I once took a week-long organized guided tour of Guatemala, sponsored by a German manufacturer of chemicals, magnetic tape and film media whose name is no longer relevant, although they did pay my way. The tour was exclusive for writers and editors of professional broadcast and film industry magazines from around the world. Our group toured across Guatemala by bus and plane, and we always attended a daily meeting for an hour or so focused on the theme of “Think globally. Act locally.”
That phrase came to mind while making a list of the most significant challenges facing local TV broadcasters and broadcast television engineers. Not counting EMPs or ISP meltdowns, which should top anyone’s list of technical nightmares, I narrowed my less scary list down to five. Instead of considering it a list of lemons, let's think of it a recipe for local lemonade.
Winning while losing
Opportunity No. 1: Make more money from a shrinking slice of the market pie. Broadcasters have lost control of viewing technologies and trends. The DVR is one example. YouTube, Netflix and Smart TVs are others. Does anyone remember when it was common for a local newscast to win the Nielsen ratings with a 40 or 50 share? What’s a winning share for local news these days? 11 or 12?
The good news is that many local TV stations continue to build a strong local brand. Today, the generally more travelled path to generating more local revenue is to create more original local, repurposed and hyper-content for over-the-air and Internet distribution. The key is the word local.
Different people watch or don’t watch your station for different reasons. What makes your channel different from the other 499 channels on their systems is that every one of your viewers lives in your local market. You can’t out-sports ESPN, out-movie HBO or out-cute Animal Planet, but you can out-local them all. What do local stations do best? They serve their local markets with local content and aggressively promote what they do. They think globally, and act locally.
More with less
If you remember what a broken record sounds like, the phrase “more with less” should remind you of one. “More with less” is a cyclical opportunity, and this cycle is back with a vengeance. Belt-tightening, streamlining and austerity programs aren’t new to local broadcasters, but they are a more difficult test during these times of rapidly evolving technologies, changing viewing habits and business models.
The good news is that station automation is maturing and more affordable, as is automated digital testing and automated spot and program delivery. Automation makes foreseeable operations simple and less expensive, and can sometimes free up qualified people to perform new tasks at the station without the expense of adding heads. Automation adds to local opportunities.
It’s nearly impossible to add new technology or people without a business plan that clearly identifies a healthy return on the investment. That is, of course, except for FCC mandates that don’t generate any return on the investment, unless you include keeping your license and staying on the air. Repacking and UHDTV are on the radar in this category. If any station charges more to air HD spots than SD spots, let me know.