Archive for January, 2009

Really Bad News For Local TV

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The plight of the American newspaper is well documented, on this blog and plenty of other places online.  Now, in the past week, many of the actions we have seen newspaper corporate owners take are starting to take place in TV news, once the most cash-rich segment of media.

It used to be that an FCC license to broadcast TV in a local market was considered “a license to print money.”  Not anymore.  Due to years of increased competition, a collective news product that has soured many viewers, a schedule that was devised in the 1950s – before modern commutes and lifestyles, and, significantly, a huge drop in advertising from “bread and butter” sales clients like hard-hit car dealers and furniture stores, these are tough times in local TV.

We are starting to see stories from across the country of jobs being lost, even at highly-rated, big market local TV stations.  Nobody is immune – anchors, reporters, producers – just about anyone in a news department.  Newscasts are being eliminated, after an era of expanding news blocks (even with stagnant employment levels).  Most vulnerable, it seems, are local sports reports – a common budget casualty.  The TV sportscast seems to be going the way of the newspaper classified section.

Once local TV station General Manager told me this week that calls for cuts in expenses are coming literally every day from corporate ownership.  

When I worked in TV news in the ’90s, it was certainly during a cost conscious era.  Back then, I heard that major market stations were operating under corporate mandates to turn 30% profit margins.  That was a tall order, even then, achieved often by frugality.  But what’s happening now is something different.  News reports in New York City say TV stations in that market are “all losing money.”  If that’s the case, these are unprecedented times for this business.

Time for Media to Turn up Heat on Wall Street

Monday, January 26th, 2009

You have to hand it to Wall Street. Already it has gobbled up $350 billion of a proposed $700 billion from Washington—with no nasty hearings, no pressure to fly coach or drive hybrids and no real oversight on how the money is to be spent. Perhaps we can all learn a thing or two from these titans of commerce! Preferably, though, I’d like to see the media—all media—start to exert some pressure on the banking industry and D.C. to, once and for all, do the right thing.

In a climate where Congress is demanding the Big 3 sell more vehicles, no one can borrow the money needed to do so. Talk to any domestic car dealer and you’ll hear the same thing: They’re having to turn away scores of long-time customers with good credit because Wall Street won’t share the wealth. And, if you’re one of the half-million people laid off in recent months and want to start a new business venture—good luck securing any start-up capital to do so.

While the media has come out in recent days to report that former Merril Lynch CEO John Thain spent over $1 million redecorating his Manhattan office last year while firing employees, they need to embark on an all-out blitz designed to exert pressure and force change. Where are the scathing Op Eds by the major opinion leaders? The blogs by the undercurrent? Where is the outrage and analysis?

Congress and their buddies on Madison Avenue should not continue to get a free ride while this country’s commerce remains paralyzed.

New Blog Helps Take You Inside

Monday, January 26th, 2009

We hope the Tanner Friedman blog will be your first choice for insight on what’s happening across the many platforms of communications.  But, we know you’re like us and it certainly won’t be your only choice.  So, here’s a recommendation:

Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea has a new blog, dedicated to his take on marketing, media and sports business.  It features some opinion but also news items that can’t make it into the weekly Crain’s publication because they just can’t wait until the following Monday.  He’s calling the blog “For Immediate Release.”

Several months ago, we called for Crain’s to give Bill more space online, so we can read more of “Bill Being Bill.”  The blog format matches his style well.  

We hope to see more journalists provided with outlets for their work.  It’s an ideal use of the Web resources news organizations are growing.

Clear Channel Cuts: It’s Not Just The Economy

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

After Federal Laws changed in the 90s, essentially lifting all caps on the number of radio stations one company could own, San Antonio-based Clear Channel went on a buying binge.  When it was all over, the company became known in broadcasting circles, about a decade ago, as “The Evil Empire.”  The company’s mantra seemed to be “let’s just be the biggest and worry about it later.”  

Despised by its critics and never revered by shareholders as much as the company hoped, Clear Channel is now owned by Private Equity owners not known for their patience.  So, today, in the midst of a national advertising slump, the company that owns more than 800 radio stations across all 50 states, eliminated 1850 jobs from an already thin workforce.

For the first time anyone in radio can ever remember, a parent company has laid-off sales people – revenue generators. That’s part of what happened today. The station also slashed local on-air and programming jobs, across the country. For example, in Detroit (where Clear Channel owns six stations), WKQI-FM will be run by a program director in New York, who also programs one of the company’s stations there.  Another, the first all-sports radio station in the market, WDFN-AM, as of today, has cut virtually all of its local programming (and the jobs that go with it) and replaced it with national syndication.  WDFN is a victim of a poor signal (against an FM competitor now enjoying a four-fold ratings advantage), a company that has been neglecting it for years and now, these latest cuts.

The company says it has to change, now that it has new ownership. But, in its years as a public company, Clear Channel seemed more interested in generating cash to pay its extensive debts than it ever was investing in its product or its future.  The company did not take many of the aggressive steps its competitors did to add revenue streams. Unlike CBS, there were no big off-shoot newsletters or credible on-line video advertising.  Unlike privately-held broadcasters like Greater Media, Clear Channel generally put less emphasis on localism from programming to personality to promotions.  

Yes – national radio advertising is down.  Yes – it could get tougher with car dealers as America’s “bread and butter” local advertisers.  No – that situation alone did not drive today’s realities.  We observers have seen this coming for years, after Clear Channel ran many legacy local radio stations on its corporate path, often adversely affecting its customers, its listeners, thousands of career broadcasters and the communities they hoped to serve better.  

CNN.com LIVE and Facebook Teaming Brilliant

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

On this momentous day in Washington, D.C., every major (and minor) news outlet continues to stream live coverage of the presidential inauguration via their respective websites. It is a first, of course, in and of itself, for this historic event. CNN.com LIVE, though, is taking this coverage (and its format) a few steps further, even as I type.

