Digital Danger!

July 15, 2018

Television news is no longer a cash machine. Ratings are slipping, while the amount of inventory available is constantly expanding. To really comprehend the magnitude of the current situation, you must get you head out of the traditional linear world, and view the universe through a digital lens. Compared to any local news, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest sell more effective ways for advertisers to reach a highly defined audience, and they sell that inventory for less.

 

If you are having a hard time appreciating how fast things are changing, consider this: Next year industry analysts project that the amount of money earned from retransmission fees will exceed the cash brought in by television sales.

 

While this sea change is occurring, there are not many television stations really pushing the edge, and discovering new paths to revenue generation. Virtually every station is attempting to monetize its online and mobile products. That is an effort in futility. Advertisers are going to seek the lowest rates to reach the people they want to touch. And, given the amount of inventory in the digital world, they have a lot to choose from. Programmatic is not even fully deployed yet, but when AI and computerized buying really take hold locally, rates will drop even more.

 

For local news to survive it must increase ratings significantly. Most industry leaders don’t believe that this can be done. I agree with them. At least I agree, as long as we keep providing the same old product at times (5:00 pm, 6:00 pm, etc.) that are convenient for us, but not the viewers.

 

What we need is a new breed of news managers and corporate leaders. Upper management must allow news directors to fail. News managers must be risk takers, who want to go where no one has gone before. Here are some of the things that I would consider:

  • Most content must be original. Put simply, it should not be available anywhere else.
  • This original content must feel like news, if we are going to remain in the news business. That calls for enterprise and investigative reporting.
  • Some stories can make the viewers feel good. But, the viewers must consider the bulk of what we report is information they NEED to know.
  • Weather is too long, and done too many times. I don’t know about you, but I already know what the weather will be long before I tune into a newscast. Weather should be treated like breaking news. If weather is the story, then it should get a lot of time, and be covered from many angles. Otherwise, it can be done in less than a minute.
  • The same is true for Sports. By 11:00 PM, there were not many sports fans in America who did not know that LeBron James was headed to LA. What they might not have known is how he intends to continue to oversee his charitable endeavors in Cleveland.
  • Have a digital first mentality. Get a story on a digital platform as soon as it is done. Worry about a newscast second.

 

Those are just a few ideas. Hopefully, this will get a conversation going at your station. Better yet, you will generate some truly ground breaking ideas.

 

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Innovate Now:

The Clock is Ticking

July 3, 2018

The future of local television news looks bleak. Why?

  • Viewers get news and information from many sources, regardless of where they are or what time it is.
  • Put yourself in the viewer’s place for a moment. They only want to watch what is interesting to them. In a typical 30-minute newscast, how many stories do you find that convey information that you needed or wanted to know?
  • Television news really has not changed much in decades. It is stale. To create something fresh requires management to believe in taking risks. WSVN in Miami did. It worked, but that was 20 years ago and that was then. Now is different story.

 

TV news management thinks that having anchors stand is innovative. If that is all the industry has to offer, viewers will continue to defect. But, you can rewrite the future.

 

Thinking outside the box is not that difficult. The management team needs to come together, and put every idea on the table, regardless of cost. Expense will be and should be a primary concern, but not at the beginning. An idea that has outrageous cost implications may spark other ideas that are budget friendly. I would not initially take the existing staff into consideration, either. Create the product, then decide whether you have the people who can execute it. In large markets, most viewers can’t even remember your anchors names. Replacing them may not create a problem. In medium and small markets, there are some anchors with enough longevity that you may have to work around them. But for the brainstorming sessions, they should be fair game, too.

 

When you have at least two fresh concepts that meet your budget criteria, produce pilots. Then, get reaction from focus groups. No matter what, the groups will at least give you some observations of things that should be tweaked.

 

Finally, remember that we are living in a digital world. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and whatever the future brings should all play a part in your plan. If you have any doubts, we recently conducted a television research project and the vast majority of people who responded to the survey did so from their smartphones or tablets.

 

 

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TV News:

Are you worth your paycheck?

