Adapting Your Station – Broadcast, Cord Cutters and Hybrid Productions

by Bob Duthaler, President, JAG

If you have been in this business for over 10 years, you recall that there was only one way to do it.  The formula was simple, cover the event in full, get it to post and air it on cable – repeat.  That applied to both meetings and township events.  Somewhere along the way in recent years, the viewing habits of the consumer has changed, and so must the formula.  Stations need to adapt to move forward and survive.  We will cover three areas to focus on to move forward with: Broadcast Trend, Cord Cutters and Hybrid Productions.

Before I break down the three areas we are going to discuss, I want to plant a thought in your mind about your station.  You should think of the station as a marketing arm of your township.  But aside from the fact that we cover meetings of all sorts and help keep government open to the public, your station should be used to market all the good things about your town.  If you keep that thought in mind, it will help your station move forward with a mission.

Broadcast Trend:  This is probably the slowest of all the changes we are going to talk about.  Most stations are still broadcasting in SD using analog, composite video, and audio.  This is the same technology the stations used in the 70s when the first went on air.  That is 50 years without change!  Until the cable company’s feet are put to the fire, change will not take place.  For that to happen, it needs to take place on both the state and local level.  On the state level, JAG has already enacted changes to benefit your station.  The BPU has already stated that cable companies like Verizon that are on the system-wide franchise agreement need to provide high-definition channels to municipalities, include station listings on the electronic guide and make available equipment/training for productions.  JAG will continue to fight for municipalities on both the state and federal level.  But on the local end, you as station managers need to take action to move your station forward.  For those with local franchise agreements, you need to prepare for the movement towards HD in your upcoming negotiations.  The cable companies are not just going to give you these upgrades, you need to ask and pressure them to do so.  In addition, you need to make sure your station is ready for that change.  You need to have an HD broadcasting system in place that is capable of sending out an HD-SDI signal that can be handed off to the cable company. 

Cord Cutters:  To understand this new trend of watching TV (or perhaps we should say video), most of us don’t have to look any further than our own homes.  If you have kids under 25 you already know their viewing habits.  Most split the consumption of video on a phone, tablet or computer with watching Netflix, Hulu or live sports on a large screen TV.  A recent study showed that during the month of July 2022, more people viewed video online than a traditional cable viewing (Note:  it should be noted that there is no football in July, which would have changed viewing habits towards traditional).  With that thought in mind, you need to start exploring ways to have your content available on multiple platforms.  These can include YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms.  You should also consider streaming your station live on the web.  Plus, to accommodate cord cutters, you should have a plan for an Apple TV, ROKU or Fire TV app.  There are several vendors who are supportive of JAG that understand this and have offered up solutions to get you underway.

Hybrid Productions:  Here is where we need to embrace new technology, explore what we can do and investigate other possibilities.  Hybrid does not only apply to meetings and bringing in Zoom and in-person together.   Hybrid explores ways you can take your productions that are normally live-to-tape or post-driver and make them live.  Can you have multiple people working in different locations to collaborate to make a production?  How can you operate your station virtually?  These are all questions and answers to the hybrid production and operation scenario.  During the next few months and beyond, we will discuss these through webinars, manager’s round table discussions and vendor presentations. Now is the time to explore these three properties I spoke of and how this can become a marketing arm of your operation to benefit your municipality, school, or organization.  Reach out to stations that are doing this already, attend JAG meetings and webinars for further information and reach out to vendors who understand what JAG members are going through, where they want to go and, more importantly, our budget constraints.  I hope you take this into account and help move your station forward.