Can Local TV Join the Digital Programming Parade?
The best Father’s Day gift I could get was to visit our daughter who lives in another state, and, as I learned, has no idea about the bounty of content available outside the world of cable television. I suspect growing up with a father who is the world’s oldest teenager (I mean me, not the late Dick Clark) spoiled her with the myriad choices that poured into our living-room flatscreen.
My daughter would be termed a cord cutter, but, for those who compile stats on such things, I suspect her reasoning has little to do with stickin’ it to the man — aka the big bad cable TV provider. She simply cannot afford the $100 monthly tab that comes with a cable TV sub in her area. Instead, she has one of her roommate’s Apple TV boxes plugged into her 40-inch Samsung. Through the first gen Apple TV, she can watch Netflix (which she more often watches on her Mac), and little else. She is not even aware that there is a free version of Hulu. (Note to self: send her one of my extra Roku boxes).
Where the bounty lies is in the substantial amount of content that can come in over her indoor antenna. That is, if she had one. Seems people of her generation (folks born in the ’90s) are vaguely aware such things exist. The term OTA might mean Organic Trade Association or OpenTravel Alliance (she is a travel agent) as opposed to over the air. With a $30 indoor antenna, she could access all the local channels (she lives in an area with flat terrain where signals travel well) and all of the subchannels. Subchannels — those channels that live between standard network and local fare — are the quiet goldmine that few programmers have had the vision to realize. Most subchannels consist of static weather maps, niche programming and old, classic shows such as “The Burns and Allen Show,” “Barney Miller,” and “The Flying Nun.”
As the barriers to create new, quality content continue to break down, and digital channels become awash with machine-curated web programming, the OTA digital subchannel that makes it way into every (I mean every) living room, looms as a means to attract cord cutters, cord nevers, and even those who subscribe to pay services. In the tech world, that’s called a giant Total Available Market, and one that generally is met with a feeding frenzy.
I was excited and then later disappointed when I read that Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company was teaming up with the Sinclair Broadcast Group to change the face of local TV. In a New York Times article, Eisner said, “It’s not maybe the sexiest area, but it’s also not an irrelevant area. It’s one where there is a voracious appetite for content, and there is not the kind of competition among suppliers that there was before.” All of which was negated by the face he’s working on yet another syndie show where a judge yucks it up as she rules on goofy civil cases to the delight of those in the courtroom (who were no doubt bribed large boxes of Rice A Roni).
A few years back, I was asked to speak to a group of PBS Executives about the future of local programming, and I introduced a concept I called “Farm to Table Programming.” The goal was to put cameras in the hands of new creative sorts and dream up programming that gives new voices a programming pulpit. These new programs would feed hungry local viewers either through internet-based or subchannel based touchpoints. Or both. My point was, the creative minds in local TV who have — over the years — come up some breakthrough ideas that born locally and then spread nationally (for example, “MST3K”) must be tapped to give young cord cutters or cord nevers content that would encourage them to buy reasonably priced indoor antennas and turn on their TVs to something other than streamed, over the top programming.
That takes local TV 99 yards of the 100-yard dash. As with my 20-something daughter, young people in Gens Y and Z tend to see and eat only those things right in front of them. It will be up to local TV stations to make some noise and tell youngins there’s programming out there other than on Netflix and YouTube. if you are a local station, and don’t have a social media guru on your marketing team, it’s about time you found one.
While the topic of binge watching is something we will delve into with some, I take this moment to question how many shows must a person consecutively watch to be on a binge? Is two enough? Is 30 too many?
A recent survey from TiVo revealed that binge viewing is defined as viewing more than three episodes of a series in a day. The survey went on the say that “negative perception of binge viewing has greatly decreased, to only 30 percent of respondents (versus 53 percent just two years ago). Overall, 92 percent of respondents reported binge viewing at some point, demonstrating that binge viewing is a new norm.”
Three shows is a binge? As the owner of one of the first VCRs on the market in 1980 (I was a TV critic, so it was deemed essential), I regularly watched more than three shows in a row. What I recall is that after two shows (especially if they are an hour in length) I felt serious screen fatigue and had to walk around the block or take a serious refreshment break. In today’s world, folks generally watch entire seasons of a show in one long viewing orgy. TiVo’s report claims: “Some 52 percent report experiencing feeling sad when they get to the end of binging a series. When it comes to time spent binging, 31 percent said they have lost sleep due to binge-viewing, and 37 percent have spent an entire weekend binging a show.” Now that’s entertainment!
With traditional windowing becoming a thing of the past, binge viewing is a curious trend that, like many media activities — has a pendulum-like effect. My hunch is that smart programmers and marketer will find a way to take advantage of binge viewing to introduce new content (“if you’d like to watch the entire season of “Mad Men” without commercial interruption, we ask you to sample our new comedy…”) or provide advertisers some serious engagement by sponsoring TV binging.
As for me, I could watch an entire season of “Hill Street Blues” or “The Equalizer” without batting an eyelash.