The Broadcast News Renaissance

Talking heads, dancing monkeys, blabbermouths and puppets are just a few of the endearing terms used to describe broadcast news reporters. It’s no surprise that television news is sliding down a slippery slope. Gone are the days when Walter Cronkite would appear on a TV set in a crowded living room for the six o’clock news. The golden days of the anchorman on your local or network newscast have tarnished leaving us all to wonder about the future of the business.

Ten years from now journalism will be an entirely different industry. It’s unlikely newspapers will circulate to the extent they do today, if at all. It would be a stretch to say people will go online to read news articles much less pay for them. While broadcast has a higher chance of surviving for a little while longer, even it will soon be laid to rest.

There are obvious problems with television news. TV’s general decline, less on-air advertising, the emergence of new platforms online and on mobile devices, the disappearing anchor, inconvenient scheduling, content picked for viewers and the competition and collaboration from and with social media… to name a few. That’s what’s wrong now, today, and this very second. In 2025, problems will still exist, maybe even some of the one’s that do today, but it will look more like this.

TV news will not be on TV necessarily, think on demand streaming. User generated content will rule the newscast. Consumers will become part of the news. Broadcasts will not be as formal as they are today. News will be personalized, to a creepy, “I can read your mind,” level. News media will become seamless with reality. We will cut paychecks from funds coming from new age advertising, subscriptions, content licensing, crowdfunding and early investment in new technology.

Let’s take a look.

In a decade nobody will watch television the way we recognize it now. New Republic’s Erik Malinowski says mobile devices already dominate streaming and tiny screens have replaced large television sets. The problem… newscasts are not streamed on those tiny screens. Broadcast news is delivered first on TV and then on the web. Even then it was not intended for the mobile/online platform and therefore not as compatible.

That’s not the only reason for the decline. There’s no money in television. In fact, it’s losing money. Wired said Netflix is proof that TV can happen without advertisement sealing the fate of news on an actual TV. They say Netflix changed the entire economics of the advertising industry for the next decade. BBC tells us ads will be irrelevant to news media within years. With no revenue there can be no news.

It’s obvious that emerging platforms will take over television. Online news, mobile news, social media and even blogs and YouTube are beating out traditional outlets. Pew Research Center said over 65 percent of people use tablets and mobile devices for weekly news and over 35 percent use them for this purpose on a daily basis. Variety said there is an obvious movement of news consumers from paper and TV to tablets and phones. Network news, like Fox, CNN, CBS and NBC are seeing a higher rate of new online consumers than in television. MediaPost said with traditional platforms there is only a one-way street, but online content becomes two-way. They also said until TV is able to successfully connect itself with online content that allows user interaction with networks, the traditional platform will become irrelevant.

In 1985, 48 million Americans watched nightly news networks. In 2013, half of that figure, 24.5 million, tune in. That’s not all, that same year, 1985, 47 percent of Americans could identify Dan Rather from a photograph. In 2013, two years before his “misremembrance” scandal, only 27 percent of American’s could identify Brian Williams. It’s not just television that is disappearing; it’s the news anchor. Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather were some of the most trusted men in America. In 2009, again before William’s was taken off-air, people trusted comedian Jon Stewart of The Daily Show more than the NBC anchor as their news source. This proves it’s not just the outdated format of television that is responsible for the decline of TV news, but the distrust of those delivering the news.

Other than the general decline of television and the distrust of news people, who has time to sit and watch a scheduled program? BBC said it best, “Why wait until 6.30 in the evening, when continuous news channels, websites and platforms like Twitter make it available in real time? Why rely on the three major TV networks when there is now a multiplicity of media?”

Currently there is not consumer input in television programming, meaning content is chosen for viewers. The newscast is put together by a group of producers and reporters and packaged for broadcast. Today consumers want to choose what they watch. They want to handpick stories that interest them. The Netflix exodus is proof that people want to select what they watch even it that means viewing one story at a time rather than a full fledged newscast.