June 24, 2018

I remember being in New York about five years ago. I was talking to a friend, who is one of the city’s best and hardest working television reporters. During our conversation he said he just had his salary reduced by $100,000. The most obvious question to ask was how he felt about that. He replied, “At least I have a job.” Two weeks ago another large market anchor was told by her agent that her new contract would be reduced by 50%. She decided that family was more important, and will not return to the station. Last week, I was speaking to a friend in management. He is the News Director in top ten market. He told me that he has spent the last 5 years telling on air staffers, who do good work, that their compensation was being cut. He said the conversations were never easy, but he explained to anchors and reporters that there was a new news reality.

 

The new reality is simple. RTNDA reported last year that there are now more stations doing news than at any point in history. That has produced some profound results.

  • Unaided anchor recall is negligible. If people don’t know your name, management is asking, “How valuable are you?” Take Los Angeles as an example. There are over 125 anchors, not including those on the Hispanic stations. How can anyone stand out? Research indicates no one does.
  • In many large markets, the difference between winning and losing is measured in tenths of a demo point. Since ad buyers pay for points, the first place station is not making significantly more money than the second or third place stations. There is little incentive to invest because revenue will not rise enough to offset expense.

 

But, it is not just the number of linear newscasts that produce lower ratings. I watch news on my tablet and occasionally on my phone.  Most stations are not great at monetizing this viewing.

 

Our industry must stop thinking of itself as broadcasters, and start believing we are content suppliers. In the end, the content supplier with the largest digital footprint will win. My advice to talent is to exploit Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and every other digital platform like your job depended on it. Because it does.

 

 

 

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August 6, 2017

 

Associated Press is now using artificial intelligence to write stories. So far, computers are generating business reports based on information supplied by publicly held companies to investors. Training a computer to write some sports stories based on stats was the next step and that is now a reality. Those who write copy at AP are now working on template to help the computers learn how to compose news stories. As you would suspect, all of this is raising some interesting questions.

  • What happens when 3 great writers are asked to write the same story? It had been my experience that you will get three very good pieces of copy. Each will have a slightly different take. If each is helping build a template for a computer, which will the computer use and why?
  • How will the computer gather the facts to write the story? If a human has to feed it the facts, it might be faster for that person to simply write the story by him/herself.

Building computer programs for a news organization takes money and a lot of time. For every newsroom in America to design its own AI program would probably be too expensive. But, the alternative is not really viable. The alternative is to have several national companies sell a system to a station or group. That would lead to two distinct problems.

  • Newscasts would all sound the same. They would be commodities.
  • No newscast would reflect the emotional needs of different people in different markets. Despite having large Hispanic populations, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Miami have nothing in common. Each market has its own values.

So where does that leave us right now? In my opinion, AI definitely has a place in a newsroom. Let’s take breaking news. AI is capable of listening to what is occurring, what you are reporting and making suggestions for additional angles to pursue. It definitely can calculate traffic patterns and determine what crew can get to the scene the faster. It may not be the crew that is the closest. Since AI can listen to the human voice and turn it into text no one need worry about closed captioning. The list goes on, but AI is definitely coming to a newsroom near you.

 
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Facebook: Tips for Success

August 3, 2017

Digital advertisers are moving very quickly to engage their buyers. Right now, it appears the best way for advertisers to engage a prospect is through compelling content. For example, if you manufacture hot water heaters, you should attach your product to a blog. You would focus on what features to look for when buying one. It is more engaging than a straight ad. And, the odds of increasing sales rise.

 

The same is true in television news and social media.  For social media to work for a TV news department, every on-air personality must contribute content regularly. It makes viewers more likely to watch a reporter or anchor on-air. And, viewers no longer see an anchor or reporter as one-dimensional. They get to actually know you.  What is the best way to accomplish this?

 

Facebook is the ultimate engagement tool. It not only allows you to give readers insights into you, it reveals what you experienced covering a story. You can also tell readers about some of the interesting people you met along the way. Think of a post as your opportunity take readers behind the scenes and discover what it like to do your job every day. You can write a post or go live on Facebook, as Lou Young, a retired WCBS reporter used to do. His live reports were usually filed from a moving vehicle as his photog was driving back to the station. His posts were extremely timely.

