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Column: Can iPhone Save Local TV News?

Jan 11, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Last week ABC News started offering text and video reports from the network and its owned stations for free on iPhones, joining CBS News, which lets citizen journalists upload videos of news on the street using their iPhones with the Eyemobile application.
One of the reasons news organizations are targeting the popular mobile phone is because of cord-cutters. Yes, TelevisionWeek readers like to point out that cord-cutters (consumers who no longer subscribe to satellite or cable) are still in the vast minority—and they are—but there are enough of them for news directors to notice.
Case in point: After reading one of my recent columns on life without cable, the news director of the San Francisco ABC-owned KGO-TV, Kevin Keeshan, reached out to me for my take on what happens to news viewing when you ditch cable programming.
I visited the station last week and asked Mr. Keeshan what concerned him most about the future of local news. The answer is obvious but bears repeating: How much more audience can TV stations lose?
“Has the audience deterioration that’s taken place in markets around the country bottomed, or can it get lower?” he asked.
I don’t have the answer, nor does he, nor does anyone. But those in the TV business should sure as hell act as if we’re not even remotely close to the bottom yet.
How? The same way the rest of us are forced to: Market the heck out of your stories on the Web.
During my visit to KGO, the station’s director of Web operations, Jennifer Mitchell, said that in addition to reaching out to heavily trafficked sites like Fark and Drudge Report, her Web team has developed relationships with local fire blogs and sailing sites, as examples, that often link to KGO stories on those topics. “It’s these hyper–specific topics that pick up on stories,” she said.
Other station groups are gunning for the super-targeted approach, too. When NBC revamped the Web sites of its owned stations last fall, the strategy was to treat them not as companion sites to the stations but as unique sources for local content, drawing from print, online, bloggers, individuals and, oh yeah, also the NBC stations.
Then there’s the CBS-owned station group, which offers widgets with its news to local bloggers and Web sites, luring them with a split of the profits from ads in the widgets.
Other unconventional tactics include out-of-left-field Web extensions like the futures market KGO offers online at http://abc7.inklingmarkets.com/, letting visitors vote on who’s going to win the Super Bowl, which automaker (if any) will declare bankruptcy and if President-elect Barack Obama will pass new legislation in his first 100 days in office.
“It’s a long process when you are trying to convert people who aren’t local news viewers,” Mr. Keeshan said, especially the millennials.
If they don’t convert to local TV news—and my money is on no—will they watch online, via widgets and on iPhones? That’s a much better bet. But it’s still a lean one. Even if the iPhone generation becomes local news consumers, don’t expect stations to have so many live trucks, reporters and boots on the ground in the future.
Get ready to shoot and edit stories with your iPhones someday soon.

20 Comments

  1. Daisy….why would I give a crap about your lazy ass TV viewing habits?
    Hmmm? You watch TV. Thats a job? Whatever.

  2. I will say my family still watches quite a bit of local news (NYC & Philly network stations), but I won’t deny we also occasionally venture off and watch some of the increasingly available options available over the web and cable, such as China’s CCCT News 9 and now Al Jezera online for a more-rounded perspective. It is especially infurating when I try to get my 11 year old son interested in watching the local news show, only to see story after story of fires, murders, and the like. If you want intelligent folks to watch your programs you have stop catering to the lowest common denominator and offer something compelling to watch. With more and more options available every day my family will take advantage of every resource available to get more variety and a more diverse and rounded perspective on what’s happening in the world.

  3. At my workplace, we use television station websites on a daily basis… and we are all complaining about the fact that these television stations are no longer posting local content. These sites are so busy trying to post “video” and cute “features” from outside of their respective markets, but they do not invest any resources in posting “local” news. Until local tv stations return to covering “local” news and posting “local” news on their websites, then the loss of audience will continue.

  4. Loss of Audience???? lets see…. ABC sure get tha award from me!
    WTVG (13/19)… Toledo’s local ABC O&O. The news is filled with drama, which TNT has nothing on, per the phrase “TNT: WE KNOW DRAMA.” The local news is pretty much filler, murders, fires, and “world is ending weather reports, from ‘Blizzard Bill’.”
    On a local radio station, they promote their 5:30 news by asking us if the new “blue trash day” made us blue. That is the most compelling tease that I have ever heard….NOT!
    The local TV stations do it to themselves. They report things on a bias, show us stories we don’t really care about, tease us with drama and/or compelling stories…. just adding to our complicated lives, whee we don’t need anymore drama.
    Also, lets not get into ABC local’s (such as KGO, WLS, KTRK, WTVG, WABC, KABC, etc.) effort to not be accurate. Note that when you view those stations, they are the most accurate, per promos. I needn’t remind the Toledo viewers, that at “the fire at 5100 Laskey Rd.” was not “Midwestern Oasis”, but “Mediterranean Oasis.” Let’s also not forget that Susan Ross-Wells called the end of the Jeep strike at least 25 hours earlier, than actual. The Jeep Plant shooting, killing 3… another fine example… since they didn’t know how many were killed.
    Another point: The local Emmy Award offices encourage that same drama and inaccuracy, by awarding such behaviour. WTVG won several News Emmy Awards this last time, where the calmer stations got gyped.
    I can see that there is a certain “glass ceiling” for good compelling news and accurate, non-biased reporting. That’s too bad, because we the viewers would watch, if they got it together better, like WTOL-TV and DT in Toledo. And I do not work there… but their news seems to be the best, for what we have in this market.
    DSo, the point… stations do it to themselves… then blame others for their own problems.

  5. Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.

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