Tag Archives: NBC

The Ticket to Web Heaven? Use Your Call Letters

WTOC11_LOGOA lot of the fun started seeping out of local television when call letters were foolishly replaced with cookie-cutter network/channel number IDs like ABC7 and NBC5.  For a person who plays a pretty mean game of call letter trivia (wanna know what WIS, WGN, WSB, WTOC and WFTS stand for?  I’m your guy), the perfectly idiotic march away from decades of history that all those call letters represented was depressing indeed.

Now I’ve confessed to my own local television nostalgia, and just the other night over drinks, I bemoaned the loss of the Sears Tower name for that tall building in Chicago.  I hated it when South Florida’s proud Joe Robbie Stadium became the decidedly lame Pro Player Stadium, and, well, you get the idea.

So here’s my message to local television stations trying to dig a deep trench around their turf on the web:  don’t get clever and for Heaven’s sake forget about your network affiliation.

Go old school.  Use your call letters.

As I’ve reported here, lots of companies think there’s money to be made by owning the dominant online news site in any given market.  NBC–being NBC–bought up “NBC(YourTownNameHere)” domains from Presque Isle to San Diego.  But guess what sites do the best in terms of grabbing people’s attention and, more importantly, holding on to it?

WRAL:  Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

WRAL: Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

Sites with call letters and obvious connections to years of covering news in any given town.  Sites like WRAL.com in Raleigh. What affiliate is WRAL? Who cares. Here’s what’s important:  the station’s website dominates all others in Raleigh in terms of minutes spent reading news and, perhaps, checking out those web ads:  the average total minutes spent on wral.com, according to research by Internet Broadcasting was 156 minutes.

By comparison, the minutes spent figure for ABC O&O WPVI in Philadelphia, which uses the domain 6abc.com, was a mere 5.5 minutes.

The numbers don’t hold true for every market–in some places, like Sacramento, kcra.com has a low total minutes figure of 3.4–but by and large, the call letters that have juice seem to translate from television to the internet.

As Arul Sandaram at Internet Broadcasting told me, “While this is clearly just one data point, and much work still needs to be done in getting stations to fully embrace their future as cross platform content/distribution companies, I am hoping you see this data as we do: as a spot of promise for the local TV industry.”

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

It tells me one thing.  Embrace what got you this far, and don’t throw it away.  If you have nearly half a century of equity in an identity, why not use it? WFAA in Dallas does, and they have one of the highest “time spent” figures in the study at 30.7 minutes.

Salt Lake’s KSL has a similarly strong number at 61.8. Both stations, in case you weren’t sure, use their calls as their web ID.  It’s not the magic bullet, but I think it’s a logical step, especially if you’re in a market where the online competition is a newspaper with 100 years of equity in its name.

WFMY:  Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

WFMY: Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

So WFMY in Greensboro, North Carolina?  Here’s my free advice to you.

You went on the air in 1949 as WFMY (trivia challenge: what do the calls mean?). The guys over at WBTV went on the air the same year.  There’s a lot of history there.  And the paper in town, the News and Record (www.news-record.com), has roots to 1890.  So if somebody who lives in Greensboro wants to know what’s up in town, what makes you think they’ll sit down at the computer keyboard and have the impulse to type in www.digtriad.com?

C’mon, people.  If we intend to survive as local news operations, we’ve got to think.

Advertisements

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

SlimeWatch, Part 3: What Local Stations Can Learn from NPR’s New Website

6a00d83451b26169e201053659b16a970c-800wiNPR.org doesn’t exactly grab you by the shoulders and scream “cutting edge!” At least, not yet. But give it time.

One thing that is clear is this:  the thinking behind the radio giant’s redesign is advanced, and should be studied by every local television station manager and web team–at least the ones that intend to survive as employees of viable, profitable businesses.