 

If you are an anchor there are many things you can post. You can write about anything from an internal debate about what the lead story should be to the difficulty you may have experienced on your commute to work.

 

In the mornings, postings about traffic and weather conditions are really important. Whenever possible, the traffic reporter should include video. Both weather and traffic should be updated a lot during the morning and evening commutes.

 

Managers need to keep track of what is being posted and by whom. Some will be eager to post. Other may need a little prodding. It is noteworthy to point out that the first place station in a market is usually the social media leader. You may say, “Of course, they have a bigger following on air, so why wouldn’t they win social media too?” My answer is, “If you want to be number one, use every tool you have.”

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Disrupt Your Brain!

June 19, 2017

There are no TV broadcasters anymore. Maybe there never were. Whether you manage a local station, a group or a network, you are a content provider. And, you need to start focusing on how content is delivered and who is watching it. CBS just saw an average 54% increase in unique viewing when all cross-platform devices were measured by Nielsen. The message is pretty clear. Local stations and station groups must take digital viewing a lot more seriously than they have. And, it is time to move quickly!  Phones and tablets aren’t a disruption. They are a huge opportunity. If you are trying to reach Generation Z, they are your only opportunity.

 

Change Your Thinking

Start by considering that a 24-hour stream is pretty much like a cable channel without the need for a coax cable. Therefore, one can create a themed stream on any interesting topics that attracts enough watchers to make it profitable. The downside is that you will need a staff to produce each stream. However, you do have an advantage that few others have. As a TV station you have the reach to market any stream you choose. Start by doing an ROI.

 

Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:

 

  • You could produce a stream that allowed plumbers, electricians, carpenters and every other home construction segment to provide innate content. Those contractors would pay you to get their message out. Unlike Angie’s List, the contractors are the stars and the beneficiaries of increased business.
  • 24-hour news is a possibility, but it can’t be done in a traditional style. One segment may include the hot topics on social media and give viewers a chance to express their thoughts. Another might focus on experiences. The data shows that we are diverting money away from things like clothing to have the money to experience something that is unique. Whether it is rock climbing, paintball or a trip to an exotic place, you can always find someone with a digital camera to shoot the video. Think outside the box.
  • The tech world. Find out what is new and what is on the horizon. Produce it in partnerships with major high tech advertisers. Since the stream is going worldwide could you interest a Verizon, Apple, Samsung, Canon or Sony? This one would require a different mindset. You would be producing and SELLING a program with a national target. This one might be better done at one station with corporate picking up production costs for staff and dividing the profits to the various group stations based on regional viewing.
  • Sponsor breaking news streams. This may require a special advertiser who is not opposed to being affiliated with bad news. An aggressive civil law firm may be a target.

 

You many think these suggestions are ridiculous. I would not take any offense if you did. But we know the business is being disrupted very quickly. It’s time we take the lead.

 

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Pulling in Viewers with Pushing

June 16, 2017

 

Some push notifications can be brand breakers.

Crime

Most stations use notifications for breaking news. That is totally appropriate. But, depending upon the city, the station, and who controls posting, it is easy to fall into the trap of being branded as the crime station. If that is your position, great! If not, you have a problem. So, how do you determine when to alert viewers on their mobile screens? Remember news, by definition, is the occurrence of the unusual. A lot of breaking news is crime related.  If rival gangs are killing each other every week that is not “post worthy” news. It may be sad, but it is not unusual. However, if an innocent resident gets killed in a crossfire, that merits a push notification. All of this may sound like common sense and it is. However, I am constantly surprised at the number of media outlets that don’t follow simple guidelines.

