TV continues to give away the future

TV continues to give away the future.
A year ago, I wrote an essay on the topic of local television stations and the Internet that was published in trades and in several languages around the world. “Is TV Giving Away The Future?” honestly looked at the relationship between local television and companies like Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS) and Worldnow, which provide Websites for over 200 stations. As I told an angry IBS executive over the phone in the wake of the article, I wrote it, because it is an essential issue in the discussion of moving broadcasters to a multimedia business model.

That’s why I’m gratified to find the discussion is continuing — and in places that get a lot of attention. Cory Bergman and Steve Safran have opened a forum for the discussion in The Lost Remote and that has spawned a fairly complete article on the subject in the Online Journalism Review (OJR).

Local TV stations have a love/hate relationship with the Web, wanting desperately to have a presence online but not wanting to do heavy lifting. Have they erred by relying on outsourcing Web sites, including editorial content?

…As viewership drops for local TV broadcasts, and many younger folks go online for news, it’s only a matter of time before TV executives realize that their Web presence isn’t just “cool” but essential to the bottom line. But then what? More original online content? Better design? Time will tell whether they can do it in-house or must continue to rely on outsourcers who know the online business better.

Beyond this discussion is one that companies like IBS and Worldnow must have for themselves. Their business models need to shift to one that gives the stations more control over their own Websites, both in terms of daily design and ad space, including contextual advertising. Both companies are profitable now and need to think about putting some of that back into the mix, and the reason is this: A television station’s competition online is NOT the guys with other television towers in the community — it’s the local paper. And they are ahead of the game in many ways. As I’ve reported often, Dirck Halstead’s Platypus Movement is arming newspaper photographers with video, and unless local television stations get with the program, they will lose the video news niche in the market.

The argument that TV stations can’t afford to handle all this technical stuff themselves was valid five years ago, but today it is not. Content management is not the big, scary beast it once was, and software exists that eliminates the need for staffing to manage a Website, even putting video online. If you want to know more, just write me.

Local television MUST evolve their business models to become multimedia production and distribution entities. The future is pretty bleak, if they don’t.

(full disclosure: I’m a contributor to The Lost Remote and a Masthead Columnist for Dirck Halstead’s The Digital Journalist)

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