Why Local Now Matters: Solving three problems with local TV news

Local news is still big business on television. During the first quarter of 2016, 108 million homes, including 68 million young viewers between 18 and 39 years old, tuned in to at least one local newscast according to Nielsen.

That’s a lot of people!

Admittedly, not each of those viewers is watching local news every day, but even when adjusted, there is still a significant regular television audience for local content. When media researchers dig in, they find that these viewers continue to watch local news for three primary pieces of information:

1. Local storm coverage: Viewers want real time, on-the-ground analysis from experts when severe weather threatens their family and community.

2. Daily video presentation of weather and traffic: Viewers want a knowledgeable source explaining upcoming weather and traffic so they can plan their day.

3. Curated local news and sports headlines: Viewers want the basics on the stories that matter in their community to feel informed when interacting with others.

For most viewers, there is only one consistent option for television on this information: The local affiliate newscast.

The production of these newscasts is the responsibility of local television stations, who are allowed to broadcast their own content when not airing shows from the big national broadcaster with whom they are affiliated — usually NBC, CBS, FOX or ABC. This structure of traditional broadcast affiliation was a source of strength for local stations newscasts for many years — before cable channels, DVRs and Netflix — airing before or after one of a few major shows was a choice spot.

However, this same structure in the current media landscape now makes local affiliate newscasts poorly positioned to respond to transforming consumer demands:

The affiliate newscasts are confined to certain hours.
Viewers who want access to up-to-the-minute local news have to wait until a local newscast airs, which may not be until hours later, after talk shows, game shows and daytime soap operas. Once the newscast does begin, local news producers need to fill an entire hour, often leading the most important stories to be teased until long into the newscast. And, should there be a breaking local news story, local affiliates can in many cases be obligated to wrap up their coverage before the news story ends, if a regularly scheduled show from their national broadcast partners is scheduled to air.

The “local” markets are really big.
Local affiliates are required to be organized by Designated Market Areas (DMAs) that divide the United States into 210 distinct areas, with each local station covering one DMA. Inevitably, when the entire United States is divided into only 210 areas, the “local” markets that emerge are actually not-so-local. For example, the same local market in New York covers Manhattan; Long Island; Trenton, NJ; and New Haven, CT. The entire state of Utah is considered the same “local” market. To put it in perspective, there are over 42,000 zip codes in the United States — by that measure, your local news market is not very local at all.

The affiliate newscasts are expensive and difficult to aggregate. 
Starting in 2006, the affiliate stations that carry your local news began to demand fees from cable and satellite television providers, just like cable networks. Since then, the amount local affiliates charge television distributors is 15 times higher, according to SNL Kagan, making them collectively more expensive than every single one of your favorite cable networks. These large fees are ultimately passed along to subscribers as increases to their cable bill.

In the face of increasing costs, many viewers would love new television options to better fit their needs. For some types of programming, an alternative option is straightforward. Consumers can, for example, find many of the primetime shows that air on local affiliates through services like Hulu, which offers NBC, ABC and FOX shows on-demand. Viewers can even increasingly watch live sports in new ways — The NFL’s Thursday Night Football package is available on Twitter, while Major League Baseball distributes its own games on its MLB.TV service.

But for distributors who want to provide local newscasts to viewers in all markets at an affordable price, it is near impossible. There isn’t a single conglomerate of local stations that covers all markets in the United States. The many station ownership groups each have only partial coverage. And, when it comes time to negotiate with the many local station groups to gain full market coverage, each station group expects the same high fees they receive in the traditional television world. Even if this fee is reduced by two-thirds, assuming primetime shows and sports are not included in what local stations can offer to many over-the-top bundles, the local station fee would still be high enough to make it difficult for distributors to offer these stations as part of any low-priced bundle.

Local Now, our live and on-demand local weather, traffic, news, and sports service, aims to give viewers and distributors a modern alternative to local news on television.

Local Now is optimized to provide the best quality content in the highest priority local news categories:

1. Local weather
The Weather Channel is the backbone for Local Now, providing the most highly demanded type of local news content –weather coverage. The Weather Channel was, for the sixth year in a row, named the #1 most trusted news network on television by Harris Poll. This trust has been built over the course of thirty years because of our one-of-a-kind expert meteorologists, on-the-ground coverage during any major weather event and highly accurate local weather forecasts. When third party research firm Magid asked viewers whose weather coverage they preferred, viewers chose The Weather Channel, not only in national coverage attributes but in local coverage comparisons as well.

2. Local traffic
Until recently, our company owned a broadcast services business that powered traffic for a majority of local news stations. We have used this same in-house experience, paired with tens of thousands of traffic cameras, to bring the daily traffic story to life in real time, whenever Local Now is accessed.

3. Local news and sports headlines
When most viewers watch The Weather Channel, they see their local weather and traffic both at the bottom of the screen as well as in a segment every ten minutes called Local on the 8s. We uniquely enable this localization through proprietary technology that is able process huge amounts of data, prioritize the most pressing information, and deliver it in a video format to 4,000 different US locations all at once. By combining content from world-class news partners with this proprietary technology, our viewers are delivered a real-time presentation of the local news and sports headlines that actually matter.

But beyond delivering exceptional local content, Local Now can offer a local news option for viewers unencumbered by the constraints of traditional TV:

We are always live: Local Now has real-time, on-demand news content available for viewers 24/7 without having to wait for their local newscast.

We are localized to every market: Local Now has a local feed available for all 210 markets in the United States, providing a one-stop shop for distributors and viewers looking for local news. Soon, we will be dividing the country into thousands of areas to deliver an even greater degree of local relevance.

We are less expensive: Our solution is driven by technology rather than large staffs, which allows us to offer local news to distributors and viewers at a fraction of the price of local affiliates.

Until yesterday, only Sling TV subscribers have been able to enjoy our service. However, with the launch of our Local Now mobile and tablet apps, we are excited to be able to offer Local Now at no additional cost to subscribers of The Weather Channel. In the coming weeks you will see new features and content partners added to make Local Now more interactive and robust. We hope that you’ll spend a little time with the product and share feedback with us on localnow.com.

This launch is also especially exciting for our company here at The Weather Group. This product represents our initial foray into building a standalone mobile and tablet experience separate from The Weather Channel app that many people know. We look forward to this as the first step on our journey to deliver viewers a more modern local news experience.

Now available on iOS and Android mobile and tablet devices.