For NPR, the new thinking goes like this:  kinda, sorta, start not really focusing so much on the “R” in NPR: “This is an organization that’s in transformation into becoming a fully functional news content organization, not just a radio company,” said NPR’s Vivian Schiller in an interview with Newsweek.  Schiller’s the force behind one of the most powerful news sites on Earth–nytimes.com–but she left the Times six months ago to join NPR and get the old school org all multiplatformy and stuff.

As Newsweek’s Johnnie Roberts wrote, “For Schiller, that means building on NPR’s reputation as a broadcaster of national and international news, by extending its reach into local news. She plans on relying more on local member stations to fill what she sees as a “scary” void in local coverage as hometown daily newspapers fold.”

Supporting local coverage is obviously something most localnewsers can get behind.  Unless, of course, that means a network, like NPR, or NBC for that matter, coming in an bypassing its local station to do the local work itself. And NPR’s new model, as Schiller’s old shop The New York Times noted, “would make it easier than ever to find programming from local stations, (it) will also make it much more convenient for listeners to bypass local stations, if they choose.”

NBCChicago:  No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ.  But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

NBCChicago: No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ. But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

This is exactly the threat, as I’ve argued, that NBC’s “Locals Only” effort poses to NBC affiliates who don’t choose to accept NBC’s terms to do business on a local level.  GE’s already laid the groundwork by buying up domains from coast to coast that would allow the network to instantly be in the local online news business (as “NBC Boston,” for example) and bypass entirely another “NBC” entity in the same city. Welcome to the Wild West, folks, where allegiances may shift depending on who’s got better firepower, stronger horses, and cash.

Speaking specifically of NPR’s aggressive move into multi-platform news growth online, Jake Shapiro, the executive director of Public Radio Exchange, a group that supports local radio stations, told the Times, “That’s the risk. It increases the pressure for stations to offer compelling and distinct programming.”

As Schiller told the Times, NPR’s revamped website isn’t about offering National Public Radio a presence online, and certainly it’s not an effort to drive ears to NPR stations.  The new model reverses all of that, taking NPR’s website “from being a companion to radio to being a news destination in its own right,” Ms. Schiller said.

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard.  You Ready to Compete?

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard. You Ready to Compete?

With TV networks contributing their content to Hulu and ending the once ironclad arrangement that you see NBC shows on NBC stations, the “bypass local stations but own local advertising” model is no hypothetical threat.  It’s time for smart station managers and news directors to look at their own websites and ask if they can compete against their own network–if it ever came to that.

Can you?  Is your site that good?  Is it tied to your TV product or growing in creative ways away from the TV newscast and terrestrial station?  Is your local online reporting going to be better than NBC’s or CBS’s or Huffington Post’s?

You may not be thinking this way.  But trust me.  They are.

Leave a comment

Filed under Local News 2.0

SlimeWatch, Part 2: NBC Loves Local. NBC Affiliates? Not So Much.

Jeff Zucker:  Planning to Go Local With You or Without You?

Jeff Zucker: Planning to Go Local With You or Without You?

Lukewarm is really never a good thing.

Not for soup, not for bathwater, and definitely not as an answer when someone’s asked to evaluate the earnings potential of the business you work in. And yet, for us, right now, that’s what we’ve got.  The headline on televisionbroadcast.com:  Analyst is Lukewarm on the Future of Local News.

Rich Greenfield of Pali Capital, a financial services firm that advises clients worldwide on markets and business sectors, thinks Local TV’s not as bad off as radio and newspapers, but it’s not quite healthy, either:  “We believe the local TV business is in secular decline,” Greenfield writes on his blog.  “While revenues/profits may bounce whenever the economy recovers, we have a hard time believing that local news, weather, traffic and sports at 7 a.m./5 p.m./ 6 p.m./11 p.m. can sustain viewership levels, and in turn, advertiser interest over the next several years.”

I’m not a financial analyst, Wall Street guru, or Financial Times subscriber.  But I do know this: if your advertiser-supported business cannot “sustain advertiser interest,” you have a serious problem.  And, as I’ve been arguing here, I believe Local TV has an Everything-Must-Change problem.  The thing is, I don’t sense that most companies that own television stations have much interest in changing.

