Guest Commentary: Stations Must Embrace Internet to Stay Relevant

Mar 8, 2009  •  Post A Comment

“I will never break a story on the Internet.” —anonymous local news director
It was 2004, and Jonathan Leess had just started the interactive division of the CBS Television Stations group. With a vision of integrating content and advertising on-air and online, he went out to the stations to rally support.
But many people in positions of power did not immediately embrace his ideas. For them, the 6 o’clock news was good enough both for breaking news and for selling high-priced local spots. Through hard work and the force of events, Mr. Leess overcame the inertia and, by the end of 2008, had established a thriving interactive division that no longer needed him to survive.
In fairness to the anonymous news director, Google had yet to go public when the anti-Internet statement was made. But like the famous example of the railroads not knowing in the beginning of the 20th century that they were in the transportation business, local television is in danger of defining itself out of business.
Like a railroad, broadcast television can only take the consumer where he or she wants to go on a schedule. Just as automobiles and airplanes changed the nature of transportation in the analog era, the Internet and mobile devices are changing the nature of television in the digital age.
The viability of local television now is dependent on its embracing a 360-degree vision of deep integration of local news, sports and entertainment in all areas where video intersects people’s lives, 24/7. And while local television has begun to adapt to the Internet and local search as a means of growing advertising revenue, mobile phones and other wireless devices may hold the greatest promise for advertising growth.
Yes, the screens are small and the streaming is painfully slow, but what other device knows where you are every moment of the day? Mapping, mobile search and time-sensitive digital couponing could revitalize local broadcasters. The potential for opt-in advertising is enormous.
Consider this: The local pizza parlor may never advertise on local television or even buy a Google keyword search. But wouldn’t it pay $1 per incremental customer for an ad pushed to people’s cell phones as they were walking by the store?
Beyond the new category of mobile advertising, television can gain by capitalizing on its several innate advantages.
No other form of visual communication may ever equal television’s universal reach. And the audio and visual experience of SurroundSound and HDTV may never be matched by laptops or mobile devices. But these devices can create the circumference of the 360-degree local marketing experience with television as its epicenter.
With archives of local news, sports and entertainment, and their current news-gathering and ad sales ability, television stations can continue to dominate local advertising while reinventing it.
As Jonathan Leess puts it, “Television stations are facing a ‘defining moment’ opportunity. They must break old habits and leverage their core competencies in video production and news coverage by syndicating their content to every digital platform and device, reconnecting with their local audiences online, on-air and on the move.”
But with the recession of 2008-09, will the powers that be invest enough in local broadcasting to continue its growth on the path introduced by Mr. Leess? Or will Silicon Valley companies and investors buy up television stations for pennies on the dollar and retool them to be the local Googles of the future?
David M. Fox is founder and CEO of David Fox and Associates, which represents television producers in the sale of their work to DVD publishers and television networks.


  1. Thanks for your post, David. Yes, SMS and “particpation marketing” or opt-in advertising can yield enormous results (with virtually zero to little up front costs) to not only grow customers, reinforce brands, create partnerships, etc. the promotions themselves can often generate actual revenue that can not only offset the cost of the promotion, but fill up the marketing coffers.

  2. Good post, admin.

  3. Excellent article…media needs to begin to follow the footprints Jonathan Leess has created or the companies will fall one by one

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