Home > Uncategorized > Being Where the Consumers Want Us

Being Where the Consumers Want Us

 -first posted at RJIonline.org on January 10, 2014

I usually spend time at the Las Vegas Convention Center in April to attend the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention and trade show.

images_ape2_0
A retailer shows tablet stands for bedroom use at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

In many ways, it’s much like the CES, with row after row of electronic gadgets lined up for inspection. At the NAB, those devices are focused exclusively on newsgathering and delivery. But I’ve been fascinated at CES to see all the additional tech and accessories aimed at the consumers themselves. And as I’ve stopped to inspect a lot of what’s on display, I’ve developed a content focus model that’s not strictly journalism, but would allow those of us who are content production experts to be more readily available for consumers—and right where they want us.
When I talk about “where” the consumers want us, I’m really talking most of the time in a literal sense. Many of the accessories on display are about taking mobile devices to places where they haven’t gone before. And if the devices are going to travel, their users are going to want content when they arrive. That’s where we come in.

Since my field is television news, let me start with a very simple example in that medium to show what I’m talking about. A company called CTA Digital used the show to roll out a whole line of products to take your iPad or other tablet to places in the house other than your lap. The company has a paper towel holder that grips your tablet at the top, a toilet paper holder that will hold your iPad next to the toilet (and yes, I know some of you are disturbed by that),

images_kitchen2_0A cutting board fits an iPad for kitchen use at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
and two different cutting boards that stand an iPad right above the cutting surface (and now that I know you are thinking it already, yes, there is a clear screen to protect the tablet from errant knife strokes). Let’s just focus on the cutting boards for this example. One could, of course, use them to watch streaming news while preparing a meal. That would require a television station to stream its newscast or a consumer to have a personal streaming option like Slingbox. Those are a couple of hurdles for a television news provider to overcome—not insurmountable—but still hurdles all the same. That person could probably much more easily watch Netflix or Hulu on the tablet, as well as going to non-video options like recipes.

But what if local broadcasters used their brand name and power to program precisely to that iPad-owning chef with knife in hand? We’re already the local content experts with a name our viewers know and trust far higher than any non-local media brands. So let’s combine the convenience of the having a media player right in front of this consumer, a desire to have cooking-related media, and our knowledge of the local area and video production skills to produce downloadable recipes from the chefs at the best restaurants in our viewing area. Is this journalism? No, not at all. But our television stations have been more than journalism to our viewers for as long as we’ve been around. We’re community service, public safety, entertainment and more to our audiences. There’s no reason they won’t put us at the top of the list to get video cooking and food information. That is, if we provide it.

So why should we? It’s not journalism. Providing a hot, new way to cook salmon will not make the democracy run better. We should consider doing it for two far less lofty goals—to strengthen and maintain the brand, and to make money. That brand strengthening is no small mission. We have the sturdy brands we have now as local broadcasters because we built them day by day over the last 60 years. It took a long time—and that was when it was a lot easier. My station, KOMU-TV, was the only channel broadcasting when it began in 1953, one of only two for nearly twenty years, and still had very little competition until cable TV arrived. We have lots of competition now, and new consumers won’t turn to us automatically as their parents and grandparents once did. In terms of this micro-“broadcasting” being a moneymaker, we’re going to have to work at that. We are used to smaller audiences now and have done a good job making an advertiser-funded model hold up under those downward pressures. That’s probably not exactly the model that will work with the kind of programming I’m talking about, but some sort of advertiser/subscriber/user-generated model probably would work (though this is not the space in which to work that out now).
Where else might this approach work as a way to support and strengthen our brand? Walking the floor at CES, it was easy for me to see a product and start to think about how we would adapt what we do to capitalize upon it. Here are a few:

images_car_1The touchscreen dashboard of an Inifinti sedan downloads consumer entertainment content
  • Most of the luxury car makers are showing models that have built-in tablet-like interfaces that allow owners to download content to supplement manufacturer amenities and apps. Why not produce one-day trip travel “stories” families can download and view while traveling to their destinations? (Drivers, please watch the road and not the video screen.) And that sort of content need not be limited to luxury car owners. Several other accessories manufacturers were showing tablet-mounting systems to put a tablet in the driver cockpit even if you can’t afford a Tesla.
  • Outdoor activities were a big deal at the show, with everything necessary to take your tablet along with you on your biking/hunting/camping/skiing trip. We could produce a video tour of the best local biking trails that highlights where to start, the best places to stop and see the view, plus historical and natural interest. Whether that iPad goes mounted right on the handlebars or just slips into a backpack to view during a rest stop, our brand would still be there.
  • The wireless fitness market had aisle upon aisle of devices to measure a user’s health and fitness efforts, lead them through a new exercise routine, or help them develop better sleeping habits. One of our main strengths—a stable of news and other on-air talent—could bring a celebrity touch to fitness efforts done with the help of mobile technology. Local talent could lead exercise efforts, narrate fitness routines, or share health and fitness information to consume while working out. Again, this approach would tap our own unique position of having local celebrities to carry forward the brand into these new content areas.
images_stand_0Another iPad stand on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Now, most of you reading this are journalists, I know, and the idea of your being involved in producing cooking segments if probably getting lukewarm reception at best. But, as a media branch that has made its money being all things to all people for so many years, is this really so far away from what we have always done? As long as we keep the journalists working on important, local, enterprise reporting, we can build the business models for these new content channels to employ those who want to produce just that kind of content.

As the CES wrapped up this year, I was back on the floor for its final day. Looking across literally thousands of companies—many of which I had never heard of before arriving in Las Vegas on Tuesday—I wondered how many of them would still be in business for CES 2015 in 12 months. Many of them lack the good ideas, the capitalization, or just the plain old momentum to keep moving forward. We, as local broadcasters, have the momentum of decades of good work to keep us moving—for now. We just need to find those little pushes that will keep us moving forward, reinventing as we go.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He serves as the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. In addition, Woelfel has previously held the position of national chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Woelfel’s project is intended to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second screen engagement opportunities. Second screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts.

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  1. October 8, 2014 at 7:23 am

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