Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, local news stations have largely risen to the occasion to provide valuable coverage of an unprecedented story. But as our world is now forever changed, so too has our local news audience. If we return to how we did things before the pandemic started, we can expect to go back to:
- Overall audience erosion away from television and to digital and social sources.
- Declining time spent viewing and frequency of viewing in all time periods.
- Eroding brand loyalty from an audience that thinks all local stations are basically the same.
Crisis forced some quick – and many smart – decisions to alter approaches to presentation and programming. Now is the time to step back and take a long-term look at your product – what it looks like and how you get it to the audience on a daily basis. Are your newscasts filled with relevant content or loaded with stories that lack real value? Are you TV on at the right time? Is your multi-platform strategy aligned with audience wants and needs?
Your attention to charting a new strategic course in a few key areas will get you started on the path forward.
Abandon news dayparts
At the onset of COVID-19, stations were forced to throw away the definition of “news dayparts.” Yes, it is a scary sentence to read “abandon news dayparts.” But this is a sentiment we’ve known for a while – people choose their own times to watch the news. Now more than ever, we need to build schedules with our platforms that fit the consumers in our market. What could this look like?
- Shift and/or extend late morning and early evening newscasts. Where do you have flexibility in the programming schedule? Consider how time slots currently occupied with sales programs can be leveraged for additional newscasts.
- Seize OTT opportunities to reach new audiences and expand beyond the limitations of broadcast.
Leverage your scale
Expanding to new dayparts and platforms to meet the consumer demand can feel daunting, but throughout the pandemic, we saw stations stretch resources and do more than they thought they could. While not all will be sustainable long term, stations should leverage the strength of their broadcast group – both for content and technology – to be successful in this area.
A 24/7 OTT stream has to be locally focused – but that doesn’t mean it has to be entirely local. While local content matters first and foremost, national relevance can help round out your offering. And more robust content will decrease repetition and keep viewers engaged and coming back for more. Consider what resources and content can be shared across the broadcast group.
Real approach resonates
From the beginning, on-air staff brought viewers into their own homes. Overnight the presentation became more authentic and relatable – and viewers like it. It’s time to lean into that real approach as many of them continue to return to the studio. What does that mean?
- Ditch the script and get off the prompter – create a deeper connection with viewers, and speak more conversationally
- Produce more authenticity into the newscasts. Give your talent the breathing room for moments. Of course, you need to make sure it’s tied to content in the newscast and not just a break from the newscast to waste time with idle chit-chat.
New definition of quality
Throughout the pandemic, the audience has shown that when the content is strong, they’ll accept different forms of storytelling and presentation. Some of those tactics have long been considered less-than-professional. Not anymore. Skype interviews and iPhone videos are now perfectly acceptable production tools and they expand our ability to deliver great content.
The path forward
Only a small percentage of viewers want our newscasts to go back to the way they were before the outbreak. Seize the opportunity now to define the new path forward beyond the pandemic.