Finally, social media. It’s here, it’s loud and it isn’t going anywhere… at least for a while. It’s already changed the way we get television news. In December 2013, Facebook announced that subtle changes in its algorithm would push “high quality content” (like video news stories) to the top of your news feed. It was the start of the love/hate relationship between social media and television news. While networks want their content shared and distributed, both for publicity and the natural journalistic instinct to spread content, they also worry about the dilution of their brand, of course, without compensation.

There are obvious issues in the way we currently create, distribute, consume and fund television news. The industry will be extinct if it continues down this path, and what a loss that would be! The 1960 presidential debate between Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy, JFK’s assassination, a man landing on the moon, Cronkite’s broadcasts from Vietnam, the killing of MLK, the O.J. Simpson trial and the September 11th attacks; Broadcast has changed more than news, it has changed the world. Such an influential medium will survive but it must change.

Allow me to show you the future of broadcast news.

In 2025 we know television will not be watched on a TV set, but a variety of screens either mobile or on a Smart TV. Screens will become part of your environment, they will infiltrate to a point where there will be no distinction between reality and television. There will be combination of on-demand and constant streaming of content… and lots of it. Consumers will not be restricted by channels, stations or networks but will rather select content itself. With round-the-clock programming of your choice there is no need for scheduled shows.

It will be difficult to produce that much content without the use of user generated content. In ten years this will also infiltrate our business. There is a certain stigma surrounding UGC. It comes off as sub-par, poor quality, third-party footage used only when networks have no other options. That will no longer be the case. Collaboration among networks and viewers will become the norm. While Facebook and Twitter may serve as a tip-lines and information gathering sites now, they will soon become databases of sharable and newsworthy content provided by linked consumers.

The prominence of UGC will lead to the introduction of the user in the broadcast; Perhaps not literally on the screen for all to see, but the hyper-personalization of newscasts where the user is able to insert himself into his own news content. Because we will have more access to footage it will be easier for broadcasters to create a virtual reality experience where viewers will literally be in the story. By becoming part of the news, viewers will be more invested in the news, care more about the stories we tell, have a personal connection to almost every event worldwide, become more loyal and committed and will be more proactive about their news consumption. This new technology will ultimately draw more consumers to our content (not network, those no longer exist, remember?).

With these huge technological changes, the newscast will inevitably become less formal. Yes, we can say goodbye to talking heads and awkward cross talk among anchors. Neal Shapiro, former President of NBC News said, “In five years, I think you will still see all three evening newscasts in existence although I think they will look a little different, perhaps a little less formal, with more clear pushes to the internet.” The look of news will certainly evolve. There will be more diverse presenters, a wider variety of coverage and a collection of genres to produce a personal show unique to each viewer. The content will also become informal. Newscasts will be a fast-paced, visual-heavy, storytelling experience. Facts will be memorable, relevant and brief. Our goal will be found in both brevity and narrative as we move toward extremes rather than a combination of both techniques.

Here’s the kicker. Hold on tight because this is where news will completely change. Personalization: It’s already begun and in ten years will be the cornerstone of news media. There are so many facets of personalization. It will come in phases. First consumers will be given content options to choose from, similar to Netflix. Then there will be algorithms that recommend news you might enjoy based on surveys and data collected from previous interactions. Yes, giving out personal data will be expected. As this becomes finer tuned, technology will be so in sync with us it will be able to predict what we want before we even know we want it. It will know in the morning to show me human-interest news pieces sure to start my day off on the right foot. During my lunch break my screen will automatically stream the world’s top headlines, brief and informative. At night I will get my local news, and follow-up on any news I showed a particular interest in. Yes, it’s creepy. Netflix is already developing this mind reading technology.