 

Traffic

Sometimes the lack of push notifications are the problem. In the morning viewers, regardless of screen, want to know how to dress and whether they will have a difficult commute. Most stations push weather. But if you are relying on your mobile device for constant traffic updates you may be disappointed. Traffic conditions are changing constantly. Make sure your notifications are as up to date as humanly possible. AND MAKE SURE THEY ARE ACCURATE. For example, if you live in New York City, you want to know about the current delays at all of the bridges and tunnels. I remember taking a car service from NBC to Newark airport. One all-news radio station kept reporting that drivers were experiencing a 30-minute delay at the Holland Tunnel. Our delay was two hours. That was a brand breaker.

 

Push to Pull

Push notifications can attract people of all ages. But in today’s digital world, if you want younger viewers to download and like your app, make sure that IT is dependable, reflects what is happening now and reinforces your brand. Pushes, done correctly, pull new viewers. Finally, do not use push notifications as teases. A 4:30 PM push that gives one line and ends with, “Watch the story at 5:00 PM” is an absolute turnoff. Digital viewers expect instant gratification!

 

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Dirty Digital Secrets

In the rush to move to digital advertising, there’s been an awful lot of ad dollars wasted because people didn’t really know what they were buying.

Remember the early days of the world wide web? People reported “hits” – which we then learned equated to server calls and could be as little as a pixel on a page. Webmasters gamed the system adding multiple items to a page to jack up the hits. One page might have hundreds of hits if it was designed to do that.

Ad networks, which can push ads out to hundreds of websites, have gained a ton of traction in the past few years.  But there’s a dirty little secret there as well. What consumer may not know is that advertisers often buy into ad networks. They are pools of advertising that are aggregated and sold in bundles, spread out across hundreds or even thousands of websites. If you buy in, you typically won’t know on which websites the ads show up. Even the big spenders don’t always know where there ads are running.

You may get a list, but who has the time to check out the thousands of names of websites you've never heard of. You're more interested in reaching target consumers than where they are showing up.

This can cause a problem when your ad shows up in a less-than-politically-correct site and suddenly you're drawn into the controversy.

Post-election, all this talk about fake news sites making money off ads is finally causing some marketers to think about where there ads are running. Run your ad in the wrong place and you can get consumer backlash. 

It’s not just fake news sites though. It’s any site your ad shows up that puts you into an uncomfortable controversy.

That’s what Kellogg Company decided when its ads served on Brietbart News. Frosted Mini Wheats really doesn’t want to be pulled into a controversy. Heck, they just want to sell cereal. But activist targeted the website after they said it provides a platform for racist and anti-Semitic viewpoints. That’s not what a cereal wants to be associated with. Whether the claims were true or not really didn’t matter. Kellogg’s cereals were being dragged into the conversation in a negative way.

They had customer complaints about the ads appearing on the site. I suspect they’ll get complaints from customers that support Brietbart as well.

They’re not alone. Allstate, Nest, Vanguard, and several others have decided to remove Brietbart from its ad network buys despite the fact that the site has more than 12 million visitors a month

Allstate responded to one customer complaint saying “The nature of internet media buys is such that we are not able to receive full disclosure with regards to all the websites on which our advertising may run.”

It’s not just Breitbart, though. 59% of marketers responded to a poll from the Association of National Advertisers, saying the felt there were significant problems with transparency about where ads run.

And that’s the real story here. 

Think about the billions of dollars that are spent on digital advertising that the people that spend that money have no idea where it’s showing up. Can I make a suggestion? Pull back on these generic ad networks and put some of the dollars on premium sites. You know, the ones people hear the brand name and think quality. The ones people trust in the community you’re trying to reach.

I work for one of those quality, brand name, premium websites. We’re a safe bet for ads. We can deliver the same audience without the controversy in an established, trusted environment. And we’ll tell you where your ads are running. If I can help, let me know.

 

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Dressed to Kill:

The death of careers

January 9, 2017

 

Appearance Matters

 

As I review newscasts from coast to coast, I am constantly surprised at how many anchors have no idea how to dress. First, remember that as an anchor, your primary goal is to get the viewers to focus on what you are trying to communicate. Anything that distracts the audience from that is counterproductive.

 

Test everything on camera. Find out what works and, if it doesn't, return it!

