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How Local Television Can Survive the Coronavirus Crisis

How Local Television Can Survive the Coronavirus Crisis

This byline by Jaime Spencer and Bill Day was originally published in Radio + Television Business Report

According to Magid‘s weekly consumer tracker, made available to clients, local television viewing has increased dramatically during the coronavirus lockdown, with eight in 10 Americans turning to local TV news for information on the coronavirus.

Local stations have a significant opportunity to drive the story and help provide a valuable platform for advertisers. Yet, stations have been struggling to convert this increase into ad revenue, as station advertising revenue losses ranged from 40%-60% for the month of April, the Magid consumer tracker shows.

To do so, stations need to own their coverage of this local story in a way that positions their brand long-term, adapt their advertising strategies, get more aggressive in their selling and keep a focus on the future.

Coronavirus is undoubtedly a local story, with consumers looking for coverage that helps them navigate this crisis: information on how their state is handling the situation, how many cases there are in their area, and information about when restrictions will be changed or lifted. However, Local stations are not delivering coverage that stands out as unique.

Just 30% of consumers across the country think one station is delivering better coverage than others in their market, Magid’s consumer tracker finds, suggesting there is ample opportunity for local stations to differentiate themselves.

A station’s ability to deliver true context and perspective that helps viewers understand this complex situation and make decisions can set it apart.

In terms of advertising strategy, stations need to lead, strategize and plan with their accounts. Waiting for schedules to come in is no longer a viable strategy. Getting in front of marketers with relevant data about how they can navigate changing consumer behavior and attitudes is critically important. For example, a recent Magid study found that 38% of consumers who belong to gyms have no intention of ever returning. Local station sales teams need to marketers find those consumers seeking new products, services and brands to meet their fitness needs. That only happens if local teams lead those conversations instead of responding.

According to a recent survey Magid conducted among advertisers, cash flow is their biggest challenge, as 90% are reporting that a loss in revenue is their biggest concern amid the coronavirus outbreak. For stations, it is important that they help clients strategize around changes and give them efficient solutions to stay engaged with media and keep some cashflow coming in the door. Local stations have partnered with dealerships and furniture stores to equip and train sales staff to provide virtual test drives and showroom visits using iPhones and handheld gimbal mounts. Strategizing around operational challenges positions stations as trusted partners committed to the long-term success of their clients – and it gives those clients products and services they can promote on air.

Next, stations need to plan now for the long term. Planning for the recovery now positions your teams to take the lion’s share of budgets once your market reopens. They need to emphasize that consumers are eager to hear about how their businesses are still operating and how they can purchase products, and that there is no better time to be reaching out to consumers. While most advertisers are cutting their spending, some accounts have dramatically increased their media presence.

A Magid survey found that 31% of advertisers plan on increasing their media presence, with 27% looking to local television specifically. Furthermore, a Magid analysis of March and April 2020 television buys shows individual accounts growing year over year spending by as much as 200%-300%. These opportunistic marketers have stepped into the hole left by advertisers who can’t — or won’t — advertise during the pandemic. Research suggests that dollars spent during the downturn will return higher than average ROI on brand lift and purchase consideration for years to come.

Coming out of the crisis, the Magid survey shows that advertisers will prioritize digital and television spending and many anticipate accelerating their buys. Despite this, we remain concerned that many stations will find themselves out of position to meet changes in the advertising and consumer landscape driven by the COVID-19 crisis.

This is a time of peril and promise, one that holds the potential to make or break brands. We’re confident that smart sales teams and savvy leadership will be the difference makers in determining who comes out of this stronger – and who gets left behind.

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