The cable news network has joined forces with social media giant Facebook, allowing CNN site visitors to watch the day’s events live while also updating their FB “walls.” As such, you and your “friends” are able to, together, experience the monumental goings-on in our nation’s capital while simultaneously sharing unique thoughts and perspectives.

Viewing coverage in this way feels a bit like the old days of the 3 television networks (yes, I am dating myself and going back a good 25 years) when the majority received their news from a select few outlets.

Today, in more ways than one, this country once again feels like a community.

Air Crash on Hudson a Testament to Effective Crisis Planning

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

This afternoon’s emergency U.S. Airways crash into New York’s Hudson river, was many things—a fluke of nature; a testament to aviation prowess and a positive case study in impeccable crisis planning.

The uncanny skill of the flight crew and attendants to bring the airliner safely to rest, keep the passengers calm and evacuate everyone on board within 90 seconds, while worthy of being deemed a miracle, demonstrated that being prepared in advance (planning for the worst in order to avoid same) through training, protocol, procedures and practice truly makes a difference.

Moreover, from a communications standpoint, US Airways chairman and CEO Doug Parker also played the crisis by the book; making himself immediately available to provide information to the public while promising to work with the NTSB to fully investigate.

Also of note from a media standpoint, once again a lay person eyewitness was among the first to record images of the crash, taken via iPhone and transmitted via Twitter.

An amazing day all around.

CBS News Makes A Good Call

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Yes, I have let CBS News have it in this blog, from time to time, because of missed opportunities and dubious decisions on the CBS Evening News.  But, as always, we like to recognize good media and communications decisions and, today, CBS made one.

Byron Pitts, a colleague of mine in the mid-90s at Atlanta’s WSB-TV, will now appear regularly on 60 Minutes, one TV news program that is holding its own in the new environment.  It was evident nearly 15 years ago, when I started working with him, that Byron had outstanding skill as a reporter, a writer and a communicator.  He’s one of those pros who “make it look easy.”

According to a story in one of the New York papers, he had been asking for 10 years to be a part of the program. Now that he has, 60 Minutes viewers will benefit.  And CBS’ leadership deserves credit for taking an “old” show and infusing it with some younger talent.  

Big Vegas Show Provides A Glimpse of the PR Future

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Every year, the Consumer Electronics Association’s show in Las Vegas has been a media spectacle, with journalists from far and wide cramming Las Vegas to bring us stories of the newest high-tech gadgets that will soon be making their way into our lives.  But not this year.

The Consumer Electronics Show still happened.  It still made news.  But, one veteran journalist tells me, for the first time ever, there were plenty of hotel rooms available in Vegas.  Why? Media budget cuts meant significantly fewer outlets wanted to spend money on airfare, hotel room costs and expenses to have their reporters cover the event in person.

To make sure their event wasn’t left out of the news entirely, organizers did a smart thing.  They streamed the sessions with tech newsmakers live on the Web – shifting a policy of making them available on a delay – so journalists could cover the news in real-time, from their desktops.  

This is a good lesson for communicators who, at one time, expected media to “come out” and cover their news.  Fewer resources means more reporters “chained to their desks” – whether the story is one mile or 1,000 miles away.   Anyone who expects to “call a press conference” and have notepads, recorders and cameras heading their way is living in the past. Now, it’s about getting reporters information and access to them when they need it and how they want it.

Really – if they aren’t going to cover a sure thing in Vegas in-person, what makes you think they will come to watch your spokesman behind a podium in front of a banner?  

Just another change to keep in mind as you adapt to the new realities.

Social Media: Proper Protocol Ensures Meaningful Connection

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

As I continue to dabble with social media I am continually intrigued by the degree to which individuals use such sites as Facebook, Twitter and the like. On the one hand, some might think of these sites and those of us who utilize them as voyeuristic. After all, do we really need to tell and/or be kept abreast of our friends’ and associates’ every move and whim?

At the same time, these mediums are amazing communications tools that keep us connected and informed, up to the minute and on a wide scale; where we discover old friends and new information. The next time your parents or relatives say to you: “I never hear from you. What are you up to?”, sign them up and add them as a ‘Friend.’ They’ll never wonder again.

Unfortunately, there are still those that don’t understand the purpose of these sites and utilize them to brag incessantly about new business wins and how successful their company is. Anyone with a third grade education knows that the more someone talks about the size of their portfolio, it must be, in reality, very tiny indeed.

This is all both unfortunate and unnecessary as, if done correctly, one can build a social brand for themselves via this medium that, in turn and by association, can also enhance brand equity for one’s business. To be sure, Facebook and Twitter are about being human, genuine, real. Megalomaniacs take note, and leave your business pitches, no matter how subtle, at the door.

Update: New Radio Ratings System

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

The New Year has shed new light on the new system used to measure ratings in major market radio across the country, including Detroit.

As we first told you last Fall, Detroit is the latest market where the Arbitron ratings service has abandoned a system used for generations in which listeners would record their habits, as best as they could, in paper diaries.  Now, survey participants carry pager-sized Portable People Meters (PPMs).  It’s a whole new game.

This report from Radio-Info.com shows the first PPM report from Detroit’s sample of late 2008.  The number one station, far and away, was WNIC-FM, playing all Christmas music.  You will also see that, as expected, rock, CHR (“Top 40″), sports and information stations also fared well.

We’ll keep an eye on these trends for you. But, we’re also looking for changes beyond the ratings numbers themselves.  We still expect at least one format change to take place in the first part of this year.  We are also paying attention to how stations are tweaking their sound.  Already, they are taking steps to “stick to format” and decrease button-pushing as the PPM monitors everything the listener hears.