• Road Warrior Intel #6

    March 28th, 2009

    Here are more observations and musings from my many days jetting around this great country.

    Your Viewers Are A Bit Surly.   Just like the rest of us, your local TV news viewers are a much more surly lot than they were a year or so ago.   Vanishing jobs and 401K’s will do that to you.   I’ve seen them in focus groups the past few weeks – and they have shorter attention spans, are much less tolerant when you waste their time, and just want you to get to the point.   It’s a message to keep in mind as you produce newscasts.  They want the facts, they want to know more than ever how the news affects them, and they want you to move on to the next story.    We’ve been preaching that message for years – but right now – viewers have no tolerance for anything else from you.

    Mix In Some Positive News.   I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about mixing some positive news with the daily litany of doom and gloom in your newscasts.   There is evidence of that viewer desire in every market I have visited the past few months.  In fact, many viewers are telling reporters and anchors that very thing when they rub shoulders in public.   They don’t want fluff.  They do want hope.

    Multi-Taskers Are Valuable.    I saw first hand this week evidence that the most valued newspersons of the future (the future being today!) – are the ones who have embraced putting their reports on multiple platforms.   I was in a station while a group head addressed the troops and that was the crux of his message.   Local TV news is embracing many platforms to deliver the news – and anyone in the newsroom who doesn’t share that vision will not be valuable to their employers.

    Dr. Phil Zooming Downhill?   When Dr. Phil’s syndicated program first hit the air, I was a naysayer.  “There is no way,” I said at the time,  “that his abrasive style will wear well with viewers.”  Well – I may have been right – although the irritation took a few years longer than I imagined at the time.   In some large markets – Dr. Phil’s ratings have slipped 70% this year.

    How Valuable Is Oprah?   And, the biggest syndicated program of all-time is also in a bit of a pickle.  With the continued proliferation of easy-to-use video recorders – at least 40% of Oprah’s viewing in many markets is time-shifted.   So, is the program still valuable as a loss-leader because it delivers big numbers to your local newscast?  Apparently not, if you have to reduce whatever that rating is by 40% because viewers watch Oprah later in the day – or the next day.  It means they certainly are not watching the program as a lead-in to your newscast.

    Your Government At Work!   With all the anger over wasted tax dollars, I was wishing the TV cameras could have been at the security checkpoint at the airport in Tampa last week.   As I headed through, I noticed that only one lane was open (very unusual for this airport, and a testament of the slow air travel at the moment, even during spring break).   I also noticed that 5 TSA agents were actually working, while 9 more were standing around doing nothing.    Ah yes, another sterling example of your tax dollars at work!

    Jim

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  • Let Your Viewers Vent!

    March 23rd, 2009

    Have you noticed that your viewers are angry and frustrated?   Of course, you have.   They are angry at the politicians who don’t seem to have a clue on fixing the economy.    They are really upset at the institutions that take bailout bucks and then give millions of it in bonuses to the people who ran those institutions into the ground.

    Here’s the point – if your newscasts still haven’t opened avenues of communication with your viewers – NOW is the time to jump in with the proverbail both feet.    Your viewers want to speak out more than ever – and they are doing it every day on national cable channels who have created entire shows to let them vent.    They are also doing it on many local newscasts – maybe even on your competition.  If you are still talking AT your viewers – instead of talking WITH them – you are soon going to be in their rearview mirrors as they move on.

    For too long, newscast viewing has been passive.  Under the current climate, you have a wide open opportunity to make it an interactive experience with your viewers.   It is easy to set up email addresses plus Twitter and Text accounts to give them easy access to express their views on your newscasts.

    I was in a market last week that has had difficulty getting viewers to respond to requests to send emails with their opinions.  Well, they asked viewers to give their opinion on the AIG bonuses right after it was the lead story in their late newscast.   They had over 50 emails to read less than 10 minutes later.   And the emails were very interesting – with strong points of view that really enhanced the news coverage.

    So – don’t blow off your viewers by not asking for their opinions.   Let them blow off steam in your newscasts instead – and you will tap into a powerful force to make your newscasts more interesting – and your viewers much more engaged in your newscasts.

