Local TV Has One Last Chance: Mobile

Local TV news sites have one last chance to make significant money from digital media. But they need to act now, and need to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Local TV news sites are, for the most part, cluttered, slow to change, and only bring in a small percentage of a station’s profits. I’ve been writing about TV news and digital media for more than 15 years and the one connective thread is reluctance. TV news did not want to get into the website business. When it put minimal resources into digital media, TV news followed the path of least resistance, following the model of its newscasts. Hence, nearly every local TV news site looks the same. It lives in service to the TV show. It parrots what’s on-air. It promotes the station.

And the website is a mess. Do you go to a local TV news site on a computer when you want to get news or information?

Local TV was very reluctant to adopt social media and still isn’t using it correctly. Don’t tweet about a report coming up at 11. The point of social media is to share information. I consulted with stations that used social media — judiciously — and saw real increases in traffic and revenue by being authentic, not by being promo machines.

There’s one last chance, and that’s mobile media. And, truly, this is it. There’s nothing else on the horizon. Even mobile media has been around more than 10 years, but it’s really starting to show revenue.

Pew Research conducted its annual State of the News Media report in 2016 and, among its striking findings is this nugget: Of the 110 media outlets it studied, 99 reported more unique visitors on mobile than desktop. You can bet it’s close to 110 out of 110 now.

Want to talk revenue? Mobile advertising had 44% of the online ad pie in 2016, and is poised to overtake desktop advertising this year, according to Zenith Media. Go to where the growth is.

Forget apps. I’m not downloading your app. I’m not giving up the tiny palmtop space I have for your branded app that only gives me your news, when I can get an app that will give me all the news from all the websites I choose, customized to my liking. When I click on that Facebook link someone shared to get to your story, it’s going to open on your mobile website, not in your app. Make that mobile site look great.

Let’s start with that site: How does your website look on a phone? If it’s not mobile-optimized, you’re losing money and customers. If I click through a Facebook link to your story, only to find I’m seeing a tiny version of your webpage — I’m gone.

Now: Ads. Do you have banner ads that follow me up and down the page, blocking what I’m trying to read? Video ads that autoplay as soon as I go to a page? “Shadowbox” ads that won’t go away? Lose these. You are creating barriers. Think of your favorite mobile sites. Do they treat you this way? Work with ad companies that know this stuff. Don’t go for the ones that promise the easy dollar — go for the professionals that give the best user experience.

Mobile friendly content has to be shared easily. It needs to be true to its own platform. Repurposing that TV report won’t cut it. Why do I need a thirty second anchor introduction to a thirty second piece of video? Anchors are for TV. They help hold together (or “anchor”) a lengthy newscast, hopefully telling a full story of what happened that day. They rarely have a place in mobile video. They are a barrier.

What’s your podcast strategy? I recently spoke with a station GM who told me his biggest digital growth (in fact his only digital growth) was in podcasting. So few TV stations are podcasting. Why?

Finally, mobile-friendly is social. Sharing is two-ways. Can I send your station video as easily as I can watch it? Do you have a simple “record” button that lets me record and send you something as it’s happening? Your competition doesn’t. Remove the barrier.

Mobile has brought the last, best hope for you. Invest in it. Bring in companies that know this stuff. Unlike 15 years ago when the web was hitting big, there are agencies that are well-versed in digital advertising. There are companies that can plug you in, using best practices, and help you start bringing in revenue.

Your task: Be bold. Challenge your digital department to be more than the best local TV website. Challenge your sales team to do more than add a little incremental money from digital. Challenge everyone at the station to create something they would actually visit.

There’s still time. But this is it. Go mobile, or go home.