The broadcast world could take a hint from Netflix, especially when it comes to personalization. The company’s chief product officer, Neil Hunt, talks about the possible perks of extreme personalization. First, there is now an outlet for small name, obscure media to be seen. For example, while not everybody watches some of the Indy documentaries on Netflix, a niche market does, and with personalization, more people will. This could strengthen local news stations. Geographic personalization will be key in bringing viewers back to small markets. While it can keep consumers loyal it also allows them to branch out. Recommendations will offer new content as well. This could even be a form of revenue for the business: higher levels of personalization cost more.

Because all of our technology will be connected to each other and to us, the personalization of news will only be fitting. Our devices will know what we want to watch, when we want to watch it, how and even why. It will be seamless. Gone are the days of awkward scheduling, inopportune news notifications and time wasting TV binges. The news will become part of our daily routine and ultimately part of us. With all this talk of technology you might be thinking, “What about people?” but it’s quite obvious they will be more important than ever. Broadcast is the media of the people; it needs human interest and emotion, something robots and computers cannot quite understand (yet). Content creators will have to be an integral part of this introduction.

All of this sounds and is very expensive. Let’s be honest, if it isn’t making money, it won’t last. A plethora of media experts have offered their opinions on how broadcast will make ends meet. First, if advertising is going to remain, it needs to be quality work. No more Bob King Kia, Krazy Kevin Powell, cheaply made content. Subscriptions will work too. I know this seems old school, like something your grandma had for Reader’s Digest, but think of it this way: people subscribe to Netflix. Subscriptions to content providers that offer an array of options, not simply to one news network, will become more prevalent. Networks will license their material out to these service providers in exchange for profit. (What should we call it, Netnews? We will work on the name later.) Marc Andreessen blogs about software, he says crowdfunding will be influential to journalists, especially investigative ones. If a reporter can campaign for a specific story and get public support, he can also get public funds. This might be more applicable to freelance journalists but nonetheless valuable and innovative. New technology will be implemented to host this new content. If networks and broadcast outlets begin investing in this innovation now the can be at the helm of change. This could also include creating conglomerates among networks and stations to license content to providers, apps, and technology developers. The earlier broadcast can get in the game, the better.

So where does that leave us?

We know our current model of broadcast news is not going to hold up much longer. It’s becoming outdated and ineffective. Nobody watches television, therefore nobody advertises on TV anymore. This is because people rely on mobile devices, tablets and computers to deliver their news. These platforms do not help news anchors who have lost trust and identity in the new media market. With no star power, no time and no patience, scheduled TV is over and the generation that can commit to watching timed programming is phasing out. Not only do consumers want to control when they watch the news, they want to control what they watch. Social media and the web in general are changing the way we do news, almost everyday.

We also know how important broadcast is. Video is more compelling than any other medium. Storytelling works. Broadcast takes complex issues and makes them easy for the average consumer to digest. Broadcasters are educators, investigators, the eyes and ears for the public and above all, communicators. So we have to come up with solutions.

A lot of these solutions are advanced prototypes of technology already in development, others are ideas based on older or current models and some of it is science fiction at the moment.

On demand news and streaming services remove the TV from television. No more sitting down for a program or even checking a device for updates. It’s a constant flow of information, all the time, everywhere. This means we need more sources. Enter UGC. Content provided by users will be significantly more important and eloquent than it is now. News providers will be able to choose what footage they need from stories from content banks. With all of this content surrounding us it’s only a matter of time before the consumer will be able to put himself into the news, virtually perhaps, and live the created reality of the world’s headlines. This will ultimately make news less formal; even newscasts will see more crossover content and less teleprompter reading. While we are at it, let’s personalize news too. Social media is personalized, so are phones, computers and Netflix accounts. Personalization is the key to the future of broadcast. There will be data collected, recommendations made and even sensory technology to detect what you want to see before you realize you want to see it. Media will become integrated into our lives so seamlessly most will not even be aware of it’s presence. The cherry on top of this future broadcast news sundae is that it can and will make money. Now is the time to get in on the ground level and invest in this technology, develop innovation and connect with the movers and the shakers and create the future we want to see in broadcast.

It’s time to make a name for broadcast again. The renaissance starts now.

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