Or maybe they simply don’t know how to change.  The problem is, other companies are already working on that, and they will not share the fruits of their efforts with local stations when their new model becomes profitable.  And NBC may be one of those companies.  (Don’t feel relieved just yet, NBC affiliates, you might not be invited to the peacock’s party–in your own town)

Here’s NBC’s affiliate relations chief, John Eck, talking last month to TVNewsday about building deeper, stronger ties between the network and its affiliates:  “We invited all affiliates — whether our agreement is expiring this year or several years down the road — to talk about how we could modify the existing arrangements so that we could participate on more platforms together.”

The Bird:  Bullish on Local, Just Not Necessarily Local Stations

The Bird: Bullish on Local, Just Not Necessarily Local Stations

And then there was the big, bold, rah-rah smack on the affiliates’ lips from NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker at the NBC affiliates’ meeting in May, as quoted by Broadcasting & Cable:  “Let me set the record straight once and for all,” said Zucker. “Standing here on the stage of one of the most famous broadcast studios in the world–created for radio, rebuilt over the years for television, then color TV, then digital broadcasting–let me be as clear as I can be: We are not abandoning the business of broadcast network television. We are not going direct to cable. We are renewing affiliation agreements. And we are going to be in business together for a long, long time.”

A long, long time, eh?  I guess it depends on what your definition of being in “business together” means.  To NBC, it means getting a taste of affiliates cable and satellite retransmission deals, and in exchange, affiliates get a piece of NBC’s local online news and entertainment businesses.

Uh, did you say NBC’s local online businesses?

Oh yeah, you didn’t hear?  The peacock’s got big plans for local media, whether they own stations in local markets or not.  For NBC affiliates, the network’s offering a “gold” package, wherein the station and NBC cooperate on a local website, among other platforms, in exchange for a renewed and reinvigorated relationship in this troubled times.  “We’d be willing to go long, long for a gold package,” John Eck told TVNewsday.  What if stations don’t want to share the local web pie?  “Your affiliation arrangement is going to be much shorter term,” said Eck.

NBC station owners and managers have obvious reservations about the NBC offer.  NBC Affiliates Board Chair Mike Fiorile (COO of Dispatch Broadcast Group) talked about the “gold” plan with TVNewsday’s Harry Jessell:

“Do you want to be partners with NBC on local Web sites? For instance, they would want you to be NBCindianapolis.com.

Frankly, I don’t have a lot of interest in that. I’m already NBC Indianapolis. If someone does a search for NBC Indianapolis, I’d sooner they come to a site that I own as opposed to a site that I’m a partner with somebody else on.

Well, this could be a second site for you because NBC is proposing lifestyle sites as opposed to the news site you’re now doing.

Yes, but I’d rather have all the NBC Indianapolis traffic come to visit me.”

We're NBC in This Town, Thanks Very Much

We're NBC in This Town, Thanks Very Much

All well and good.  It’s completely understandable that the guy whose station, WTHR, has historically been NBC in Indianapolis, would like his website to be the source for news and information and all things Indy and NBC.

Well, here’s the interesting thing about NBCIndianapolis.  It already exists, and WTHR doesn’t own it.  GE does.  In fact, a quick survey of URL listings reveals that in market after market, NBC’s been on a domain-buying spree in cities where there are no NBC O&Os.

In Boston, where Sunbeam’s NBC station, WHDH has had a bumpy partnership with the network–most recently threatening not to air Jay Leno’s new primetime show–NBC’s ready to roll into the market with or without Ed Ansin.  NBCBoston.com is owned by GE.  Whether WHDH considers the domain simply a placeholder purchased by a network just in case station and affiliate ever wanted to team up on a site, or rather a threat to compete directly with WHDH’s whdh.com for local clicks–and dollars–is not something the station wanted to talk about.  “We are aware of NBC local,” WHDH’s Chris Weyland said in an email.  “We have no comment.”

