What broadcasters need to know about the core demo.

They don’t watch TV. Mostly. Get it?

OK, I’ll repeat myself. Broadcaster’s (and many cable networks) are not relevant to young people most of the time. This is not news any longer, however it bears repeating, because thick-headed, narrow field-of-view TV execs, GMs and news directors keep fooling themselves into believing they are just one cool news story or graphic sparkle or well-timed-but-intrusive-as-hell snipe away from getting them back. People want to be entertained. Kids like the sensationalistic garbage that MTV and Fox crank out, but more often than not there really isn’t anything compelling for young people to watch on television so the Internet and the nearly infinite sites available to kill time trump the local TV station’s programming and newscasts every time.

As usual, station management will not listen to their employees regarding strategy, instead preferring to shovel money at consultants and “media experts” to point out the obvious and to, more importantly, have someone to blame when it doesn’t work. Apparently, they want to look and sound like the other three, four or five newscasts in the market that are getting the same “research” data.

By the same token, these same people won’t listen to me telling them what’s wrong with the industry – even though I am a shining example of someone who’s mostly left TV behind. Therefore, I have provided this embedded video as yet another example of what people are watching instead of them. The example is not just the age of the guys in the video netcast (podcast) being the core demographic and its not just the fact that this is a weekly episode that is downloaded and played back at my convenience. It is about what they have to say about 9 minutes and 45 seconds into the show… Skip ahead on the flash player or watch the whole thing:

Hear that? Were you paying attention to what they were saying and exasperated about it or were you distracted too much by the dancing weather girl? See? It’s not just me that stopped watching TV and TV news.

What’s important is not the story about the dancing weather girl (which is pretty damn funny!), it’s about what these 30 year-old podcasters are saying about TV and TV news for 5 minutes. They know its crap. They know the banter is fake and insincere. They know the stories are lame. They don’t want to watch it. One of them canceled their Comcast subscription (I did the same a long time ago – I just have basic cable for the Internet connection) and has all their content downloaded to their PC.What they liked and found interesting was the silliness. The fun. Not the artificial fear that news departments work to instill in everyone every single newscast four, five or six times a day by stoic anchors with canned responses and plastic hair.

So, I hear you broadcasters asking, “what would I suggest?” Simple (relatively):

  1. Stop trying to think that the newscast just needs more tweaking (and more money) to get viewers back. It’s over. It’s been over. It’s never coming back. There’s too much competition out there and you’ve lost. Focus on your strengths and ride it out to the nadir of the ratings over the next few years – you’ll likely still have some regular viewers. Probably just during storms and snow closings though.
  2. Focus energy in more diverse programming. Local stations that create newscasts have the unique ability to create programming at will. Use it!
  3. Local stations have the advantage of being local stations. Why is this so hard for people to grasp. Use that advantage to create programming that the national networks and cable companies cannot create. Develop interesting programs about the local area, events and topics.
  4. Fuck politics. Outside of the Presidential elections, abortion, First and Second Amendment issues most people simply don’t care about politics. Make your political ad money every two and four years, cover the local races at the local election bureaus and get the fuck out! No one really cares anyway and no one cares if you’re first by 60 seconds ahead of the other guy. Get AP to do the work – that’s why you paid for their wire service, right?!? It’s sad but true that only the old (out of core demographic) people care about politics for the most part. Deal with it and cry about it later.
  5. Make news newsworthy. You know what I’m getting at here. The old axiom goes “if it bleeds, it leads”, but the same freeway pileup is likely on every other newscast in your market as well and it is still not newsworthy. Don’t know what “news” is? Read a Wall Street Journal and get a clue.
  6. Create stories of interest to your target audience. If you’re CBS it’s going to be about the new Centrum Multivitamin formulation. If you’re Fox it’s going to be about the Internet. If you wan to attract that young viewer it better be about technology, the Internet and current events. Need help? Start by watching HD versions of Chronicle or Eye on the Bay.
  7. Stop dumbing things down to fourth-grade level. Use multisyllabic words. If it reads on the air like its out of USA Today, then you’ve only succeeded in making a Junior High A/V cable news show suitable for tweens. Congratulations.
  8. Along the same lines, stop doing 8 liveshots in 12 minutes in front of a dark building at night that you say is the courthouse where so-and-so was arraigned on such-and-such charges and we should be really concerned about it despite the fact that there is nothing going on, it is pitch black outside behind the washed-out face of the reporter being hit by the camera’s light. It could be the Dunkin’ Donuts down the street for all we know. Don’t care! Next!
  9. Fire the extremely over-paid, frozen, impersonal, unbelievable, untrustworthy anchors for the newscasts. Get people that are hungry to be on TV reporting the news to us and who do it well, not someone who “exactly matches the market research” and can read the teleprompter well. Animatronics has been doing this on Disney rides for decades (and for far less money per station’s talking-head guaranteed!). People that are sincere, passionate about their work and their message will come across that same way to the viewers as well.
  10. Enough with the motion-sickness lower thirds already! We get it! You spent a lot of money for fancy graphics machines and a colorful “graphics package” that would make Walt Disney’s vomit look pale in comparison. Spinning, swirling, looping colors behind the names of the anchors and reporters are not going to save your newscast.
  11. Stop the ticker madness. If I’m reading a news ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen, then the voice inside my head is louder than the anchor talking and I have no idea what the hell they just said. Enough! Unless you are Mad Money, CNN, ESPN or some dedicated financial channel it’s not helping anyone do anything but become confused and reach for that remote.
  12. HD is your future. Stop ignoring it! Not everyone can provide HD to their viewers. Almost all broadcasters are already providing HD for free to the general public over the air, however they still overwhelmingly refuse to educate their viewers about it. It may already be too late, however since cable and satellite have been marketing HD to people for several years and that’s how the average Joe Sixpack believes he has to get it now.
    So, you screwed the pooch good on that one NAB.

That’s a good start.

If you are a manager at a broadcast station or network reading this and you’re mad as hell, good. That means I’m at least mostly correct about your particular station and I’ve hit the nerve I was aiming for. If, after reading this, you are not mad then you are either in denial (likely) or are already working hard to fix most of these flaws (not likely).

Don’t feel too bad broadcasters. Even your fellow dinosaur fossils in the La Brea tar pits command a modest regular audience after all these years.