NYC Television Week: TV Stations Using All Platforms to Engage, Connect with Viewers

Digital, mobile and social platforms delivered to consumers via smart phones and tablets are just new ways for TV stations to reach viewers, and station leaders said all of those options represent opportunity for them, at a Tuesday luncheon panel held during B&C and Multichannel News's NYC Television Week 2013.

The panel comprised Frank Biancuzzo, senior vice president/group head of Hearst Television, Valari Staab, president of the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, and Rebecca Campbell, president of the ABC Owned Television Stations Group. Rod Perth, president and CEO of NATPE, and Alma Derricks, director of customer, media and market strategy at Deloitte Consulting, moderated.

"No one is sitting up here thinking their business is disrupted," said Biancuzzo. "We are all thinking opportunity, and new ways to get to people. Now we actually have ways to get to the younger demographics. No one is sitting there with his or her head in the sand. Everyone needs to be aggressive and I think we are."

Massive breaking-news events, including last year's Superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast hard, have proven how reliant consumers are on local broadcasters.

"We have more than 100 content destinations, all of which serve as touchpoints to our consumers," said Campbell. "When Hurricane Sandy came through New York, we were a first responder because that's who we are. This is an exciting tie for broadcasters. There's so much more interaction and true engagement with viewers like we've never had before."

Staab actually has been increasing investment in local investigative journalism at NBC's 10-owned stations, something that's been somewhat unheard of in the past five years since the great recession of 2008.

"I think local news has become tremendously more important to local communities," she told the panel. "In the years that I was there, San Francisco lost more than 400 journalists. The number of journalists who actually focus on the community and holding people accountable has been severely reduced."

Staab has installed an investigative unit of ten people at NBCU's Hartford station, and found that it really paid off.

"They are working on long-term stories all the time, and those people are experienced in how to handle really difficult situations. And having an investigative unit in a newsroom teaches all of the journalists to become enterprise journalists.

"We've taken newspaper reporters and taught them TV. They start breaking stories and then start being the ones who break stories. That brings attention to that TV station. I talk to them about having Google-proof news: at the end of the day, Google your story and see if your story had something in it that no one else had. Think about what you could have had, and how you could add value to  community instead of just getting out the basic information."

"It's about being a trusted source and over time building a relationship with your viewers," said Biancuzzo.

"During the Boston Marathon bombings, some 68% of the audience in that market tuned into local TV stations and [local cable news network] ACN. At the peak of the capture, we had 700,000 households and 100.000 live streams. Over time, that's  a relationship and it doesn't dissolve that quickly. We have to stay focused on the core business while we build our local brands."

TV stations also have changed their perspective on how they should be delivering breaking news to viewers, said Campbell.

"We used to have all of these debates in our newsrooms: if we had a piece of information and if we pt it up on our Web site who would watch at 5 pm?," she said. "Now, it seems so crazy that we ever even had those discussions. Our viewers depend on us to break the story when the story happens, not around a local newscast."

TV stations still face an uphill battle with bringing viewers to daytime, time slots to which it's increasingly difficult to attract viewers.

"A big challenge for all of us is daytime television," said Staab, who also said it's been an advantage to be able to work with NBCUniversal's syndication arm to develop programming -- and specifically sophomore talker, The Steve Harvey Show, that resonates with daytime audiences.

"With all the hoopla around Oprah's departure, the business wasn't ready to replace her," said Biancuzzo. "Her departure has definitely had a negative impact on schedules," especially 5 p.m.  newscasts that led out of Oprah. "We need stronger development and better options."