESSARY

29:00  “Deals” strategy, why you must have one

31:10  Why disruptive technology isn’t disruptive to customers who adopt it

33:30  Why Groupon, LivingSocial and other deals advertisers are vampires or leeches

39:15  Private labeling their deals program

40:00  Only legacy asset he inherited … brand trust

42:45  Why they’re selective about deals partners – don’t take all comers – elements of good partnership

45:30  How Google ruined relationship selling

48:00  Organizational structure required to live through disruptive innovation

49:45  Q&A starts

50:10  Groupon, fund raising and brand building

53:30  TV versus radio in driving subscribers to deal signups

55:00  How the sales team is organized

56:45  Cannibalization of other digital products by deals products? No Traditional media obsesses here

58:00  Digital content production – traditional journalists’ inability to decouple story telling from medium

01:00:00  Ramping up investment in digital media

01:03:30  On trust

01:05:15  Elements, factors and design of partnerships between 3rd parties and media properties

01:09:30  Optimism for media companies

Again, I highly recommend viewing the entire piece.  I’ve done so several times.

If you’re inclined, please share here anything you enjoyed, disputed or wondered about Gilbert’s presentation.

Broadcast Television: In Praise of a Relic

The latest incarnation of Apple TV has again fired up the “cut the cord” talk – killing off your obscenely-priced cable or satellite subscription.  The stranglehold is broken.  Cutting the cord is absolutely a trend.

Apple TV, for example, has now joined more than 100 other devices that support Netflix streaming, which allows unending access to a huge library of programming direct to your television.

Wired just issued a complete guide, fronted by Joel McHale (from NBC’s Community and E’s The Soup), about how to watch all the best stuff without cable or satellite.  Here’s another how-to-live-without-cable-or-satellite from Salon.com (not as fun as McHale’s).  A Google search produces at least a dozen more.

What you want, when you want it, as often as you want it – it’s easier than ever and doesn’t require a $100 cable bill.  Just a little bit of new hardware, a high-speed internet connection, maybe some new software, some non-cable and non-satellite programming subscriptions …

Just don’t tell me it’s about saving money.

Broadcast tower television digital signal high definition

Go old school: harness high definition television in its cleanest form with a $10 antenna or even a paperclip - compliments of your local broadcaster.

High definition television in its cleanest, purest form is always available to you at no cost.  The signal gets no better than straight out of the air.  No expensive hardware to purchase (because you already own that 42″ HDTV).  No cable, no satellite, no high speed internet, no Hulu, no Netflix … no subscription required of any kind.

Digital broadcast signals are in the air and all you need to harness them is a $10 antenna (though a large paperclip will often suffice).  Again, high definition television in its cleanest, purest form can be brought into your home at no cost.

  • Yes, you’re limited in programming.  In most areas, though, you’ll get a dozen channels or more between primary and sub-channels, from such content providers as PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Univision, Telemundo and others.
  • Yes, you’re giving up some precious control, subjecting yourself to a linear broadcast with incessant commercial interruptions.
  • Yes, it’s ludicrous to imagine cutting a high-speed internet subscription.
  • Yes, you may want to augment your options with a sub-$10 Netflix subscription.

But … over-the-air television is absolutely free.  Right now.  All the time.  And it’s nearly 100% stupid-proof … just plug it in and turn it on.  It’s the true essence of passive entertainment.

If your mobile device was equipped with a DTV tuner, you could have it all available wherever you go – without paying for mobile internet access.

I know this sounds like the ramblings of your grandfather, but the point remains: if your argument and motivation for “cutting the cord” is financial, you must celebrate the role your local broadcaster plays in entertaining and informing you.

High definition television in a linear form is a relic.  And it’s absolutely free.

Our Nation’s Common Medium: Why Just One?

In advance of a significant broadband announcement ($25B in new spending) by the Federal Communications Commission, a former FCC Chairman, Reed Hundt, delivered a speech at Columbia Business School that he titled “The End of Broadcasting.”

I read about the speech at TVNewsCheck.com and began to watch it on Columbia’s website.  It seems Columbia’s site or server can’t support the traffic, so the speech is basically unwatchable.  This post, then, is informed by the first 20 minutes of the speech I endured on first go and Harry A. Jessell‘s analysis of it.  I expect to edit this post once I’m able to view the entire speech.

In this speech, Hundt argues that every nation needs a “common medium” with the following characteristics:

  • Reaches 100% of citizens
  • Is easy and customary for 100% of citizens to use
  • Is culturally accessible (in common languages)
  • Is open to participation
  • Is good for business
  • Is full of “news” and is sufficiently “local” in its manifestation
  • Is owned privately, not publicly
  • Provides to the government access to the citizens

According to Hundt, the FCC began the policy of favoring the internet over broadcasting as the nation’s one common medium as far back as the period 1994-1997.  Interestingly, Hundt described this as a “confession or admission,” from which I infer a heretofore duplicitous stance.

