By David Oates
Most of us have seen the announcement by XETV regarding the end of its English-language news programming after March 31. There are some experienced, highly talented, television journalists over there who will soon be counted among the unemployed. It’s sad in many respects.
One big respect is that I believe this is only the beginning.
Here’s why. Ratings are falling across the board for local news as audiences turn toward social media to learn about breaking stories. This trend is being felt not just in Southern California, but nationwide. The Pew Research Center cited that the average weekday newspaper circulation fell 7 percent in 2016, the most in six years. This drop was due entirely to print circulation, which declined by 9 percent, while digital circulation increased by only 2 percent.
The Pew Research Center also noted that local TV newscasts experienced a nationwide drop in viewership in all timeslots during the same time period. What’s more, the audience for local TV tends to be older, which means that their market will ultimately age out.
Exacerbating the demise of local news is the ability for stations to provide multiple channels within their FCC license. Take CW6 for instance. The station lost its affiliate relationship to KFMB that will now operate two separate stations — CBS on 8.1 and a new CW channel on 8.3 — in addition to their MeTV programs on 8.2 utilizing essentially the same infrastructure system. News programming for all these stations will come from the same source. KPBS is doing the same, operating four different stations within their Channel 15 license.
You can expect more of this in the years to come, and it will accelerate as networks struggle with keeping affiliates happy while offering their programming directly to consumers via online streaming services. Since local stations will no longer have exclusive rights to their content, I predict that the CBSs, NBCs and ABCs of the world will attempt to appease the relationships by releasing them from the obligation to stand up an expensive — and often unprofitable — news department.
I would not at all be surprised if San Diego sees its television news options cut in half to as little as three by the late 2020s. Though other stations may continue to utilize a news format, their content will be almost exclusively advertorial driven.
What this means for organizations seeking to generate awareness with local audiences is a re-commitment to “being their own broadcaster.” Blog pages on corporate sites will need to be “supersized” into dynamic, entertaining, educational, non-promotional content complete with video segments. Distribution will come from social media, email and strategic pay-per-click initiatives.
Best of all, the cost to create this kind of station is nearly free or, at the very least, a minimal expense. Gone are the days when buying an expensive camera and editing equipment was required to put together a regular stream of programming.
If done right, the results can be overwhelmingly positive. That’s because while their reach will be less than the total TV audience they used to target, the quality of their audience and ability to engage them will be far greater than ever before. In return, companies could see an even better return on their marketing investment.
So while we mourn the passing of one of the quality news stations in town, we should not lose sight of the opportunities this presents to organizations looking to generate good buzz.