 

Anchors - Female

Women face the biggest challenge. They simply have too many choices in dresses, jackets, blouses, and jewelry.  Furthermore, what looks great in public can look terrible on television. The best advice is to keep it simple. Remember, you are a working professional journalist. You are not going to a ball or clubbing. Solid colors work better than prints. Conservative jewelry is better than trendy and flashy trinkets.  “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.” – Karl Lagerfeld. If you do not know who this designer is, Google him.


 

Anchors - Male

The simplest piece of advice is wear suits that are gray, navy, or black. Avoid houndstooth or similar patterns. They moray on camera and you end up looking like you are electrified. The best shirt color is blue, as it is less harsh than white. If you choose to wear white, make sure the studio cameras can handle the contrast between the shirt and your face. Ties can be defining and challenging. Wear a regiment tie and you may come off as a banker. Wear a gaudy tie and you will qualify as a buffoon.

 

Management

In my experience the entire issue of appearance is a management problem.

  • Every contract should give management the right to insure proper attire.
  • Managers must talk with their anchors about what does and does not work and most are afraid to do this.
  • Capture video of anchors in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The vast majority of those anchors dress properly. Show it to your anchors who don’t.
  • Do not accept the excuse that you are not paying your anchors enough to dress properly. You are not asking them to shop at Neiman Marcus or Saks. It’s not about how much something costs. It is all about how it looks on camera.

 

Anchors who are overweight need to get into shape. There is a lot of truth to the saying that the camera adds ten pounds. While you're slimming down, buy a bigger size. Nothing looks worse than an anchor popping out of a jacket or dress.

 

Teamwork

Here is the bottom line. If you look great, you win and so does the station. It takes work, but it is part of the job. Your success depends on it!

 

 

 

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Brand Mismanagement 101

March 22, 2016

Killing a Brand

When I go to McDonald’s, I expect the Big Mac and fries to taste the same whether I am in New York or West Palm Beach. Generally they do. I am not arguing whether they are good or bad, but they are consistent.

Which brings me to American Airlines. It is a wonderful example of how NOT to manage a brand. I flew from Buffalo to Miami on American and checked my bags with great ease. Miami to Buffalo was a different story. I got to the bag check area and there was little signage to tell you what line you should be standing in.There was also no airline representative to ask. But eventually, I made it to the front of a line only to be told that I had to leave to line, go to the kiosk and print my own baggage claim check. I did that and finally got back to the front of the line and the same agent said, “Well put the baggage claim checks on your bags.” I asked what her job was and she said, "I just check you in and put your luggage on the belt.” I asked, “When did American become self-service? She replied, “I don’t know but it is and it is not my job to put your claim checks on your bags. You have to do it yourself.” She was rude. I asked to see a supervisor and she went off to find one, never to return. Another agent checked me in.

Okay, so there is a terrible employee at every airline who should be fired. But that is not the point. Yesterday I called customer service (a misnomer) and was told that American has different policies at every airport. That is a design for disaster. Basically it tells every passenger to fend for themselves. It is what American Airlines' own commercial does, too.

This commercial received  a lot of criticism from the print media. Forbes said quoting,

“They know their mood contributes to the mood of the flight,” ad copy reads. They also bring noise cancelling headphones in case their (sic) are babies. “They always ask before they raise and lower the window shade,” the 30-and-60 second ad spots continue. Titled “The World’s Greatest Flyers,” the ads also note, “They know they have a limited time on earth.” (Hmmm?)

The premise is a bit like Clorox running a commercial telling moms, “If the stain doesn’t come out, don’t sweat it. At least you have a washing machine, and kids don’t notice stains.” Social media feedback perhaps wasn’t surprising…" end quote.

So, if we come back to McDonald’s and applied the American Airlines Brand Strategy, one Mickey D's would serve you the standard Big Mac, but another would tell you to go to another store because it is not their policy to make them.

Successful brands are Unique, Relevant and CONSISTENT and their messaging is clear. Finally, great brands have terrific Customer  Relations Management (CRM). Without constantly addressing the customer experience, brands eventually die.

 

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