    Jim

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  • Invisible Brand Statements

    March 14th, 2009

    Think about it.  TV stations spend literally millions of dollars in advertising exposure for their newscast brand statements.   You find them in most every station ID, all over the newscasts, on remote vehicles, billboards, newspaper ads etc.   Yet these brand statements remain invisible to local TV news viewers.

    I have been researching brand statements for a couple of decades now – and the usual reaction I continue to see from viewers when we ask them to name a station’s brand statement is a blank stare.   We even try to help them with phrases like “Coke is it,”  “Avis tries harder,” etc.   And then ask, so what do the local TV stations use – you guessed it – more blank stares.

    I saw it again last week when we talked to TV viewers in a western state.   One station in the market has used the same brand statement for nearly 20 years.  Not one person could tell us what it was!   My client has used the same brand statement for about 7 years – and one person correctly blurted out the slogan.

    We have also tested brand statements in thousands of telephone studies where we tell them the brand – and ask them to link it with the correct TV station in the market.   Usually less than 40 percent can put the brand statements we give them with the correct station.

    So now spin forward to today with the myriad of ways people can get your news stories.   My question is this:  Are brand statements really something you should be spending so much air time and effort  on at your station?

    I am thinking no.  I am thinking it could be more powerful to research what viewers desire from your newscast and then spend all that air time  driving home how your newscast delivers on those desirable attributes.  

    The point is this – would you rather be named as the station that has Coverage You Can Count On, or Local, Late Breaking News- or would you rather be the station with an emotional attachment to viewers – who say “they watch out for me,”  “they go after the powerful people and get answers” etc.  Why not spend your marketing time driving home those valuable attributes instead of trying (futilely it seems) to get viewers to remember some slogan?

    Let me know what you think.   Let’s kick around this quandry.

    Jim

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  • Road Warrior Intel #5

    March 6th, 2009

    This is another in a continuing series of observations and ideas from my travels around the country.

    Local TV News Viewing UP.   Some good news to begin this blog.  Broadcasting & Cable magazine asked Nielsen for a special report about local TV news viewing during November.  The news was good – dozens of local TV newscasts showed ratings growth of 20 percent or more compared to November 2007.  Much of  this increased viewing was driven by the election and economy – but good news is good news, and we’ll take it.

    Sharing Resources Gains Momentum.  I have been blogging for months about the wisdom in these days of staff reductions for local stations to share newsgathering resources.  This approach is gaining momentum across the country.   Is it really necessary for every station in your market to send a seperate crew to cover the mayor’s routine news conference?  No!  In Austin, Texas five stations have now formed a news sharing consortium.  In Phoenix, three stations are sharing one helicopter.  The list is growing every day.  If you are not working on forming a news sharing alliance in your market – you are falling behind the rest of the country in markets large and small.

    Social Media is important.    CNN Senior VP David Bonham says, “using the Internet and social networking sites is essential to the survival of TV news.”  CNN garnered an Internet audience of 407,000 for their You Tube presidential debate.  That is their biggest number ever in the 18-34 demo.

    Social Media is a secret weapon.    WSPA Spartanburg’s Amy Wood is one of the most active anchors I know when it comes to social networking.  She is everywhere on the Internet and works it hard both on and off the air.  Well, last week it paid off in a big way for WSPA.  There was a hostage situation at a downtown Spartanburg bank.   Right away, information came pouring in from witnesses in other buildings, friends and family of hostages, and many others to Amy’s Twitter and Facebook pages.  One fellow said he followed Amy’s Twitter coverage on his Blackberry while he watched the standoff unfold out his office window.  Another person wrote, “when viewers like myself get the first glimpse of breaking news on TV, we immediately go to FB or Twitter.  You’ve found the right combination of  TV and Internet that will keep viewers engaged in your coverage.  Kudos!”

    Newspaper playing TV on the Internet.    The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has started a 7-minute newscast every afternoon on their website.  The reporter sits behind a rather stark desk, uses a laptop as a prompter, and mixes in little doses of video and still pics while he reads the local news of the day.  It is definately low tech.  At one point someone (could only see their hands) brought in a large wall map so the reporter could point to a spot on the map that was impossible to see.  The fellow is very conversational, pretty engaging and a bit irreverent.  At one point on the day I was watching on line he brought in a sports reporter for a local high school discussion.  The weather graphics were very crude – but overall the information was solid.

    Jim

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