January 29th, 2009
This is the fourth in a series of observations and ideas gleaned from my weekly travels across the country. I don't usually write this type of blog back-to-back but there is an interesting number of things going on this week.
Sharing News Gathering. I have written before in support of developing a partnership in your market to share news resources for non-competitive stories (news conferences, perp walks etc.). Again I urge you to head in this direction – especially as your resources continue to shrink in this difficult economy. In Denver, KUSA and KMGH (owned by seperate companies) will be sharing a helicopter and crew to cover Colorado. In Chicago, NBC-owned WMAQ, and Fox-owned WFLD are having meetings to discuss creating an independent news service to pool people and resources to cover non-proprietary news video that they will share. Find a partner and save resources now.
But keep it local! On the bad idea side of the ledger, the local CW newscast in West Palm Beach, Florida is being anchored from KUTV in Salt Lake City, Utah. Huh? The story on this bizarre arrangement says that there are 30 employees working on the newscast in West Palm, and 20 employees in Utah. And out of all those people you can't find a local anchor or weather person? The story also noted how the Utah anchor was working on pronouncing names in West Palm. I believe the savior of television is local-local news – not faux local news.
Surviving 2009. WSPA in Spartanburg has launched an innovative year-long series called 7 On Your Side Consumer Watch: Economy in Crisis – Surviving 2009. While the title may be a little long, the idea is right in line with your viewer's biggest content desire this year. News Director Alex Bongiorno says “It's designed to bring you the information and tools you need to help you get through the next year.” If you are not doing at least one consumer/economic story every day – you are not serving your viewers with the content they need – and want – right now.
Dr. Phil Plunging. When Dr. Phil was about to launch, I boldly predicted that he would fail because viewers would quickly tire of his bombastic, arrogant yelling at them every day. Well, I was obviously wrong as he debuted to strong ratings. But maybe that fatigue just took longer than I thought. Dr. Phil's overall ratings have plunged 27% nationally this year. Even worse, the program has lost one-third of its 18-49 female audience.
Shocker! Did you you hear that the new Miss America wants to be a news anchor? That's a shocker!
January 20th, 2009
This is the third in a series of observations and ideas gleaned from my weekly travels across the country…
DTV rush to save a dark-rumped petrel. If you read my previous blog you know that the state of Hawaii had a successful transition to DTV last week. I didn't know until today that the rush to be first for the 50th state was prompted by an endangered Hawaiian bird – the dark-rumped petrel. It is a bird that lives in volcanoes and the petrel's nesting season is fast approaching. So, Hawaii took the digital plunge early so there would be time to take down the analog transmission towers in time to assure no interference with the petrel's mating season. I'm not kidding!
Analog Anger. Meantime on the mainland, broadcasting group heads are steamed over the movement in Congress to delay the digital conversion past February 17th. The reason – it will cost the broadcast groups tens of thousands of dollars to pay for continued electrictiy to the dinosaur transmitters. Not exactly something they relish in this difficult year.
Meaningless March Book? This whole ridiculous Nielsen idea of moving the February sweeps to March due to the possibly-delayed digital conversion, is also a sore point with broadcasters everywhere. As one GM put it to me, “If the March ratings are good - buyers will beat us up because it is not a normal sweeps time period, and if it's bad they will use it to beat us up on our advertising rates. It is a no-win situation.”
Meaningless March Book II. And from a news and marketing point of view it is also a no-win situation. Should the news department create special reports for what is essentially a book that will be thrown out after a month – since the May book will be in by then? Should the marketing department spend very tight outside advertising dollars or save them for May? What a mess created by that monopoly called Nielsen. By the way my answer to those two questions is NO!
Embracing New Technology. I am excited as I begin my nationwide travels for 2009 to see the rush by many local TV stations to embrace the new technology to provide news and information on multiple platforms. Many stations are creating their own Facebook page to provide news and information on that social network; they are sending Tweets to viewers as they have a 2-way conversation with their customers on a daily basis about many issues; more anchors and reporters are blogging on a daily basis and inviting instant feedback from local news viewers; and stations are quickly experimenting with SKYPE to send live reports back from the field using computers. If your station is not joining this rush to connectivity – that train has moved far down the tracks – right past you!
Economy, Economy, Economy. One thing has not changed in the last couple of months – the main issue on your viewers' minds is still the economy. It needs to be part of your daily planning and content every day as we head into 2009.
January 17th, 2009
Broadcasters in Hawaii have taken the plunge – not into the pristine blue waters of the Pacific Ocean – but into the world of DTV. They turned off their analog signals this week.
While Congress and the president-elect wrangle over delaying the DTV switch until June, the changeover in Hawaii apparently went off pretty painlessly. There were some viewer concerns, but it seems the Hawaiian broadcasters had covered all the bases to make it as smooth a transition as possible.
KGMB9 news director Chris Archer described the switch this way, “Since we're the Severe Weather Station, I thought I'd make a weather analogy. Some people in Hawaii thought the transition would be a hurricane. Others thought it would simply be a sunny day. I'd call it a clear day with light trades for KGMB, with just a few passing clouds for some of the other stations. Nonetheless, there were no big problems.” To help ease the transition to DTV, the FCC set up, and manned, a local call center. It received less than 1,000 calls on the day the switch was pulled.
Archer credits three key things for making the switch to DTV successful in Hawaii:
- Lots of notice! KGMB did their first DTV test back in February – switching off the analog signal during newscasts. They ran a crawl on their analog signal beginning one month out over programming and newscasts warning of the change. The crawl said, “If you see this message, you many not be able to watch TV on January 15th. Call this number now.” They did numerous news stories about the switch, including a heavy web presence. KGMB even customized their home page masthead so it counted down the days to the changeover.
- FCC Call Center. Although the station, and the newsroom, still received some calls, the call center took a lot of pressure off the individual stations. They set up a phone tree redirecting callers to the local hotline first, and asked them to call KGMB back if their problem was unique to the station's signal.
- Excellent Engineering Staff. KGMB's chief engineer Mike McCarthy took on the DTV project and ran with it. He even helped some other stations in the market in the process. There was excellent cooperation between all the Hawaii stations to make this a smooth transition. All five Honolulu stations even brought their top news talent together to create promos talking about going digital.
So, should Congress delay the DTV switch until June? Based on the Hawaii experience, I'd vote “NO” on that one. So would most mainland broadcasters, who are ready to go, and want to lose the expense of power to that analog tower as soon as possible.