Why local TV is alive (if not well)

tv-static

I avoid local TV like dog poop on the sidewalk but it seems to be alive and well, perhaps for the same reasons millions of people still use AOL. Here’s a couple of pulls from a commentary by Terry Heaton, a guy who seems to know a lot about TV

“The concept of network content distribution through local affiliates is what’s being challenged by the Web. Local broadcasters are middlemen in the delivery of network content to the masses, and that was fine in a world absent horizontal connectivity. My version of Gilmore’s Law is that “the net regards middlemen as a failures and routes around them,” and I’m not alone in this thinking. The networks simply can do their thing far more efficiently — and thereby, profitably — by going directly to consumers.”

Oh, now I remember why I stopped watching local TV.

“Local television is still atop the heap in terms of delivering the goods for certain advertisers, most notably political candidates. Saturating the airwaves — especially in key states — with ads for those running, delivers incredible profits for local broadcasters. This is not going to change, and absent some major innovation that pushes campaign managers elsewhere — perhaps mobile? — the money is going to continue to support local broadcast companies.”

700 Club

“We had unwritten policies in place at The 700 Club, for example, that denied access to overweight people. We required people who wrote to us to report a “miracle” to include a photograph, so that we could filter people out based on how they looked. We wanted youngish, intelligent, attractive and articulate people to counter the view that Christians are all stupid Bible-thumpers. We very rarely, if ever, invited guests on the show that were overweight or fit the stereotypes discovered in the Gallup study. When crowd shots were taken in the studio, the camera operators were advised to zoom in on the most attractive people in the audience. None of this was written down, of course; it was just understood.”

Terry Heaton was a producer for the 700 Club in 1981

When experts don’t seem so “expert”

This is an excerpt from a post by Terry Heaton, one of the handful of thinkers I look to first for an understanding of what’s happening in the world. The link to his post is below, but the following paragraphs can stand on their own.

Our culture is based upon hierarchical layers of “expertise,” some of it licensed by the state. This produces order, which Henry Adams called “the dream of man.”

It also produces elites, the governing class, those who call the shots for others not so fortunate as to occupy the higher altitudes. This is the 1% against which the occupiers bring their protests, their dis-order.

We used to think that elites and hierarchical order were necessary for the well-being of all, but that idea is being challenged as knowledge — the protected source of power (and elevation) — is being spread sideways along the Great Horizontal. It’s not that we’re so much smarter than we used to be; it’s that the experts don’t seem so “expert” anymore, because the knowledge that gave them their status isn’t protected today. Anybody can access it with the touch of a finger.

This is giving institutions fits, and each one is fighting for its very life against the inevitable flattening that’s taking place. Medicine wants no part of smart and informed patients and neither does the insurance industry. The legal world scoffs at the notion that they’re in it for themselves as they occupy legislatures and create the laws that work on their behalf. Higher education increasingly touts the campus experience over what’s being learned, because they all know that the Web has unlimited teaching capacity. Government needs its silos to sustain its bureaucracy, but the Great Horizontal cuts across them all.

I added the emphasis in graf 3. For me, this is The Big Idea of the early 21st century. The high-speed smart phone in my pocket means you don’t necessarily know more than I do, so why the fuck should you be in charge?

What an exciting time to be alive. And sure to get exciting-er.

 

“If I can just hang on for another couple of years”

This idea of “hanging on for another few years” isn’t just dangerous; it’s suicidal. I know this comes off as harsh, but media companies should be asking themselves this question (actually, they should have been already): Is our topmost leadership capable of looking past their personal needs to do what’s right for the company in the long run? In the answer to that question lies the future of all media. — From Terry Heaton blog post

“The Internet Weakens Authority”

There are a handful of people I regularly read in an effort to understand what’s happening in the world: Scott Adams, Seth Godin, Clay Shirky, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson and Terry Heaton (I’ve left some out).

