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Small Screens, Big Battle

Savvy delivery of signature content to smartphones and tablets is more than a thriving new TV station revenue stream—it’s critical to the medium’s survival 4/22/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

For all the talk about sparkling 60-inch flat screens
and 4K television technology at the recent National
Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, local
broadcasters know their future will play out on a much smaller
stage—namely, on the smartphones and iPads in the hands of
users traipsing through their markets. As station executives
continue to search for the best way to remain relevant to the next
generation of consumer, their digital directors are experimenting
with an array of content on a range of devices that will give
them the best shot of connecting with those users, thwarting
the dreaded live-streaming foes and keeping the aging
business that is local broadcast TV vital for many years to come.

Mobile digital television (DTV) plans shared
in Vegas earlier this month showed some progress,
though few station chiefs can boast that
more than a handful of users get their broadcast
signals on their handhelds. Instead, stations are finding an easier route to the devices through
live streaming. Raycom, for one, recently concluded
such a rollout at its 32 news-producing
stations—streaming local news to iPhones,
iPads and the like. “It’s so important to get your
news product out there,” says Pat LaPlatney, VP
of digital media at Raycom. “We continue to
experiment until a clear business model develops,
whether it’s mobile digital television or live
streaming or [online TV app] Syncbak.”

Broadcasters frequently trumpet that their
one-to-many distribution is a more efficient
use of spectrum than wireless. When cellphone
communications got jammed up following
the fatal Boston Marathon bombings last
week, broadcasters believe the need for a more
dependable medium for reaching the masses
with timely news became even more apparent.
“That was Exhibit A as to why we need live,
local mobile DTV in every device on every
person in America,” says Dennis Wharton,
NAB executive VP of communications.

At a time when stations are witnessing their
mobile traffic surpassing that of their main
station website, coming up with the winning
formula on these platforms is crucial. Overall
mobile local advertising revenue is expected
to be $9.1 billion in 2017, according to BIA/
Kelsey—a startling increase
from the $1.2 billion spent in that arena
in 2012. Local TV brands enjoy considerable
goodwill among consumers in their markets—
as a trusted voice in times of severe weather,
for example. The challenge is making a station
brand meaningful for a digital native with a
cornucopia of apps, social media options and
games at their fingertips (Spotify, IHeartRadio,
Vevo, Tumblr, the list goes on) and little, if any,
connection to a legacy TV station.

“If you’re not there, you’re going to lose
them,” says Jack Myers, chairman of Myers
Media Business Network and author of
Hooked Up, a book about digital’s growing
impact on youth and society. “To maintain
loyalty, stations need to develop content for
mobile that’s not just streaming [their signal].
So much media consumption is on mobile—
they have no choice but to be there.”

Dyle-ing Up New Stations

At the NAB Show back in 2010, the nation’s
largest station groups, including Fox, Belo and
Gannett, announced their involvement in a
consortium called Pearl Mobile DTV designed
to bring mobile DTV to the masses. At the
time, NAB president/CEO Gordon Smith said
around 150 stations would be on the air with
mobile DTV—a 24/7 simulcast of a station’s
signal across broadcast spectrum to portable
devices—by the end of 2010.

It certainly looked like the killer app required
for broadcasters to earn a toehold in
the digital media landscape. Three years later,
Pearl Mobile is now the Mobile Content
Venture, and operates the mobile TV platform
called Dyle. An early April announcement
from MCV said 116 stations in 39 markets
are equipped for mobile TV.

There’s also a second group venture called
the Mobile500 Alliance, comprised of 50
smaller broadcasters, including Nexstar, LIN
and Gray Television. (MCV and Mobile 500
have a combined 140 stations lit up for mobile,
according to an MCV rep.) While talk in Vegas
of increased collaboration between the two
consortiums was encouraging, several group
leaders privately say the pace of the mobile
DTV rollout has been frustrating. Some lament
that ABC and CBS, which are not investors in
the Dyle initiative, are taking a wait-and-see
approach when the other nets have thrown
their weight behind the efforts. Others express
chagrin that broadcasters, adamant about making
a convincing case to the FCC that they
need every sliver of the broadcast spectrum
for mobile TV, have not nearly tapped the full
potential of the medium.

“It’s definitely frustrating—I thought we’d be
a lot further along,” says Bob Prather, president
and COO at Gray Television. “I think we’re
making progress, but it’s just slow.”

Yet there is movement. In early April, Sinclair
announced it will deploy mobile TV in
10 markets over the next six months. At NAB,
Dyle shared plans to expand to Baltimore,
Jacksonville and Salt Lake City—and said the
service now reaches 57% of the U.S. For the first time, mobile TV-equipped devices were
for sale at the NAB Show store—phones and
tablets airing live local TV, and plug-in “dongles”
that bring such capability to portable devices.
Anne Schelle, senior advisor to the NAB
on mobile TV, says that as far as introducing
potentially-game changing technologies go, the
Mobile Content Venture has done just fine: “It’s
here, and it’s commercial,” Schelle says.

