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2020 Vision: The Future of Local News is Streaming

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As the 2010s end and the calendar flips to 2020, looking forward to what's next is perhaps more important than ever before. The ability of media companies and newsrooms to adapt and evolve to keep them ahead of the technology and industry curve can make the difference between success and failure in a competitive media landscape.

Playing Catch-Up

The way news content is produced and distributed has changed dramatically, which is no surprise as newsrooms feel the effects of digitally savvy audiences and their on-demand viewing preferences. Consumers are moving away from the appointment-style viewing in favor of watching what they want when they want. Netflix, Amazon and other entertainment streaming services have set a high bar with respect to quality and to consumer expectations.

On the news side, things are different. The on-air experience today is essentially seamless: high-quality content using tried-and-true technology and proven processes to deliver content directly to the at-home audience, which has made it a habit to tune in each day. The challenge is ensuring the online experience matches the on-air standards. Viewers are not necessarily tuning into the online version of what newsrooms are broadcasting on-air when the quality and ease of use isn't as seamless as other online viewing opportunities.

A recent study tracked a 10% decrease in time spent watching traditional broadcast content in the last year alone. That's a precipitous decline. And with new streaming platforms like Disney+ and Apple TV now on the market, there's no real reason to think these fundamental trends will change anytime soon. Half of all content is now consumed online, and the difficulty for news organizations is that incrementally increasing your online audience will not be enough to compensate for the continuing decline in traditional viewership channels.

Consider this eye-opening fact: Converting the monthly ad views of the traditional on-air audience of an average mid-market TV station to online metrics is the equivalent of 71 million impressions a month. That same TV station currently has an average of 850,000 impressions a month. In other words, even doubling or tripling your online engagement won't be nearly enough to make up for what you're losing through traditional viewer attrition. The math is simple: With a 10% decline in audience, it will take a 10-times increase in online advertising to account for the difference.

That doesn't mean newsrooms should lose hope. There are new tools and processes are coming to market that can make big changes possible. They can radically boost engagement, change how ads are delivered, and significantly elevate the online experience—all through better infrastructure and technical architecture. Integrated processes and technologically efficient workflows can help newsrooms dramatically improve their online offerings and appeal to viewers with a "continuous news desk," where news clips and content are available anytime, anywhere.

Easing Into Content Creation

Operational and technical updates should not only be focused on the online viewing experience, but on the need for newsrooms to tap into the 24/7 news cycle aligned with the expectations and habits of increasingly demanding audiences. 

Traditional morning and evening live broadcast news shows require a great deal of heavy lifting from a production standpoint; raw footage requires a significant amount of production work to be ready to air. The biggest obstacle to making a continuous news desk available online is the lack of tools, time and resources to handle those production demands on a rolling basis. The manpower and financial requirements are a hurdle, but the time itself is the real issue. Anything that delays the experience for viewers is problematic in an increasingly on-demand world, and news is particularly vulnerable because it's perishable. 

Fortunately, a new generation of sophisticated new platforms are designed to address these issues. The best of them make it possible for newsrooms to overcome these challenges by quickly, efficiently and automatically updating online content. Integrated software adds graphics, closed captioning and metadata, essentially automating the traditionally laborious production process. Additionally, some platforms can dynamically generate page views for viewers based on criteria like geography or other factors. 

The result is, for the first time, the capability for a newsroom to customize content and create unique viewing experiences. Early results demonstrate this kind of customized linear on-demand content streaming can significantly increase viewing times—in one example, from 1.5 minutes to 15 minutes per session. Just as the viewing time increased by a factor of 10, the advertising inventory increased 10 times as well. 

Creativity and Opportunity

In 2020 and beyond, deploying the right tools and solutions to produce, protect and monetize content will be an increasingly pivotal piece of the media puzzle. Traditional news organizations will need to rely more on an increasingly robust and (ideally) integrated suite of tools and solutions. In the same way the current tech ecosystem is fully mature, comprised of an interconnected chain of complementary tools and technologies that support traditional broadcasts, the next generation of tech solutions will need to be equally seamless.

But technology isn't a stand-alone answer. Newsrooms will need to be creative to get the most of these new capabilities. Some stations are creating themed content categories like "Throwback Thursdays" or individual channels (such as inspirational or feel-good stories) designed to attract viewers beyond the breaking news features. Others have been alleviating the need to generate new content by digitizing their archives and reusing old segments. 

Synergy and Proactivity

As always, the bottom line is the bottom line, and the value equation for many new stories isn't great. Traditional original broadcast content typically takes upwards of $1,000 per minute to produce and air. Combine this price tag with the fact that local stations are seeing viewership declining as much as 10% each year, and it's reasonable to worry about the long-term trends and the impact on revenue.

Newsrooms would be wise to get ahead of the problem and do what online influencers and content creators have long recognized: there is value in owning and controlling your own audience. Building and sustaining an audience through a continuous digital news desk requires two key ingredients:

  • Sufficient compelling/original content
  • The ability to get content online in a timely and cost-effective manner

Which is why it's so vital—as viewers now have the choice to watch anything they want, whenever they want, on whatever screen is convenient to them—that newsrooms look to the future and find the tools needed to generate automated, streamable content for their audiences. The right tools, tactics, insights, and infrastructures will not only allow newsrooms to streamline their content creation, but will keep pace with demanding audiences and the rapid-fire news cycles in 2020 and beyond. Adding automation functionality and seamlessly integrating into adjacent systems without disrupting workflows for existing staff translates to affordably upgrading the audience's viewing experience and monetizing owned content. By doing so, newsrooms won't just be catching up with entertainment platforms that have led the way in this arena; they will be better positioned for long-term success in a dynamic and ever-changing digital media landscape.

[This is a vendor-contributed article from Bitcentral. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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