by pat howard

Where are we going?

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2009 at 11:58 am

B&C says the sky is falling, still, for broadcasters. This is both unsurprising and kind of sad, I think, as someone who grew up on television and always wanted to work in the industry when I grew up. As luck would have it, as soon as I escaped college with a degree, the bottom fell out of the economy, taking advertising, journalism, and broadcast television slowly down with it.

It is a little scary how undiversified television advertising has always been. If I’m remembering this right, the whole reason a new television season began each September is that’s when the automobile makers were rolling out their lines for the coming year. Locally, auto dealers have always been a major player in television advertising, and I’m sure everyone can name one or two dealers in their market who have carved out a niche for themselves.

But now, the auto industry is on the brink of collapse, the economy is in a recession and continues to free fall, and stations are scrambling to find ad dollars elsewhere. The Internet would be a logical place for them to turn. Creating “hyperlocal” sites as advertising tie-ins carries a low startup cost and has the potential for massive ROI, but only if it’s done well.

Elaborate microsites designed to compete with Craigslist and other established online players are only as good as their content, and as an end user I’d say you have exactly one click to make a good first impression.

WorldNow and other companies have syndicated their web technology in the same way news music packages or industry relics like PM Magazine once did. The difference is everyone has the same Internet, and it starts to become obvious that a company’s station website in one market is virtually identical to all the others. In other words, the viewers are on to your game.

There is a limit to the profitability of these ventures, and it rests in the hands of each individual station. No one cares that your TV station has a website if all you can bring to it is what you’re already doing on the air. Centralizing these operations is not a viable solution, either, because it just proliferates homogenization. Yes, Virginia, there is a difference between “best practices” and “centralized operations” (for spectacular failures see: Clear Channel’s radio strategy or Sinclair’s “local news center”).

We’re standing at the dawn of a new era in local television. Not since the beginning of television six or seven decades ago has there been so much promise and potential for local stations. The innovative, locally-driven programming experiments of the ’50s should be an inspiration to those looking to program digital subchannels and make their interactive web presence useful to viewers.

This is our chance to reinvent media for a new century. And it can’t be done using the old rule book, with ideas that worked longer than they had any right to in the first place. To paraphrase Jack Donaghy, in five years, television (and print media as well) will all be working for interactive, hyperlocal content, or dead by its hand.

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