Posts Tagged ‘ Ratings ’

Stand Up For Innovation

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Have you seen The Six?  It’s our new 6:00 newscast, with anchors who stand, and a style that’s a lot less formal.  It has some people talking, more people watching, and a few feeling a bit uncomfortable.

It’s an attempt to respond to our audience, break away from the standard style of traditional newscasts, and break down the stereotype that all newscasts are basically the same.  It’s a way to make the newscast more interesting, informative and entertaining, and fortunately, it’s already paid off with better ratings.

Standing For Something

So why are the anchors standing? Some people think we’re just doing it to be different, but we’re really trying to create a more informal look and feel for the show, and encourage more informal communication between anchors and reporters.  It’s not just window dressing.  And I think it’s been effective.

Others disagree, though.  One viewer complained that they look homeless.  Another said they must be angry about losing the desk.  And MinnPost’s David Brauer wondered if we actually sold the furniture.  Funny stuff, but I hope one cosmetic touch isn’t overshadowing an innovative attempt to change the style and substance of our newscasts, and turn them into separate, unique, stand-alone broadcasts.

Look-alikes?

We’ve heard the criticism for years, “all newscasts look alike.”  And in some ways that’s right.  In general, we’re all covering the same stories, using similar techniques, and relying on similar research.  So, we often end up with similar stuff, the same way Time and Newsweek often end up with similar covers.  And it makes even more sense that our 5:00 and 6:00 newscasts, products of the same newsroom and editorial leadership, would seem similar.

So, when people said they weren’t watching at 6:00 because it felt like a rehash from 5:00, we listened.  We’re done being Time and Newsweek at 5:00 and 6:00.  Instead, how about Time and Esquire?  Or, maybe Newsweek and Newsday?  We’re trying to tell the 6:00 stories in a different way, avoiding overlapping stories whenever possible, and when a story is big enough to be in both shows, we’re trying to take different angles.

Storytelling Techniques

The whole approach is different on The Six, with anchors and reporters talking to each other, rather than at the viewer.  The goal is to be more conversational, ad libbing whenever possible, to let the information and personalities shine through.

That’s why we have a feature called, quite simply, “Need to Know.”  When was the last time you heard an anchor say “here is what you need to know?”  Why sugarcoat things?  Why get caught up in flowery writing and fancy terminology?  Instead, we give you the information you want, and the important facts you need – what you “Need to Know.”

We’re also trying to bring extra context to The Six, with a project I’m leading, called “The Flip Side.”  Again, it’s a simple concept: take a story that might appear in any newscast, present those basic facts, and then look at “The Flip Side.”  On the day that gas prices peaked, we looked why high prices are actually  worse for gas stations than for drivers, and when a new LRT line was in the news, we looked at more efficient ways to spend transportation money.

We’re still working on ways to pick and present these stories, but none of them would make it on an old-fashioned newscast, all of them are (hopefully) interesting, and they definitely give The Six some extra depth.

We’re also finding ways to use The Wire, our interactive website, to get the audience more involved in the on-air product.  And we’ve got some other projects that are ready to launch.  But we don’t want to go with too much too soon, because we don’t want to jar our audience.  It’s a fine line, delivering new stuff to attract new viewers, while moving slowly enough to hang onto the old ones, and so far it seems like we’re pulling it off.

Immediate Success

The May ratings are out, and The Six not only won in total viewers, but the prime demographics that are the lifeblood of  TV advertising.  That means we kept most of the old viewers, folks who expected to see a traditional newscast, and we recruited some of the new viewers that we targeted.  That’s amazing success for one month of work, and it certainly bodes well for the future, because word will spread, the new projects and storytelling techniques will become part of the audiences expectations, and we’ll have more of a chance to promote the product.

But we still need your help.  Watch the show, and let us know what you think.  If you like it, let your friends know.  And if you don’t like something, let me know.  This is a unique project, trying to mold a newscast based on audience feedback, so we want as much input as possible.

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Is MLB.tv Striking Out? There’s An App For That

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Scott Litman, Magnet 360 Managing Partner

It’s well established that I’m interested in audiences, new media and sports.  And so is my brother.  Scott Litman is a leader in the marketing community, Managing Partner of Magnet 360, co-founder of the Minnesota Cup, and the best businessman I know.  He’s also a huge sports fan, which is why we are writing this post together.  Simply put, Major League Baseball needs our help.  MLB may be hitting home runs in technology, but in marketing and distribution, it’s definitely striking out.  So we’re stepping up to the plate to offer some solutions.

Major League Investment

Major League Baseball has made an impressive investment in new technology, but that investment will be wasted if MLB doesn’t learn to embrace its audience.

