May 24th, 2011
We published our second book in early 2009 about the dramatically changing local media industry. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to go back two and a half years and review some of our general beliefs at the time and how we predicted the industry would change in the near future. I think you’ll find many of our thoughts, which raised many an eyebrow when the book was published, where on target and have been embraced by an entire industry. Our next book, AR&D’s fourth, will be available in late 2011.
Live. Local. Broken News. (Published 2/2009)
The world we face is one vastly different from the world we are leaving, and while intuition and experience may pull us one way, business reality is pulling us reluctantly in another. We have tried to give you insight into that new world and raise issues that need addressing, because we will not enjoy continued business success in local television without a fundamental re-engineering of everything.
What will the television station in which you work look like in 12 months, 24 months, or even 5 years? Nobody really has the answer, because if we did, we could create systems to get us from here to there. Instead, we’ve tried to present general themes of which we are extremely confident.
1. We cannot and will not manage our way out of the current situation. There is no systematic blueprint we can follow. The situation demands leadership, a willingness and ability to take risks and not allow chaos to deter our vision. Leadership, not management, from the top, therefore, is the driving force for change. But we need leaders at all levels in our companies, top to bottom. We are who we employ, and we need to empower and enable leadership from anyone willing to step up to the plate. We need that leadership like never before, because an undying focus on the vision and its execution is what will make the future difference, and we cannot find that by reliance on systems and tasks. We need the energy and sacrifice that comes from leaders.
2. In both practice and theory, journalism is shifting from a finished product model to one that is raw and unfinished. We call this “Continuous News,” and its approach satisfies the consumer need to be kept informed at all times of the day, but especially during our “new prime time,” when people are at work. Our need to be relevant in the lives of our future audience is directly tied to how well we’re meeting their news and information needs away from their television set.
3. Accomplishing this demands the re-engineering of the basic newsroom, and this applies to every employee. We need to realistically examine every system and person in this process, and we are of the firm belief that no single employee is irreplaceable or above the needs of the whole. We aren’t speaking of new titles; we’re talking about brand new responsibilities and skill sets from people who have traditionally not been held responsible, and this is especially true of our chief journalists, formerly known as our anchors.
4. As a part of this, we must get more people on thestreet gathering local content from the local community. Gone are the days when everybody in thenews-gathering process is a specialist. This is the age of the versatile, multi-skilled generalist, and training these people is the immediate challenge of all local media companies, especially television stations. Newspapers have moved to this model already, and we’re falling behind as a result. Our employees must understand that as we re-engineer our television stations, they are re-engineering their own careers, for the changes impacting local media are not cyclical. There will be no going back. This is not a season of belt-tightening that will ease with time. Our industry is facing a complete paradigm shift. Never has there been a more important time to invest in training and equipping our employees for their new roles and responsibilities.
5. The Web is our future, but not in shifting our mass media business model there. We must understand that the Web is not TV, and that includes letting go of the fundamentals of scarcity and audience building. There is no need for us to own the property that serves advertising anymore, only the advertising infrastructure. This is why we believe that the revenue solution local stations seek is in the creation of local horizontal and vertical ad networks, where ads can be served and tracked across an infinite number of local websites. In this way, the growth of the Local Web is our growth engine, and we can employ tactics to help it grow, especially in the world of video.
6. We must take advantage of the tools being created for personal media that will enable us to better communicate with tomorrow’s customers, the people formerly known as the audience. We must be mobile and unbundled, with our content able to be consumed across multiple platforms, even those that don’t appear to offer an immediate financial gain. Too much is at stake for us to ignore any way of reaching local consumers, and that includes the use of social media.
7. Doing nothing or simply cutting expenses only delays the inevitable. Without operational and cultural change, any local television station will be unable to compete in the years ahead. Stations must adopt new sales strategies, build new products and market to the right audience. But there is no more important concept for broadcasters to embrace right now than the word “hustle,” and this applies from the boardroom to sales and engineering to news gathering and production suites. At every level, the name of the game today is building new businesses, and we simply cannot accomplish that without hustle. Systems and rules that block hustle need to be stripped away and replaced by those that encourage it. Gone are the days of managing static strategies; we all need to hustle.
This book is being published in the midst of troubled economic times, which are accelerating the crisis of disruptive innovations. Budget cuts and downsizing have impacted every company, and many long-time news directors and general managers face a future of early retirement, at best. Gone are the days of reliable, double digit revenue growth, and the local television industry is full of fear.
Those concerns are real, but we choose to look at the future as one of opportunity, rather than one of decline. There has never been a more exciting time in the world of communications or in Western civilization, because technology is cutting through institutional roadblocks that have prevented people from access to knowledge. We have a choice to either fight that or help enable it and the business models available within this disruption haven’teven been written yet. What we do know is that the foundation of ad-supported content is cracking, but it doesn’t mean that businesses won’t be advertising with us in the decades to come.
May 2nd, 2011
Discovering the next big idea is like betting on the lottery. A much better approach is to build an idea-centric company that implements hundreds of smaller ones.