Perhaps NBC’s just thinking ahead and buying up domains before some joker can get to them first, and has no plans for using NBCBoston.com to compete against its own NBC station.  But keep this in mind:  NBC’s business model has already moved beyond call letters.

NBCNewYork:  Peacock Yes, Station Call Letters No

NBCNewYork: Peacock Yes, Station Call Letters No

Jeff Zucker explained his thinking clearly in a quote on lostremote: “WNBC.com or WNBC4.com is an extension of the television station, it’s not a real scaled game. We don’t want to play just in that game. We want to play in the entire New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or whatever city you want to call it online media space and we can’t do that by just limiting ourselves to the call letters of our traditional analog TV station.”

“Or whatever city you want to call it.”  If you work at an NBC affiliate, punch in NBC and your city.  Is the domain taken?  Is that why NBC’s smiling even as the over-the-air business for stations fades away?

I’m just asking.  NBC, by the way, did not respond to requests for comment.

1 Comment

Filed under Local News 2.0

WTVJ/Miami Local Newser: “I Hate Today, Hate It, Hate It, Hate It”

Seems Like a Lifetime Ago Since WTVJ Was the Might Channel 4
South Florida media blogger SFLTV has had plenty to write about in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale over the last year or so, from a potential Post-Newsweek eat-and-destroy operation involving NBC O&O WTVJ, to the standard SoFla anchors acting strangely.  (See SFLTV for ongoing coverage)

Today, SFLTV put the latest this way in an emotional tweet:  “WTVJ is dead.”

As the site quoted an unnamed WTVJ staffer about the day’s developments: “I hate today. Hate it, hate it, hate it.”

WTVJ, rich with a storied history of journalism dating to the earliest days of broadcast news, is not, technically dead.  The onetime mighty Channel 4 became the not-quite-as-mighty Channel 6 in a misguided signal swap years ago, but the real destruction was more recent. The looming–and ultimately failed–effort by Post-Newsweek to buy WTVJ and create a major market ABC/NBC duopoly led to a mass exodus of talent.  Many saw Ocean Drive-style neon writing on the wall, and decided to get out before they were fired when the new guys took over.

In the end, the deal collapsed.  But WTVJ remained understaffed, fueled with a sense of uncertainty, and a melancholy for the end of a long run of big names doing big, real news.  Suddenly, WTVJ seemed like any other station, or worse, like a really bad one.

Today, SFLTV reports, an anchor layoff involving longtime morning anchor Kelly Craig, news reporter-turned-sports anchor Andrea Brody, and reporter Joe Carter.  The blog reports the station’s weekend morning news may be eliminated as well.

WTVJ:  Selling Its Experience (Ah, How Times Have Changed)

WTVJ: Selling Its Experience (Ah, How Times Have Changed)

I’m not ready to throw an epitaph on the mighty TVJ calls.  But it’s obvious to anyone who follows local news what happens to a strong station that is let to decay through lousy management, underfunding, and, in NBC’s case, a seeming lack of interest in being in the O&O business anymore.

The Miami market (where I’ve worked two tours at Post-Newsweek’s WPLG) had long been a destination market:  a place where young reporters could land and learn to be fast, talented, and worthy of a trip up the market ladder:  a market that made careers.  It was also, and maybe more importantly, a market where those Miami-bred network newsers could come home to, sink some roots and do solid, serious reporting on issues ordinarily ignored by flashy, cotton-candy local news.  A faded newspaper ad puts it best:  once upon a time, WTVJ bragged about the longevity of its people:  “Our 11 o’clock news team has lived here for years.  So it’s only natural that they have a better idea of what’s going on.”

When did that idea get stale?  Is Miami now nothing more than a stepping stone market?

The Who’s Who list of heavyweight reporters and anchors who rose to the top, then returned to Miami is long and filled with bold-faced names.  Sadly, the trend seems to be coming to an end, and the sending of three more TVJ-ers to the loading dock to pick up their Emmys and plaques says it all.

