Jeff Zucker had very encouraging words for the future of broadcast television at the Ad Age Digital Marketing Conference this week, and his perspective centered on the event and community qualities of the medium.
While he was talking specifically about major scripted series (like NBC's Heroes) and the Olympics, it prompted a crazy thought for me: make TV news local.
I mean really local. Make 'em the basis for real, interactive communities. Local broadcast television as social media.
Broadcast network local affiliates were conceived and operated primarily as distribution nodes and ad sales offices. Local news has always been a cookie-cutter affair, utilizing identical formats (and swapping identical anchors). Even today, a good portion of the programming relies on car wrecks and numbingly similar crime reports, accented by repurposing generic video of car wrecks and crime reports from other numbingly similar broadcasts.
Technology, culture, and the economy have left the old local affiliate model in the cathode-ray dust. The most lusted-after consumer demographic groups get their breaking news from the Internet, along with great car wreck footage (and much more). If they watch news at all, it’s often comedy programming, like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or The O'Reilly Factor.
So local stations should do the same thing:
- Consign conception and production of the late local news slots to a comedy troup. I'm not kidding. Develop a fun, cynical, engaging take on local goings-on
- Let viewers participate via voting (call-in, SMS, whatever) on various points or issues. Be unabashedly willing to turn each program into American Idol, sort of
- If anything, swap really funny segments between the programs instead of sharing footage of bad weather. Think of all the creativity and content this approach could produce, which could be repurposed any number of ways (online, mobile)
What's the downside? Bad ratings? Well, been there, done that in most markets. Offend viewers? Sure, but boring them...and losing them..is a greater crime, isn't it? Cable and the Internet have shown a new way for broadcast media that is much like the original, old way: you can’t be relevant or funny unless you risk being irrelevant or and stupid.
Depending on how successful the news programming got, you could use the approach to localize more programming. I'm sure there are reasons why there aren't any locally-produced game shows anymore. Why not more feature programming on local sports, or on issues?
I know that many of these ideas might seems stale, but what's stale-er than, well, chatting aimlessly about nothing? This behavior drives some of the most technically-advanced social media in existence, so it's not an issue of a new idea as much as making an old, established, and enjoyable old behavior somehow better or easier. Adding new qualities of event and community might be just the ticket.
Local broadcast television could be the new social media.