Tegna’s Digital-First Approach Rethinks Station’s Role

Complete Coverage: Station Stars of 2017

Coming up through news, Tegna president and CEO Dave Lougee has seen a number of differentiating digital initiatives take root on the content side. But perhaps the group’s most notable digital achievement this year was in sales.

The year 2017 was when Premion, Tegna’s homegrown over-the-top ad-services initiative, took off. The solution provides local and regional advertisers with one-stop access to long-form, OTT content on smart TVs, streaming devices and web browsers.

“We saw an opportunity in the marketplace,” Lougee said. “There was a need that advertisers didn’t know they needed.”

Lougee said the revenue goal for Premion in 2017 is $25 million to $30 million. It’s on course to scrape the northern end of that. “It’s off to a great start,” Lougee enthused.

So is he. It was June 1 that Gracia Martore, the then-president and CEO of Tegna, retired, and Lougee added the chief executive title. Earlier in his career, Lougee was VP of news at WRC Washington and VP and news director at KUSA Denver. To him, the digital revolution just means many more platforms from which to feed news-hungry consumers.

Tegna’s stations have been increasing their digital-first investigations, which exist primarily online, though they typically do have a television component, too. WXIA Atlanta and KHOU Houston partnered on “Selling Girls,” a six-part investigation into the sex trafficking of children that came out in October.

Tegna is moving toward digital-first newsrooms, making sure there are no hurdles to clear to push content out to digital platforms. Stronger social and digital performance, Tegna brass believes, means bigger ratings. Bigger ratings mean more revenue. “When you show people how it can be done, you start to build momentum,” Lougee said.

And before the term fake news became a common one, often rolling off President Donald Trump’s tongue and from his fingertips onto Twitter, Tegna had created its VERIFY platform, which provides fact-checking on hot topics that are often submitted to stations by social media users.

Lougee said the increased skepticism among the public about the media and other institutions is good for platforms such as VERIFY. One of the benefits to emerge over the past year, he added, is “people start asking, is that necessarily true?” VERIFY, rolled out at the Tegna stations this year, can help them find out.

Social media, Lougee noted, is an ideal forum for learning what viewers are thinking about in a given market, and, conceivably, what they’d like to see stories about. “Social is a gift in terms of what is on people’s minds, in real time,” he said.

Tegna leadership is pushing staffers to think of digital as a fast, effective way to connect with users both within the DMA and beyond. “We no longer think of ourselves as television stations, but as 24/7 digital operations,” Tegna VP of news Ellen Crooke said. “It’s a simple concept, but it’s made all the difference.”

A data-rich approach drives the digital strategy at Tegna, whether it’s related to content or revenue. “On both sides of the ball, data is the new currency,” Lougee said. “The only barrier is the ability to get the right data, and to utilize it.”

Homegrown Shows

Tegna, with 46 stations in 38 markets, has been a leader in terms of producing programs for the group, making the company less reliant on syndicated series that often deliver a so-so result at a hefty price. The shows typically feature digital extensions. KUSA produces Daily Blast Live, a 30-minute news and entertainment show that airs live in every time zone. That means producing seven live half-hour feeds per day, as well as streaming live twice daily on Facebook, and on YouTube. Lougee refers to Daily Blast Live as “a dramatically modernized talk show.”

WWL New Orleans produces the singing competition series Sing Like a Star, which allows undiscovered talent to submit their stuff through a mobile app.

In Seattle, KING has a popular show called Local Lens that airs on YouTube.

“Digital is in our DNA,” Crooke said. “It’s in everything we do.”

Tegna gathers new ideas for digital and other platforms at its Innovation Summits, where 20 to 25 staffers assemble at headquarters in McLean, Va., and share their thoughts on new projects. The summits are held at least four times a year, with different staffers in attendance, and Lougee said Tegna may start holding them at the stations. Many of the attendees are millennials. “Digital natives are more apt to have the right ideas than me,” Lougee said.

The fact that the company’s boss is a former newshound is “such an inspiration” for Tegna’s news gatherers, Crooke said. She noted that Lougee has a knack for bringing out the best in staffers in terms of digital performance. “Dave’s a believer, and he inspires all the people within Tegna to be believers too,” she said. “That’s where our success comes from.”

Lougee believes the Tegna stations are well-positioned to be that voice of reason in a media marketplace replete with sketchy sources. “People look to us to sift fact from fiction,” he said.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.