Can anyone build a real career in any market anymore?

Leave a comment

Filed under layoffs

If Your Website’s All About Your TV Station, You’re Dead.

WEAR/Pensacola Has Anchor Heads Up Top, Clutter Everywhere

WEAR/Pensacola's Website Has Anchor Heads Up Top, Clutter Just About Everywhere Else

Considering the basic business of local television has always been, you know, television… and the people who do the news get hired in part for their energy, personality, and knowledge (don’t bother emailing, I know I should’ve said “youth, inexperience and willingness to work for pizza”), it must mean something that the most boring blogs and video-dead websites on the internet all seem to belong to local televisions stations.  

Here’s what it means:  Local newsers?  You still don’t get the internet.

So local news director?  GM?  Give me a moment of your time and let me spell it out for you. Ready?  You’ve got it precisely backward.  The station website isn’t a tool to drive people to your newscasts.  Your newscasts are tools–until they become obsolete and cease to exist in their current form–to gather up an audience for your website.  The future is online, and the sooner you start planning for that, the better chance you’ll have of surviving.

"Buzz Maven" Scott Clark

"Buzz Maven" Scott Clark

Scott Clark, a business strategist and search marketing guy knows his websites.  And back in January, he took a close look at how stations were performing with their sites, especially at times of maximum potential traffic: right after a huge regional ice storm.  His conclusion?  “You’re doing it wrong.”

Clark takes the sites apart for assuming everyone who shows up online watches their news (and knows the anchor heads plastered all over the screen), for failing to understand search engine optimization, for failing to keep video posts current and updated, and for just having some damn ugly and annoying sites to look at: “Basic human interface design is a mature industry. You don’t even need to hire someone, but at least do some reading or buy a book and learn a bit about web design.”

It pains me to say it, but the most advanced local news website thinking seems to be emerging from the corridors of NBC, which instituted its “Locals Only” sites on O&Os this year.  The sites have little or nothing to do with the local station, though stories appear and if you dig deep enough on the site, you can find a programming schedule.  But trust me, check out NBC New York and you’ll conclude quickly the powers that be at NBC don’t see the future in building up Channel 4.  Rather, WNBC is a vehicle to build the NBC New York brand, which will likely, at some point, outlast Chuck, Sue, and the 6:00 news.

 

Theres Not Much WCAU on the NBC Philadelphia Site

There's Not Much WCAU on the NBC Philadelphia Site

So local news managers?  Think about it.  You’ve still got power in your broadcast brand.  But think very carefully every time you send a viewer over to your website for “more information.”  On the sites I’ve seen, those lame anchor tags and web bugs may get you a click, but they also may convince a person to never bother with your website again.  Go have a look for yourself.  And think about it this way:  if you didn’t have a tv station on the side, could this website be your entire business?  Is it good enough to BE the franchise?

No?  Then you’re already behind.  And your competitors probably won’t slow down to let you catch up.

4 Comments

Filed under Local News 2.0, Social Media

WNBC Without Chuck Scarborough? NBC Couldn’t Possibly Be That Stupid. Right? Um… right?

Chuck (and Sue)... Somehow Making it Feel Like Nothings Changed

Chuck (and Sue)... Somehow Making it Feel Like Nothing's Changed

At first read, the dramatic Gawker headline was downright laughable: “NBC News to Axe Chuck Scarborough and Paul Moyer?” Uh… Sure. Just go ahead and kill the last shred of respectability at WNBC in the name of saving Chuck’s reported three million beans a year.  The very idea that “content center” suits would make such an astonishingly stupid move seemed simply beyond the realm of believability.

Right?  I mean, we’re talking NBC here.

Oh, no.

For the record, WNBC shot down the Gawker post this way:  “It is not true. He is not being bought out. Chuck is a big part of our station.”  And he is.  He IS the station.  Watching WNBC on a recent JetBlue flight, I thought to myself, my God, without Chuck this would be absolutely unwatchable.  Suave Chuck with his unflappable delivery and that oh so familiar, comforting voice somehow performs magic every day for Channel 4:  he makes it seem like the same old WNBC.  

