Digital Age About Community, Says NBCU’s Comstock in TVB Keynote Speech

Apr 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

As new technology makes it easier for consumers to form communities around specific areas of interests, local television stations are well positioned to take advantage of the trend, given their ties to the communities they serve and their ability to reach audiences, Beth Comstock, president of digital media and market development at NBC Universal, said Thursday.

“In the digital age, community is all about gathering people with shared interests and giving them a platform to interact with each other, to engage in relevant content and to create something new,” said Ms. Comstock, whose comments were part of her keynote address at the Television Bureau of Advertising marketing conference in New York. “Only time will tell, but I know that local stations are perfectly positioned to move into the digital world and bring their community with them.”

Ms. Comstock, who began leading NBCU’s digital efforts in January, said she believed local television stations’ skill at telling stories with video allows them to take advantage of the exploding growth in distributing video through new platforms.

Local TV stations can do that by increasingly focusing on local content creation, she said.

“Stations have at least 50 percent of their broadcast time where they schedule their own programming,” she noted. “The more you can create original, local programming, the more you can capitalize on that local bond.”

Her comments come as local television station owners increasingly look toward new technology as a source of new revenue.

Thanks to episodes of series such as “Desperate Housewives” being available on iTunes and many cable operators aggressively turning to video-on-demand as a way to make TV series available, local TV stations are finding that their decades-old business model is no longer relevant. Many station owners are responding by exploring ways they can distribute their owned content on alternative distribution platforms, such as iPods, digital broadcast signals and cellular phones.

But Ms. Comstock warned the audience that even if now is the time to embrace digital technology, there has to be a logic to the approach. She distilled it down to keeping three things in mind when looking into digital distribution of video: context, community and content.

“Few people are going to curl up on the sofa or have friends over to watch the big game seated around a [2-inch-by-2-inch] cellphone or iPod,” she said. They might, however, embrace a small-screen device when commuting home. “Ask me if I want a 2-by-2 experience, and I’d probably say no. But put it in the right context, and the technology and content solve a need.”

The second element of community is something local TV stations know well, Ms. Comstock said, noting that viewers are familiar with a station’s logo, news anchors and call letters.

“This is a relationship of amazing value-build on a bond,” she said. You connect viewers to what is happening in their community.”

For that reason, she continued, local stations need to continue to develop video content that is directly linked to the communities they serve.

Once those three elements are in place, Ms. Comstock said, the advertisers will follow. She said there is a particularly bright opportunity online, where local TV stations capture just 4 percent of the $3.4 billion spent in online advertising today. By comparison, local TV stations today collect around 30 percent of the $94 billion spent in local advertising.

“[Online advertising] represents an $850 million opportunity for local television, if you matched the same market share online as you did offline,” she said. “And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be doing this.”