In this essay, Mr. Heaton explores what he calls the “second Gutenberg moment” we are experiencing:

“It isn’t technology that’s changing culture as much as it is the ability of people to act on long-held dissatisfaction. People, therefore, are the issue, empowered, connected and, yes, angry people. Nobody’s “in charge” of the revolution underway, but more and more people are realizing that if we’re going to fix what’s wrong, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”

We’re sure to see some of that in November. And then there’s the question of who controls the knowledge:

“One-directional authority — especially that which is based in deliberately protected knowledge — cannot maintain control for long, once that knowledge is acquired and spread throughout its constituency. All that we know today in terms how we govern our lives will evaporate and be replaced by something very different in the decades to come.”

We see this in every institution: Busines, Religion, Education, Media, Medicine, Finance. I was certainly “guilty” of this when I was a Manager. Deciding what information got passed along and to whom. I still see it every day. But it’s getting harder.

Employees are connected. Nobody is walking around the office leaving memos on people’s desks. Email, Facebook, Twitter, texting… shit, the boss is often the last know something.

I’m confident I’ll be around for the disruptions to come and expect many will be painful, but necessary. I’m looking forward to them.

Shane Dawson TV

If you still think YouTube is just about dogs on skateboards, you haven’t been keeping up (Oh, and Twitter really isn’t about what someone had for lunch. Okay? You got that?). Some very funny and talented people are attracting big audiences. Like Shane Dawson, who has a very popular YouTube channel:

Shane Dawson is a YouTube comedian and actor. Dawson is known for making comedy videos featuring recurring characters, impersonations and spoofs of popular music videos. His YouTube channel is the third most subscribed channel of all time, with over 1.5 million subscribers.[Wikipedia]

For insight on why people like young Mr. Dawson are important, I encourage you to let Terry Heaton explain what he calls “The Evolving User Paradigm

PS: I am one of the 1,621,354 subscribers to the YouTube channel. Perhaps the oldest.

“A business model in decay”

“…the creation of content that will be supported by ads is a business model in decay. Abundance isn’t the problem; it’s that the advertisers are now in the content business themselves, and this is a rapidly-growing sector of the advertising world. Advertising is in a full-blown revolution, as company after company discovers they don’t need media the way they used to, because they’ve become media companies themselves.”

Terry Heaton says there is no “content business” anymore and that’s not the business we (his clients) were in anyway.

“We’ve always been in the advertising business, although it sure looked and felt like we were in the content business. Our bottom lines were/are determined by advertising, and that’s the real business we’re in. Media companies need to accept that and move on to finding creative ways to enable commerce in our markets.”

Since posting the excerpts above, I’ve been remembering my days in small-market radio during the ’70s and early ’80s. I was an announcer and program director, but never in sales. We thought of ourselves as “talent.”

It was clearly understood by us that the advertising was the means to the end of creating the information and entertainment (mostly recorded music). We had to pay for all this wonderful stuff we were doing.

What the sales people believed –an management knew– was the news and music and all the rest was merely a way to attract ears for the commercials we sold to advertisers. We were not in the music business or news business… we were in the advertising business.

If you doubt that, go back and listen to this interview with Congressman Paul C. Jones to built the radio station. Or read the recollections of Joe Bankhead, who was one of the stations first salesmen. It was clearly about serving the businesses in the area. They were more than willing to put on any kind of programming that would attact enough listeners to satisfy a sponsor.

No more creating mass through scarcity

So you’ve got a TV station or radio station or newspaper with all this good “content.” The cost of producing it is already sunk so you put it on your website and sell some banner ads. Ch-ching. But it just isn’t working for a lot of “legacy media” and Terry Heaton explains why:

“The assumptions of any content play are that its value is so great that expensive, adjacent advertising will support it and that the mass attractive to advertisers can be created through scarcity. Neither of these assumptions is viable online, and the real problem is that both must be present for significant revenue to be realized.”

So what do we do?