Take Chuck out of the equation and what’s left?  

Could NBC even float that in the wildest of brainstorming sessions?  

And then I realized sure they could.  Of course they could.  Why wouldn’t they?  

This is the same station that, in the name of cost-cutting and creating a new kind of multiplatform content delivery machine killed off just about every name reporter they had;  it was like the Yankees, in a fit of cost-cutting to pay for their new stadium, had gone into the dugout and started firing their best players…suddenly fielding a team of up-from-the-minors nobodys.  The Yankees hoping to fill seats on the familiar name, the pinstripes, and Derek Jeter.  And yet that’s been the blueprint at WNBC.  

Kill Off the Captain? Fire the Franchise? Seriously?

But fire Jeter?  Chuck is Derek Jeter at WNBC.  Gawker reports:  “It used to be that, in local news at least, the anchor meant everything and was worth outsize salaries some of them have commanded in major markets. If Scarborough and Moyer, both of whom are giants in the business, get axed, it means that ‘NBC is essentially getting out of the local news business,’ one NBC source says.”

If only the managers at NBC were as reliable and focused on truly fielding a winning team as the Yankees. Because you know there’s really no chance anybody’s been brainstorming about saving a few bucks by offloading Derek Jeter.  But then again, the Yankees still perform.  They still sell out at home. And, most important, they have money.  

Lots and lots of money.

1 Comment

Filed under layoffs

Sam Malone’s Advice to Laid Off Local Newsers: “Network”

Eddie Doyle, Legendary Bartender, Now Unemployed

Eddie Doyle, Legendary Bartender, Now Unemployed

Eddie Doyle’s the real-life bartender who worked 35 years at the Bull & Finch in Boston–the basement bar that became a senstation in the 1980’s when it was used as inspiration for NBC’s hit sitcom, “Cheers.” 

Eddie Doyle was the guy who literally knew everybody’s name–and their drink–and enjoyed nothing less than serving pints to his friends from the neighborhood and talking, often for hours.  Doyle was the guy Ted Danson’s “Sam Malone” was based on, and after the show became a smash, Doyle became a star in his home town, in turn using his fame to raise over a million dollars for charity.

I bring up Eddie Doyle, because like a lot of local newsers, Doyle got laid off this week.  And like a TV reporter or anchor, his celebrity–and his longevity–didn’t save him when the time to cut the budget hit the bar.  “I’m going to miss it,” Doyle told me when I talked to him on the phone this week.  He described packing up 35 years of memories and preparing to walk away.  So many of us know exactly what that feels like.

Doyle’s 66, and he told me he’s not worried for himself, but for the young “kids” who also got laid off at the bar.  When I asked him his advice to the newly unemployed, he said it in one word:  “network.”  He told me, talk to people, volunteer, do charity work.  “It’s a way to stay active, and you might meet someone who can open a door.”

In TV, we learn how many people we know when the layoff hits.  We hear from old friends and former co-workers at stations from years past, and often, they have ideas.  They know people.  They say, “call this guy.”

It’s good advice to remember when the lack of TV jobs out there gets scary.  Keep talking.  Stay involved, even if it’s at a homeless shelter or a charity you care about.  Don’t stay at home in front of the computer hitting “refresh” every three minutes on journalismjobs.com

Nobody knows how long this will last… and the folks who find jobs may be the ones who know somebody, even if it’s not somebody they knew beforehand.  Since I wrote about my own departure from WPLG, I’ve heard from all kinds of old friends.  Many with excellent ideas (and some bad ones), and lots and lots of leads.  It’s a reminder that in this very small business, we do touch a lot of people, and there’s no shame in asking for help, or simply, in taking it when offered.

So go ahead and hum the theme from Cheers.  (You know you want to) And take Eddie Doyle’s advice.

Leave a comment

Filed under layoffs