ethanbeute

Marketing | Environment | Culture

Tag: network

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.

 

 

 

Who Trumps How Many: This Week in Startups with Jason Calacanis

Earlier, in my brief examination of social whoring, I included a mention of “who” being more important than “how many.”  The basic idea: 10 Twitter followers truly locked in to you – your persona, your concept, your product, your service or your brand – are more valuable than 1,000 followers who are just hanging on for the follow-back.  Not genius, but fundamental and oft overlooked.

For several  months, I’ve been watching This Week In Startups with Jason Calacanis.  This morning, I realized that a) I should bring this excellent, entertaining production to your attention and b) it perfectly illustrates the idea.

Regarding TWiST itself: It’s a YouTube channel under the This Week In web TV network.  It’s a round table format about – obviously – startup companies, entrepreneurship, venture capital, angel investing, founders, CEOs, etc.

Guests have included Gary Vaynerchuk, Groupon founder Andrew Mason, David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals, the founding developer of WordPress, the director of search at Bing, the founder and CEO of Gowalla, the founder and CEO of EventBrite and more than a hundred others.  Themed segments and episodes include Shark Tank (very frequent, idea pitch and judgment), Founders Roundtable, Global Meetups and more.

Regarding who versus how many: Dozens of the episodes (of which there are 120 or so) have fewer than 100 views.  Most have views in the 100-1,000 range.  A handful of views are in the 2,000+ range.  Total subscribers … 402.  Note: this does NOT take into account the live audience of each show.

A traditional take on these kinds of numbers – unimpressive.  A local television station provides 2,000 simultaneous views for even poorly-watched programs.  Though insanely inane, other YouTube channels have far greater reach – like ShaneDawsonTV2 with 250,000,000+ video views and 1,600,000+ subscribers.

So how do Calacanis and company land sponsorship from leading software companies like email service provider Mail Chimp?  (Note: my ESP of choice is BombBomb, who’s putting video inside the inbox).  Those few hundred subscribers and few thousand viewers represent a tight, high quality community of entrepreneurs, tech/web people, investors and financiers.  It’s probably as dense a concentration of these types as you can reach.

I guarantee that buy isn’t on an old school cost per thousand basis.  I’d also bet that if you looked at the sponsorship (however it’s structured) on a CPM basis, the CPM would be astronomical compared to most online buys.  There’s a premium on concentrations of smart, shrewd, softwarey people.  Yes, I made that last adjective up.

The point?  Sure, more viewers and subscribers would be good for TWiST, but who makes up that audience is far more important than how many there are.

Here’s an embed of a recent episode with Tony Conrad, co-founder of About.Me (sold to AOL for $800M four days after launch) among many other projects and successes.  If for no other reason, you should watch this to learn how the About.Me team lined up that killer url – obviously a fundamental piece of their overall strategy.

More on Jason Calacanis on Wikipedia.
Follow Jason Calacanis on Twitter.
Check out my About.Me page.

BCS Football on ESPN: Another Blow to Broadcast TV

Right on schedule, the garbage bowl games keep rolling out across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.  Fine, some of them are “intriguing match-ups” – I’m still not paying any attention to them.

The Bowl Championship Series games, though, are definitely worth sampling … with the obvious exception of Oklahoma versus Connecticut in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (automatic BCS berths are a true shame – Michigan State or Boise State should be in that game instead of UConn).  TCU versus Wisconsin and Auburn versus Oregon are both insanely promising on paper.

Sadly, though, I won’t be seeing a single down of a single BCS game this year.  I won’t see any next year, in 2013 or in 2014, either.  Why not?  Because they’re locked behind the paywall of a cable or satellite subscription.  I found no reference to online viewing through Google, Bing or ESPN site searching, so I presume that they’re either unavailable online or that there will be a subscription structure similar to Time Warner Cable’s deal with ESPN to deliver Monday Night Football online.  Regardless, there’s a cost barrier.

BCS logo, Bowl Championship Series logo, college football, national championship

BCS Football on ESPN: Another Blow to Broadcast Television

In November 2008, FOX and ESPN were battling for four years of BCS rights (2011-2014).  FOX’s offer peaked at around $100M/year.  ESPN won with a bid closer to $125M/year, for which they’re granted TV, radio, digital, international and marketing rights.  They’re even running the BCS website.  Here’s a little background about the battle and the conquest:

I missed this story in 2008.  It only came to my attention as New Year’s Day 2011 nears and I began assessing my college football viewing options.

My reaction to the BCS move to pay television passed from mild anger and disappointment through nostalgia to acceptance – this process took about 10 minutes.  The initial reaction was based on the fact that I only watch free, over-the-air broadcast television in beautiful high definition – the cleanest signal one can watch.  Our only content subscriptions are for a handful of magazines and for Netflix.

  • Note: I watch very little college football during the regular season, but I do like these end-of-season, cross-conference games between our nation’s best teams.
  • Also note: I grew up watching Big Ten football, am a University of Michigan alumnus and have seen many Rose Bowls (most of them ugly).
  • Final note: the Rose Bowl, “Granddaddy” of them all, has been broadcast free, over the air to the entire nation through broadcast networks since 1952; this run is now over.  Though ABC committed $300M over 8 years for the Rose Bowl through 2014, a clause in the ESPN deal allowed those games to be locked behind the paywall, too (ABC is the parent company of ESPN).

