As general manager of Scripps’ over-the-top video news service Newsy, Blake Sabatinelli has to be as savvy reading millennial tastes as he is a newsman. And it is to Sabatinelli’s advantage that he straddles both worlds. At 35, he may be at the older millennial end but he gets it — people his age and younger know what they want (at least in terms of news content) and want it now. He has also worked in traditional news arenas (TV newsrooms in Tampa, Fla., and Washington, and in the Scripps group as well) enough to also get the nuances, for good or bad, of broadcast journalism, newsroom culture and what makes cross-demo audiences tick. On the heels of Newsy’s May 8 NewFront event, where he announced the debut of Newsy’s first linear newscast, Sabatinelli spoke to B&C contributing editor Diana Marszalek about what it takes to reach millennials, where Newsy fits into journalism and why young viewers aren’t watching more news shows. An edited transcript follows.
The Newsy brand is built around short-form video distributed over-the-top so that it gets to the millennials all news organizations are struggling to reach. Have you figured out what this group wants?
They are looking for you to value their time. They want the news to be to the point, they want it to be there for them and fast and they don’t want to have to figure it out. This is a generation that’s really pressed for time; not necessarily people who have nine-to-five careers. More than anything, just valuing people’s time gets you a whole long way — especially with millennials.
Do you get the mindset behind those sorts of demands?
Absolutely. Look, I work 12 hours a day and have two kids and a marriage. I am totally sympathetic to a generation of folks who say I want it my way, when I want it and how I want it — and right now. Those people get what they want — and there are a thousand people behind you who have it. Plus, I come from the news business, which is not an industry in which people are known for their patience. News people like to move fast and get things done.
You’re about to launch a two-hour nightly newscast, The Why, on Newsy’s linear channel, with stories as long as 10 minutes. Isn’t that the antithesis of what the Newsy brand is built on?
It’s an extension of the brand. You have to be in a lot of places. You can’t be just OTT or digital or cable. You have to be all of them. The Why is taking that amazing on-demand content and putting it on a pedestal and allowing it to breathe and give people the chance to absorb the stories. It is an integration, and it is a change. But I think it’s the success of the evolution of the connected TV platforms that we are on. I envision Newsy being one of the leading news brands of what the new world of television is. We would be out of our minds to not try to capitalize on an environment where people are looking for something better.
You say The Why is going to break the traditional model of broadcast news. How so?
If you look at traditional news, it’s focused on what, where and when, and then moves to the next news. Our approach to storytelling is navigating these stories and actually having people understand what’s happening around them.
Is what we have now on TV really that bad?
Look at the demographics of who’s watching; the reality is, they are not attracting a younger audience. We should be trying new things instead of relying on an old model we have been using for 50 years.
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