“We should nurture our legacy products as best we can, but we simply must separate our ability to make money from our dependence on the content we create. The key to that is in defining, understanding and developing the Local Web.”

I added the bold in hopes that would help me understand what he’s saying. I think he’s referring to the content we are already creating. We have a story in the paper, we put it on the web. We have a good radio morning show, we stream it. And so on.

We can’t just “re-purpose” our existing content and expect to attract an audience that will be attractive to an advertiser. I think he’s right.

The unbundled media world

I’ve been doing some work on the website of one of our networks and came across a story about what appears to be a big music festival. I exchanged some emails with the news director about linking and adding content from other sources (Google, flickr, YouTube, blogs, Twitter, etc). She expressed some concerns about this.

She, like some many veteran reporters I know, seemed to be coming from that place where you write your story (with audio/video/stills) and it goes into whatever distribution channel your company happens to own: paper, magazine, radio/TV station. That’s where her “audience” finds the story.

And it worked just fine for a long time. But then the web comes along and most of us clapped our hands because we saw it as just one more way to reach “our” audience. A one-way pipe from which they would “consume our content.”

From a recent post (“The Web’s Widening Stream“) by Terry Heaton:

“The “Browse” phase of the Web was its first, and it’s where the name of the desktop application known as the browser originated. The Web was seen as a series of roads leading to destinations, We hopped from site to site — or in the case of AOL, destinations within the site — and everybody was happy. “Visitors” to sites were welcomed through a front door, which became the most valuable online real estate in terms of advertising.

“Search” disrupted the paradigm by allowing people to access documents within a site without going through that front door. We were still visiting sites, though, because that’s “where” the content resided. Search destroyed the value of the home page, and also allowed for advertising adjacent to search results — a way of monetizing content that existed only in link form on the pages of the search. If you wanted to buy ads next to football content, you didn’t need to buy football pages, for example. You could simply buy ads on search results for football.

“Subscribe” blew everything apart, because users no longer had to even visit websites, assuming publishers were willing to make their content available in RSS form. Most major publishers refused to play the game, so media company RSS feeds have generally contained only a sentence or two, thereby forcing users back to the site of origin, where publishers can monetize pages. This irritating practice has kept publishers from exploring revenue possibilities in a truly subscriber-based environment, and it’s the key thing holding back the development of RSS.

But a new paradigm is threatening all of the others and will eventually force all publishers into the unbundled media world. The staggering popularity of social media messaging via Facebook and MySpace “status updates” and, of course, Twitter is creating an information ecosystem that is a series of real-time streams. These streams come in short bursts, but when added to the RSS of Microsoft’s “subscribe” phase of the Web, they form powerful, relevant and meaningful sources of knowledge and information for an increasingly networked world.

Mr. Heaton quotes (and links to) VC John Borthwick who views “streams” as the new metaphor for the web:

In the initial design of the web reading and writing (editing) were given equal consideration – yet for fifteen years the primary metaphor of the web has been pages and reading. The metaphors we used to circumscribe this possibility set were mostly drawn from books and architecture (pages, browser, sites etc.). Most of these metaphors were static and one way. The steam metaphor is fundamentally different. It’s dynamic, it doesn’t live very well within a page and still very much evolving.

A stream. A real time, flowing, dynamic stream of information — that we as users and participants can dip in and out of and whether we participate in them or simply observe are a part of this flow.

And then there is the advertiser:

“Advertising will be another fundamental part of the stream, but the rub for media companies is that advertisers can enter the stream themselves, without the assistance of being attached to media content. This is the inevitable end of a truly unbundled media world.”

If I started this post with a point in mind, I lost it along the way. I think it had something to do with the notion that a reporter –any reporter– could write/produce a story and expect others to find it and read it (and comment on it?) without being connected to them in some synchronous manner.

Or perhaps: All of us can tell the story better than any of us.

Whatever. Read Mr. Heaton’s piece.