Some consequences for ABC/broadcast networks:

They maintain schedule continuity.  Football games interrupt normal schedules, are live and therefore unpredictable, often run long and require contingency planning.  I’m not sure that this is a positive or negative consequence; have you seen the broadcast network lineups?

They lose live, mass-audience events.  As internet delivery, advertising alternatives and reduced ad budgets continually encroach on broadcast, cable and satellite revenue potential, live event programming continues to be a strong point for broadcast TV.  The Super Bowl keeps setting viewership records.  The Oscar, Emmy and Grammy Awards broadcasts have all enjoyed very good rating results in recent years.  Mass is not just the strength of a broadcast network, it’s also its entire purpose.  This is a negative consequence.

They lose strong promotional platforms to support or launch the comedies, dramas and reality shows of which their prime time lineups are built.  Reaching young men through mass media has been difficult for more than a decade; college football gathers a mass audience with a strong concentration of this elusive target.  Given, most of them will ignore the network promos in commercial breaks.  Those pop-up animations under which the football announcers must uncomfortably read promo copy?  Can’t miss those, even if we ignore their calls to action.  This is a negative consequence.

Some consequences for ESPN:

They reaffirm their unbreakable lock on the image of “sports.”  They alone own it.  They own it outright.  ESPN is synonymous with and inseparable from sports.  They are access, analysis and all other things “sports.”  This was never really in question (a quick nod to, then chuckle at FOX Sports Network), but this contract is another pioneering achievement that fits perfectly with their entire reason for existence.  Specific to this situation and contract, ESPN completely owns every aspect of the Bowl Championship Series right now.  All consequences for ESPN are completely positive.

Some consequences for the BCS:

College football may lose a bit of cultural currency.  New Year’s Day belonged to college football; it took over all the broadcast networks all day.  Even as bowl games proliferated and bowl eligibility and invites became far easier for a team to come by over the past decade, all the best games remained on broadcast.  This is over.  Though power comes through focus, targeted delivery makes your offering easy to miss for peripheral fans and viewers.

To illustrate, here’s a snapshot of ratings results for NFL football relative to the Monday Night Football move from ABC to ESPN.  The single highest cable rating ever (15.3) was achieved with the Vikings-Packers Monday night game on ESPN in October 2009.  The best season of MNF on ESPN ever averaged a strong 10.4 rating (2009).  For reference, though, the lowest rating ever achieved when MNF was broadcast on ABC was a not-too-shabby 7.7 (Rams@Bucs, October 2004).  I could not find the lowest rated MNF game on ESPN.

The broadcast void from this MNF move from ABC to ESPN was filled with the inception of Sunday Night Football on NBC.  Obviously, the NFL recognizes the need – or at least benefit – of a prime time network showing.  SNF did not disappoint; it consistently delivers double-digit ratings, typically wins the weekly TV ratings race overall and has beat that highest cable rating ever (15.3) a half dozen times.  Per Ad Age’s “Annual 2011” issue, the average cost of a :30 commercial in SNF ($415,000) is $150,000 higher than an ad Glee and $210,000 higher than one in Dancing with the Stars.  By this measure, it’s the most valuable show on television behind American Idol.

Same product, similar packaging, different delivery – NFL football reaches more people on NBC than on ESPN, despite the fact that a Sunday night game concludes a long day of football while Monday night is a stand alone event.  A paywall blocks out casual fans.

All that said, this is only a slightly negative consequence that washes out when you consider the incredible strength and focus that ESPN provides.  The entire delivery and marketing of the Series falls under one roof – and that roof belongs to the world’s premiere sports brand.

The Bottom Line:

There’s no other way this could have gone.  It was a two-way race and the winner, ESPN, provides more money and more momentum for the BCS (through a focused brand and a comprehensive delivery and management offer).

The BCS on ESPN, though, is another blow to broadcast television.  Without live event programming, networks are playing to lose.  The broadcast revenue model depends on mass.

Had the contract instead been awarded to FOX – even at its lower price – the BCS would certainly have been a loss leader for FOX financially, just as Sunday Night Football is for NBC.  Still, these are the events that keep broadcast networks relevant as bolder concepts and smarter niche plays move to cable and satellite networks.

Related: the March Madness contract now spreads college basketball games across three cable networks in addition to CBS so that all the simultaneously played, early round games can be viewed live.  CBS, however, remains the sole spot for the final two weeks of play, including the entire Final Four.

Last Request:

I’ve not seen SportsCenter in a few years, but I can’t imagine why this offensive practice would have ceased.  ESPN: if you’re still running Dancing with the Stars highlights in SportsCenter, please stop.  It’s a ridiculous, shameful and transparent pitch to your parent, ABC.  The only time I want to hear about a former NFL player like Emmitt Smith is when he’s welcomed to Canton or, perhaps, in a highlight-for-highlight comparison showing how he was almost as good as Barry Sanders.

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