I seem to find the most clarity when confusion reaches its greatest depths.
It occurred just last week while I was sitting on stage in the Time-Life building, participating in a panel discussing the “future digital landscape” for TV stations. The session was interesting, but I noticed a lot of blank stares as I listened to fellow panellists talk about things like addressable set-top boxes, managing loads of data, the fate of local news broadcasts, and mobile DTV.
Toward the end, we were all asked a final question: What’s your advice to local broadcasters preparing for 2011?
My response was pretty simple: Stations are tackling too many opportunities with too few resources. Cut opportunities and add staff.
The opportunity issue is a big one, but easily solved by adopting a simple mantra: follow the money. Half the things being pursued by local media companies has no hope of ever paying for what it costs to implement. Every opportunity should have a return on investment. Asking for an ROI will kill three-fourths of the opportunities, and you’ll be better off for it.
An example I gave was KSL-TV and its parent company Deseret Media in Salt Lake City. Clark Gilbert, a former Harvard and Brigham Young professor, left the academic world last spring to take over as CEO. Armed with more than a decade of trying to tell media companies how they need to prepare for the digital disruption, he started acting immediately.
He assembled one of the largest digital staffs of any local media company. Which TV station do you know of that has about 30 digital employees? Then he bought a mobile “deals” site, then he reorganized The Deseret News, laying off approximately 40% of the news staff.
All of this sounds pretty dramatic – and you can certainly hear more from Clark when he keynotes our mobile conference next week in Dallas. But it would still be academic if it were not for the results he’s already seeing.
When it comes to web revenues, the largest-grossing TV station brought in about $7 million last year. KSL-TV will beat that by far this year.
When it comes to traffic, the average local media site hold a 20% or 30% share of the Internet audience at best. KSL.com has a 62% share. (Prior to my panel, I visited The Media Audit booth in the lobby and asked Phil Beswick to look up the KSL number. “Whoah!” was his response when he saw the KSL results. “I’ve never seen that!”)
One more thing to note. At a time when most media companies are just experimenting with mobile, Deseret Media’s mobile site already claims the No. 4 spot in terms of Internet traffic and, according to Clark Gilbert, is closing in fast on Nos. 2 and No. 3.
The most resounding advice I can offer is to follow the money. Too many media companies are chasing everything they read about and wind up drowning in opportunities.
The best opportunity filter might just boil down to five words: “What’s the ROI for that?”