Is it too late for some?

One of the first things I learned when driving a car was to focus my eyes on the big picture — to point my attention on the horizon as much as possible. Driving while looking only at the pavement just ahead of the car seemed natural, when I first got behind-the-wheel, but the instructors taught me that the real dangers were beyond. Besides, they said, staying between the dotted lines on the road would become second nature. They were right.

The managers who work in local television suffer from staring at the pavement, and who’s to argue with them? The relentless push for revenue is job one, so the multi-car pile-up further up the road is insignificant by comparison. They’ll deal with it when they get there.

speaking at the NAB in Austin FridayThis analogy was brought to mind again last week at the National Association of Broadcasters’ Small Market Television Exchange in Austin. The theme of the Friday morning session was multiplatform opportunities, during which I made a presentation and moderated a panel discussion on how to make money on the web. We had a great panel of industry people, and a ton of value was made available to the 300 or so in attendance.

During a break following my segments, I ran into two issues that left me shaking my head and seriously doubting the future of our industry. “Futile” was the world that came to mind, and it all had to do with the car-driving scenario.

One gentleman asked what was, to him, a perfectly logical question: “I bring in millions of dollars through broadcast sales and perhaps a hundred thousand from the web, so why am I spending so much time on this?” The question was rhetorical, but it really needs to be answered for him, because it implies he’s not fully engaged with web growth. Who would be, given that perspective? It also suggests that his company has mandated something with which he doesn’t fully agree, and that’s certainly a part of the problem. But mostly, it reveals an almost incredible ignorance of what’s taking place in the world of media, and this, I think, is the nut of it all.

I crossed over the line of disbelief so many years ago that it’s honestly stunning to find people like this who don’t even see a line. It also makes it tough to speak intelligently about the subject, because I feel like a sales guy trying to convince people that the earth isn’t flat. It is remarkable evidence of the condition of the industry, and I drove back to Dallas seriously examining whether the transformative task was something that could really be accomplished. I mean, what DO you say to the flat earth crowd?

The second issue was expressed this way: “You can talk all you want about theories and convergence and rates, but in the end, if I’m responsible for getting money in the door, I don’t care how it gets there.”

This understandable expression of the financial pressure we place on our web people is also an example of looking at the road just in front of the car. I’d probably do the same thing, given the immediate demands (and expectations), but this is a stunning example of business management that doesn’t see the danger ahead.

Folks, we’re building new businesses here and competing with those who don’t have this kind of pressure. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who’s going to win the ultimate prize, because focusing on short term returns is the beginning of the path to irrelevance in the new media world.

Here are ten assumptions that I’ve come to believe about local television and that, for me, need no further elaboration.

  1. The TV audience for local media isn’t coming back.
  2. News — and especially local news — is being increasingly commodified.
  3. The local weather franchise is moving to The Weather Channel, Weather Underground, and a host of outside providers who’ve made their applications easy to find and easy to use.
  4. Advertisers themselves will put a halt to the blue smoke and mirrors of mass marketing.
  5. We will never, NEVER overcome revenue losses to our legacy platforms through portal websites alone.
  6. The people formerly known as the audience are entertaining themselves and each other. The best we can do in this scenario is to support it — let people show off. Teach them to know what we know.
  7. The network-affiliate system isn’t just changing; it’s history.
  8. A successful internet sale is AGAINST television and all mass media. This is why the lack of dedicated web sales people is beyond problematic.
  9. The local advertising community needs to be taught about internet advertising, and we have to do it.
  10. Local media MUST move forward along two separate paths of profitability, one maturing as rapidly as the other is growing.

The problem, of course, is that this is a significant leap of faith for many, because their eyes are fixed firmly on the road directly ahead, while I’m signaling danger up the road. The distance between the two is closing at incredible speed, however, and as I was pondering on the ride home, I’m afraid it might actually be too late for some.


  1. terry,

    your top 10 list is right on. clearly sums up the issues at hand.

    those questions from skeptical audience members are all too sad, too common, and understandable at the same time. maybe we need better buy in and mandates from the very top? is this possible ?

    while you were in austin at the NAB TV show, i was in charlotte at the NAB RADIO show.
    the same exact “denial and objections about web” could be found there as well.

    i posted my thoughts from the RADIO side here on my blog:



  1. […] While I was fighting the good fight with Radio at the NAB Radio show in Charlotte last week,  Terry Heaton (above) from the POMO BLOG was in Austin at the NAB TV show. We might have been a few states apart, but were both experiencing similiar situations. With my background in helping TV, Radio and Newspaper with Web revenue strategy, I was not surprised to hear of Mr. Heaton’s sobering time with well intentioned, yet still skeptical TV folk.  […]

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