With robust growth in streaming, TV news organizations pivoted to embrace the platform, but planting the flag was only the first step.
After launching FAST channels and apps to ensure an OTT presence, news organizations are faced with a wave of more complicated choices. Chief among these are decisions about content and workflow integration. And many companies are treating streaming as if the very future of their news brands depends on it.
“The way we build these channels [now] is how we’re going to build all the channels going forward,” said Stephen Bach, sales manager for news verticals at Amagi, a cloud services company that works with broadcast and broadcast partners in continuous, during a conference TVNewsCheck webinar, Streaming News 2022: Optimizing News Content and Workflow Strategy, last Thursday (July 21).
Throughout the discussion, Bach and streaming executives from NBCUniversal Local, EW Scripps Co., Cox Media Group and Fox Television Stations shared insights and content generation strategies that helped them gain an early competitive edge. in the streaming landscape.
Explore automation tools and the Hub and Spoke model
To add streaming content production to a newsroom’s workload, the company must either hire new employees, assign new responsibilities to existing employees, or both. One of the ways leaders can mitigate the impact that increased workloads could have on staff is to invest in automation, which the Cox Media Group has been doing for the past few years.
“We want [staffers] focus on delivering and creating quality digital content, and not getting bogged down in tools,” said Owen Jennings, the company’s executive director of product and information. He added that Cox plans to continue investing in automation as it improves. “We just want the technology to follow what we’re trying to do,” Jennings said.
In launching some of its first attempts at a FAST channel, NBCUniversal Local built what Meredith McGinn, executive vice president of digitets and original production, called “a small, consolidated core team” to test streaming technology in which the company had invested. This team put technology “on its pace,” she said, created workflow standards, set schedules, then shared their successes with reporters and local division news managers. .
Hub members also engaged in an ongoing conversation about opportunities that have arisen, at live events and other special events, to differentiate channels, McGinn said. She was not the only one to defend the teams of the television information centers.
“The hub and spoke model is really important and a key to success here,” said Socrates Lozano, senior director of ScrippsCast and newsroom innovation at Scripps. To achieve the goal of streaming differentiation, his team asks questions such as, “Which of these stories are uniform across an entire division, and does it make sense to replicate them 40 times or once?” By choosing the latter approach, Lozano said the Scripps hub then feeds that content to local stations, freeing up time for them to focus more on local reporting “and create differentiated content within markets.”
Cross-training of employees and skills development
Hiring new employees to manage continuous production is an obvious solution to workflow problems at first glance. But even if companies choose to ignore the impact new hires can have on the bottom line and explore the job market, they will likely encounter additional challenges.
“Every position is hard to hire,” said Emily Stone, vice president of digital content operations at Fox Television Stations. Citing the much chronicled year-and-a-half big quit, Stone said the competition for talent was high. And with the emergence of digital streaming technology, newsgroups want staff with a range of abilities.
“We’re not just looking for someone who has news experience, understands journalism and has judgment in the news, we’re also looking for people who are tech savvy or can at least figure things out quickly. , especially people with video experience,” Stone said. . “It’s such a unique skill set.”
But these workers are in short supply in an already highly competitive job market. Stone said a solution expands the skills of team members already in-house.
“Our digital content creators here are focusing more on streaming and video and understanding that process and revamping their workflows to accommodate it more than ever,” Stone said. “The fact that they’re spending more time focusing on that means you ticked that box.”
Even making sure the remnants of traditional broadcast staff know that new tech jargon is a hindrance. More than one panelist said their organizations coordinate meetings to teach streaming-related acronyms thrown into newsrooms today with regularity.
“We’ve been doing streaming town halls over the last year to make people feel comfortable speaking the language,” Cox’s Jennings said. “It’s different, and you want to make sure nobody feels left out. When people say ‘DAI’ and ‘slate’, those are all concepts that are just starting to come out of the whole team’s mouth. »
McGinn said his organization brings together small groups of workers for similar meetings — in modest numbers because they might feel awkward asking about the new verbiage in a large group.
Try and fail…and try again
Panelists said one of the most exciting elements of new streaming opportunities is the ability to explore the capabilities of technology and experience content, without the programming limitations inherent in linear broadcasts.
“Content prototyping is really important,” Lozano said. “We prototyped different ways to present the news…and eventually some of that content failed. We took it a long way in a way and ultimately what we discovered is that there’s some flexibility there, in terms of what we can do, but ultimately what our viewer wants of us is… to create [news] content that is still relevant to their community.
For now at least, consumers won’t mind news editors taking their shots, even if they turn out to be air balloons.
“You’re able to test and learn and that’s a beautiful thing about this audience,” said Adam Wiener, founder of Continuous Media and moderator of the panel. “They can come back and if you make a great product and you’re a known brand, they’re going to trust you again, they’re going to try again.”
Wiener, who for more than a decade ran CBS Local Digital Media, suggested “testing segments, not shows.” The reason? The segments are shorter and therefore the stakes are lower.
Using streaming technology, organizations can also test content, get instant feedback on its impact with viewers, and adapt accordingly.
Stone noted that Fox LiveNOW started as a test, based on the station group’s Phoenix market, and streamed live on YouTube for a year before releasing it on its own website. What fueled its growth, in part, was that its producers were able to get viewership data immediately, giving insight into what resonated with viewers and what disconnected them.
“You don’t get that with broadcasting,” Stone said. “It’s just real-time feedback from your audience, which is incredibly valuable in a testing process.”
She said the company is looking closely at the time viewers spend watching LiveNOW as “an aggregate metric” because having lots of viewers for a second isn’t as valuable as having fewer viewers for an hour.
Experimentation is something that networks should welcome not only at the macro level, but also more at the micro level. As Lozano noted, individual markets all have different viewer needs and expectations.
“It’s really important that we leave room for flexibility and innovation so that content producers can build on what makes their specific local market special on streaming,” he said.