A couple examples of broadcasting being disfavored by Hundt’s FCC:

  • “This is a little naughty: We delayed the transition to HDTV and fought a big battle against the whole idea”  (Ethan: why!?  HDTV is gorgeous and beloved)
  • It was “simply astonishing” to Hundt that the government continued to promote broadcasting by subsidizing converter boxes for consumers in the analog-to-digital transition – “Those people would have been much better off getting a voucher for broadband internet subscriptions”  (Ethan: completely ludicrous, more below)

I consider this visionary policy.  I don’t know if you were using the internet between 1994 and 1997, but to call the experience “lacking” would be kin to calling water “wet.”  For a government agency to recognize the value and benefit of the internet at that point is praiseworthy.

I absolutely accept that the internet has infinitely more potential as a valuable information medium in the long term than broadcasting.  Per Hundt’s criteria above, the internet trumps broadcasting in openness to participation, facilitation of commerce and pin-point localism.

What I reject outright is the premise that a nation needs just one common medium.  In Jessell’s words, “what would you rather have, the best broadcasting system in the world or the best broadband system.  My answer: both.”  Agreed!  As I’ll continue to argue, broadcasting and broadband are unique and complementary.

Also, support of one medium (broadband) should not require the suppression of the other (broadcasting). However, Hundt suggests a nation is going to choose just one “because government in any country wants a way to reach everybody.  It will encourage it and promote it up to some level.”  I’ll ignore the Orwellian overtones and suggest that internet and broadcasting should be understood, appreciated and treated as unique and complementary media.  Two recent illustrations and an anecdote:

I also reject that the internet is superior for access and ease of use.  Let’s start with Hundt’s converter box line to tear this one down.  The FCC mandated that television stations kill off analog broadcasting in favor of digital.  The transition was extremely costly for broadcasters, though it cleared real estate in the spectrum that the government auctioned off for nearly 20 billions of dollars and dramatically improved the quality of broadcasters’ signals.

To aid in the transition, our federal government provided $40 vouchers upon citizen request to be used for the purchase of digital converter boxes so an old analog TV would still work in the all-digital broadcasting future (now present).  To suggest, as Hundt did, that “those people” (read: older, poorer) would be better off getting “a voucher for broadband internet subscriptions” is completely ludicrous.  In my world, $40 buys you ONE MONTH of broadband access.  In many cases $40 covered the entire cost of a converter box, which is useful indefinitely.

That’s just access.  Now, consider ease of use.  As a blog reader, you probably take for granted how easy it is to get online.  Have you spoken with someone who’s old or poor about selecting and purchasing a computer or setting up and paying for a broadband subscription?  Have you seen the line at your local library to get online?  Meanwhile, a television or radio can be cheaply purchased and simply powered on.  Whoever does so has immediate access to emergency information.

Let’s just pretend that the government’s need to access 100% of people is based in the dissemination of emergency information.  At present, clear protocols and enforceable requirements are in place for broadcasters to support these efforts (Emergency Alert System).  Should not the effective use of this system be properly credited and indefinitely employed by the agency which mandated it into being?

In conclusion:

  • I support government efforts to encourage and promote broadband access; I’m very curious to learn the details of the FCC’s imminent broadband announcement.
  • I look forward to the day that broadband internet provides 100% reach to American households at an extremely inexpensive price.
  • Internet and broadcasting are unique and complementary media.
  • In the near to medium term, broadcasting is less expensive and easier to use for more Americans.
  • This is an extremely complex set of ideas.  Among the related topics that could be explored:  mobile TV by way of traditional broadcasting and mainstream media as the foundation for a significant share of searches and social exchanges online.
  • Because nothing even close to a dollar-for-dollar, online-to-traditional model to support journalism exists, a threat to broadcasting remains a threat to journalism.  Call me old-fashioned, but I consider journalism a necessary precursor to some semblance of democracy.
  • Agencies of our government are busy determining your future.  To the degree you’re uninformed or disengaged, they’re doing it without you.  If you don’t care about broadcasting and broadband, think about those things that do matter to you.

Worth noting:

  • We do not pay for television at our house.  We use an antenna and a 32″ HDTV to enjoy the cleanest, highest-quality pictures and sound available from several local broadcasters.
  • We pay $37/month for moderate-quality internet access (Qwest DSL).

Interesting fact:

Related links:

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