Yet it was streaming company Aereo that
commanded the lion’s share of attention at
the NAB Show, when News Corp. president/
COO Chase Carey said his company would
consider a subscription model for its Fox
broadcast network if Aereo—suddenly less
popular in Vegas than a dealer with blackjack—
prevailed in court.

The over-the-top (OTT) competitors are
making inroads with consumers. The Syncbak
app received raves from several highlevel
broadcasters in Vegas. Aereo, backed by
former broadcast chief Barry Diller and currently
available in New York, hopes to offer
streamed TV signals—which it does not pay
broadcasters to transmit—in 22 markets by
the end of summer. Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia
suggests local news is a centerpiece of the mobile video lineup. “Local news, to me, has great
pull—people consume as much news as they
can, provided you make it relevant,” Kanojia
says. “Stations have a tremendous opportunity
to serve their consumer base. You just have to
get it to them on their terms.”

Broadcasters say ramping up their own
mobile TV and live streaming efforts would
marginalize the unsanctioned streaming outfits. “We have to continue to push the envelope
and go more and more into mobile,”
says Vincent Sadusky, LIN Media president
and CEO. “That’s the way you kill Aereo in
the marketplace.”

0422 Cover Story MobileAdSpending_Chart

Swimming Up-Stream

While the offerings are not as rich, live
streaming has proven far easier to get into local
users’ hands. Since the Scripps stations’
splashy announcement in fall 2011 about offering
live local apps, a range of stations has
moved ahead on such missions. Stations’
streaming may lack the network and syndicated
programming of mobile TV, but local
news on smartphones and iPads represents a
key differentiator in the markets the stations
serve. “We’ve done it, and no one else in the
market has attempted it yet,” says Mark Platte,
news director at KGMB-KHNL Honolulu. “If
you’re out at the mall at 5 p.m. on a Sunday
and can’t get to a TV set, there it is, in beautiful
HD quality. It’s the next big thing.”

Stations need every advantage when it
comes to sustaining their relevance. Local TV
remains a top news source for Americans, according
to a recent Pew Research study, with
almost half of respondents polled saying they
watch regularly. But the numbers are shrinking—
mostly among young people who may
not inherit their parents’ habit of watching
TV news as they enter the next stage of adulthood.
The Pew study showed that regular local
news watchers dipped from 54% to 48%
from 2006 to 2012, but the drop among
young people—42% to 28% for those 18-
29—was more like a freefall.

A sharp mobile strategy may stem the
slide. Some 79% of people 25-44 own or use
a smartphone, according to a study by Frank
N. Magid Associates, while 71% of those 13+
own a smartphone and/or a tablet. Around
80% of users seek out weather information—
a TV station lodestone—on their devices, a
substantially higher number than those who
play games (69%), listen to music (68%) or
even engage in social media (74%). According
to the Magid survey, 72% of smartphone
users look for news on their handhelds—and
local TV and newspapers beat their national
competition by a 2 to 1 margin in terms of
trust, reliability and credibility.

“Local brands still have a strong position in
the local market,” says Tom Godfrey, executive
director for mobile strategy at Magid. “The
data supports that they will remain strong.”

Converting that goodwill to mobile engagement
is challenging. Strictly simulcasting
the station feed is not enough to keep
people engaged on the go. One-minute programs,
Twitter-like news flashes and various
“gameification” efforts work way better than
a staid 5 p.m. newscast, say the mobile mavens.
“You need a digital director to program
directly to and build formats dedicated to
the mobile platform,” says Myers.

Getting network programming on board
would certainly sweeten stations’ value
proposition. The issue was Topic A when affiliate boards met earlier this month during
the NAB show. “Collectively we are trying to figure out how it’s going to work on multiple
screens,” says Dave Boylan, ABC affiliates
board chairman. “There’s a good attitude.”

Storm Stories

Stations’ mobile content is never more valued
than when severe weather strikes. New
York stations were lauded for their mobile
TV offerings during Hurricane Sandy; when
electricity was down, mobile apps offered
far more dynamic updates than a wind-up
emergency radio.

The usage bump from extreme weather
can extend beyond the storm and its aftermath.
“When people find your stream because
they lost power, all of a sudden the
stream becomes one of the everyday things
they look for,” says Bob Furlong, VP and general
manager at WPMT in York, Pa.

For his part, LaPlatney was checking out
the latest mobile TV and live streaming offerings
on the vast NAB Show floor in Vegas,
seeing what will help spark adoption and
engagement within the Raycom group. Beside
the 32 stations currently live streaming,
Raycom is looking to build on the six that
offer mobile TV, starting with WOIO Cleveland
this quarter. Raycom and other broadcast
groups know the time is now to expand,
and enrich, their mobile video slate.

“The key is to continue the momentum
and have more and more stations involved
until there’s critical mass in each market,”
LaPlatney says. “It’s incumbent on us to be
there and make sure our product is as visible
as any on these new platforms.”

E-mail comments to
mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him
on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

 

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