For Broadcasters, Multiplatform Distribution Gets More Expansive
LAS VEGAS — TV stations are doing what they’ve always done: providing content that informs and entertains their local community. But how they are producing and distributing that content and the audiences they can now reach has changed dramatically, said panelists at TVNewsCheck’s Programming Everywhere conference at NAB in Las Vegas last week.
As TV stations have more technology and tools to play with, they are expanding their content purviews to reach broader audiences in more markets. While the FCC ownership rules have remained the same, not allowing a single TV station group to own more stations than reach 39% of the U.S., the internet, FAST channels, apps and diginets have allowed them to expand that footprint while remaining under the cap.
“Even with all of this proliferation of channels, the business model hasn’t really changed,” said Steve Pruett, executive chairman, Cox Media Group. “It’s still about getting something in front of a general audience and selling advertising. The thing that’s changed is technology and regulation. It’s an opportunity for us to take our market positions as broadcasters and do as we were originally licensed to do, which is to serve the community, and then build programming around our brands and transform the local media business into a much more robust multiplatform business built around that original concept.”
“There are a lot of local opportunities where we can touch the local market, whether it’s [producing] lifestyle shows or local talk shows or obviously, expanding the news product,” said Sean Compton, president, networks, Nexstar Media.
To that end, Nexstar, which owns or partners with 200 stations in 116 markets, has expanded into a local, regional and national content company now that it owns and programs The CW, NewsNation and The Hill, which operates as both a streaming service and a website. Last week, cable network NewsNation said it was expanding to a 24-hour news network, starting April 24, and adding a 1 to 5 p.m. block in the afternoons called NewsNation Now. Last week, the one-hour panel program, The Hill, at 5 p.m. ET, was launched on cable network NewsNation (which was rebranded from WGN America in 2021), and is available as well as via streaming app and FAST channel on such services as YouTube TV, Hulu, Fubo and more.
“I got a lot of Ds in high school, so I like to use D words — desirable, difficult to duplicate content,” Compton said. “That’s the job. Once you have that, then you can monetize it.”
This fall, Gray Television will debut a weekday news magazine program Investigate TV+, which will include content produced by Gray’s Investigate TV unit as well as consumer, health and original content curated from Gray’s 113 markets. The weekday show is an extension of weekend magazine program Investigate TV, which Gray launched in 2018 and now reaches 35% of U.S. homes via over-the-air and cable carriage.
Investigate TV “is doing really well, we have more than a million viewers who tune in each week,” said Pat LaPlatney, co-CEO and president, Gray Television. Gray also has a game show called Beat the Odds that is produced in Las Vegas and a production company called Power Nation in Franklin, Tenn., that produces automotive enthusiast programs such as Detroit Muscle and Music City Trucks. “We’re doing more of our own stuff than we used to do.”
Groups that don’t have as big a reach — such as Cox Media Group, which owns, operates or provides sales and marketing services to 57 stations in 20 markets — are looking in the other direction, working to turn hyperlocal audiences into a larger business that scales.
“We can’t afford to take our eyes off the ball and we can’t afford to get in the way of the newsroom,” Cox’s Pruett said. “So, we need to ask ourselves what is doable using new technologies and producing new styles of local content. There are a lot of things out there that are important to much smaller audiences. Can you create those micro-audiences? And can you scale them? That’s what I think about when I think about media transformation.”
To that end, Cox has created Neighborhood TV, which serves “really local news” to markets including Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Orlando, Fla. “We’re a smaller footprint, in terms of total national scale, but we’re a massive footprint within our markets,” Pruett said.
Similarly, ABC has turned serving local audiences in its eight owned-and-operated markets into its own content business, Localish, and those stations also produce their own shows, such as On the Red Carpet and Our America.
“We have a number of brands and verticals that we produce, not only for linear but for our 24/7 streaming operations,” said Adrianne Anderson, SVP of content development and creative services, ABC Owned Stations. “With Disney as a corporate parent, we’ve got lots of content resources to create really impactful local programming with national interest and appeal.”
An additional arrow that Disney/ABC has in its quiver is the ability to distribute local programming on national streaming platform Hulu and international streaming platform Hotstar. “We have built-in infrastructure for scale,” Anderson said.
“The viewers are moving very, very fast,” said Brad Wall, chief technology officer at LTN Global, which helps broadcasters scale that distribution via its video solutions platform. “And as an industry, we have moved a little slower. At the end of the day, as an industry, we have to put the viewer first. We have to look at what they’re doing, look at their habits, get that data and be able to meet them where they are versus constantly playing catch up,”
Even though local broadcasters are now busily building out their content businesses, they’re still playing catch up with their digital competitors. But their big advantage is that with the demise of many small local newspapers, local markets are more in need of local news and information than ever.
“In 2007, the newspaper business was a $50 billion business,” Pruett said. “Today, it’s under $20 billion. That is what happens when you don’t transform. As broadcasters, we have every chance to transform and everything matters.”
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