This byline by Jaime Spencer was originally published in TVNewsCheck.
TV stations have seen their ad revenues take a sharp hit in the pandemic. Now is the time to be proactive about shoring up their morning newscasts, working closely with wary advertisers and vying for localized national ad dollars to chart a path through the crisis.
Despite the challenges facing TV stations’ revenue right now, their businesses are relied upon by consumers more than ever in a critical moment. Staffs are being creative and innovative to solve problems they never thought they’d need to solve.
And consumers are engaging more deeply than ever with talent, perceiving them as much more authentic in covering this story through the adversity. Broadcasters’ unique position is on display right now, though it may be tough to see on a 1Q balance sheet.
Broadcasters can take pride in these wins and let them give confidence to persevere through this downturn. But they also can’t take the position for granted, simply thinking the business will improve naturally as our country recovers. Habits have changed forever, and stations have to stay ahead of these changes if they wish to succeed in 2021 and beyond.
These are the times when legacy leaders are made or broken. Right now, stations have to be laser-focused on executing a recovery plan that allows them to hold their position if they’re at the top or climb a few rungs on the ladder if they’re not.
Here are the first three items for the plan.
Shore up mornings — For most stations, the only dark spot on the overnight ratings report is the morning newscast. Without the need to get up and commute to work, consumers are watching less. But when they return to commuting life, school and the like, they’ll turn local stations right back on, right?
Consumers are building new habits and finding new ways to fulfill their needs right now. If stations don’t work to understand these changes, they’ll see continued declines in the morning. Given those newscasts represent 20%-35% of news revenue, that is not a decline they can weather long-term. Stations have to be prepared to cast away their current approach and define a new strategy. If they’re not thinking heavily about this right now, they’re in trouble.
Lead through tough times — Successful brands and people work harder and do more during tough times. They lead, and stations should be using their current position of strength to lead their advertisers, too.
Stations must run the marathon with them. They probably won’t close many new deals right now, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be maintaining and accelerating contact. They should share insights that show advertisers how to navigate the recovery and get their businesses open. They must demonstrate that they work to understand advertisers’ business, their needs, and how they can help them accomplish their goals.
Finally, stations should use every opportunity to show advertisers their knowledge of the local market and that they care about the community. This local connection is a true differentiator that can’t be underestimated.
None of this happens if stations wait for the phone to ring. If advertisers are calling, they’re doing so to cancel an order. Stations have to lead. If they are proactive, advertisers will come back.
Stations mustn’t let the opportunity pass them by — Disruption can be a fruitful parent of transformational change. Stations see it in themselves already. At a minimum, they’ve got to capture these innovations to avoid slipping back to old habits. To really take advantage of the disruption, however, they have to take a more strategic approach in identifying key changes in the landscape and how they can take advantage.
Among those key changes is the localization of national ad dollars. With states going their separate ways in terms of recovery plans, national advertisers will be looking to reallocate dollars where their stores and businesses are actually open. Stations should understand the restrictions and timing in their markets to the greatest extent possible so they can vie for those dollars.
Another key change is time shifting. The absence of a busy schedule has given consumers a great deal of flexibility and little reason to watch video on a schedule. Right now, stations need to define and market a true OTT content offer that goes far beyond a VOD platform where consumers can access content. Newscasts on air or OTT are live experiences and need to be defined and promoted as such. Stations need to be sure viewers in their market understand how to access these experiences live and time-shifted.
Finally, stations must assess their real needs for physical space. All stations and groups are having ongoing discussions about when it is safe for staff to come back to the building. But must everyone come back to work from a central location? Leaders must take the time to capture what they have learned about who needs to work in in the building each day and who may be better suited to working remotely.
There are, no doubt, new ways of doing things today that may be more efficient and effective long term. Focusing on this now can help a station make the move back into the building (whenever that may be) smoother and more beneficial to the operation.