Let’s stop talking around “the problem”

I attended the “News Technology Summit” sponsored by Broadcasting & Cable and BroadcastEngineering here in the Dallas area yesterday. It was a gathering of station and group news and engineering types to talk about, among other things, how technology can help stations during this remarkable time in history.

Panels “discuss” at events like this, but business is done in the hallways. Vendors with high-end solutions (read: high pricetag) face an extremely uphill battle over the next 18–24 months, because, well, nobody can afford to buy anything. The exception is HD technology and that which is required for the digital conversion in a few months. Make the TV signal better, and the people will come, or so the thinking goes.

I learned a lot about how some station groups use technology in the gathering and presenting of news, things like “proxy video” and “bonding” air cards (to increase bandwidth). People talked around the Web, and I heard some truly discouraging comments from some speakers about the value of web applications versus the 10 o’clock news.

AR&D CEO Jerry GumbertRather than rail on against those comments — it’s so last year, right? — I want to chat for a bit about the keynote speaker at last night’s dinner, my boss, AR&D’s president and CEO, Jerry Gumbert. Jerry dazzled the audience by telling the truth about what everybody in the room faces and how the re-engineering of television stations needs to be job one. The model of reactive news content and the 30-second spot simply will not carry the business forward. Oh, we’ll still make a lot of money doing that, but it’s not the thing that will inspire growth.

It was the talk of a visionary, which Jerry certainly is, and it’s what’s missing in all of the dialog about how TV can avoid the pit in which newspapers find themselves. I know it’s self-serving, but our company honestly has the solution for local media, if media companies could find it within themselves to accept change.

“Change sucks,” noted Jerry, “but death is worse.”

I don’t write about everything we offer, because that’s how we earn a living. I’ve been around all this long enough, however, to confidently say that, over the next few years, the essential vision of most local media companies will be that which we’ve been birthing in our research and innovation labs over the last 24 months. We have a new book coming out in November that will reveal some of it. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, instead of talking around the problems and thinking only about how technology can further our broadcast mission, let’s all start talking about how technology can be used to reinvent our business. I’m bullish on broadcasting (mobile DTV will be huge), but I don’t think broadcasting alone will restore revenues to pre-disruption levels. That will require different business models and the leadership to accept nothing less.

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