MLB.TV streams every game to fans around the world, offers DVR-like services for those that miss games, and is among the first to embrace new platforms like iPhone, iPad, and Android to put the baseball experience in the hands of its fans.  These investments have not been trivial, and MLB has been a trailblazer among the major sports.  And yet, dragged down by archaic contracts and an old world media mindset, MLB limits the potential of these investments to the detriment of the game, the teams, the fans, the advertisers, and their TV partners.

Blackout Blues

Key words: "where available"

Many local fans who routinely watch games on TV are not able to watch all games, because MLB blacks out local broadcasts on all of these new platforms.   Why not allow them to purchase the subscription to MLB.TV so they can watch online, on an iPhone or an iPad?  We realize MLB has contractual issues with local TV providers and they can’t just flip a switch.  But, the tools and technology are readily available that would allow MLB to give full advertising credit for every digital viewer of a home game within the broadcast area, actually enhancing the revenue of the local TV broadcasters.

Will their viewership cannibalize the number watching on traditional TV?  Doubtful.  People rarely choose smaller screens over big ones.  But they do choose small screens when they don’t have any other options, meaning local broadcasters will have access to many more total viewers if MLB just opens the doors.

Yes, a few fans will choose to watch online or on devices instead of subscribing to cable TV, but that’s only a problem for the cable company,  not the team or cable broadcaster – because as long as MLB runs the same ads on these other platforms, cable advertisers will still get the same (or even more) total viewers.  And since those viewers are using their screens just like TV’s – not computers – those viewers are just as valuable to advertisers.  CBS proved that during its very successful online broadcasts of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, getting the same per-viewer rates for commercials, whether they aired online or on TV.

Money Matters

What about charging separately for these online ads, rather than letting the local broadcasters reap the benefits?  That would be shortsighted, and could create the same concerns among broadcasters that led to the current setup.

Under our plan, though, MLB would still end up with just as many advertising opportunities as it currently has, because it could still run its own ads over the out-of-market feed (the only feed that’s available now, anyway, since the local feed is blacked out).  Meanwhile, the once lost viewer now becomes one that can watch more games, consume more ads, increase revenue through subscription to MLB, increase ad revenue to TV partners and be a happier and more loyal fan.

iPricing

For iPhone users MLB is a very popular App, albeit an expensive one at $14.99.  In fact, that’s a clear sign that fans will pay, even for an App that becomes obsolete at the end of the season.  Unlike most Apps, fans are required to buy a new one at the start of each season.  It’s aggressive from a pricing standpoint, but fans have accepted it.

Still, many fans were put over the top when they saw that just days after shelling out $14.99 for their iPhone Apps that they had to pay another $14.99 to get the same App on iPad.  Based on feedback on iTunes, many fans are irritated by this pricing policy.

These are loyal and passionate fans, and a modest $5 upgrade would have rewarded their loyalty, and would likely have been greeted warmly by most.  Instead, MLB proved that it’s tone deaf towards its audience.

In fact, attempting to share feedback with MLB is an exercise in futility.  A web form with a 500 character limit, and a one sentence response – both standardized and inappropriate – makes it clear that MLB has no interest in listening to fans.  That should change, for the good of the game, and baseball’s bottom lines.

Major League Opportunities

MLB is so close.  They have the assets, and they have the opportunity, but their policies fail to capitalize on this at their own expense.  A few modest changes in policy could go a long ways towards increasing MLB revenue, accessibility of the game to fans, advertiser revenue, and team loyalty.  It seems like such an easy proposition as there are no losers and only winners. It’s a matter of whether MLB wants to go a little bit into digital or change the game.  At the moment, like much of the media industry, it’s got one foot into the future and one foot stuck in the past.

What do you think?  Let us know.  Unlike MLB, we really are interested in your feedback.

The Golden Rule Of Communication

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Every once in a while, a tweet really gets my attention, proving that 140 characters really can convey a complex message.  That’s what happened when a friend retweeted this gem from Fred Cuellar:  “There is Always An Audience, Even If You Don’t See Them.”  So true, because without an audience, there is no communication.  And those 11 words work nicely with my own Golden Rule of Communication, that the most important part of any message is the receiver.

I work in a world where audience is everything.  TV ratings determine how my work is judged, and how much CBS gets paid.  But I believe focusing on audience is the key to success in all kinds of communication – and beyond that, I believe the communication model reaches far beyond the standard definition.

Many channels of communication

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time analyzing other writers’ messages, and over time, I’ve come to realize that just about everything falls under the broad umbrella of the communication model.  Sales, marketing, customer relations, coaching, teaching, managing people, running a website – even raising children – all require effective communication.

I’ve also noticed that the common bond between most successful people – whether they are coaches, politicians, salesmen or marketers – is that they are excellent communicators.  Their styles may differ, but they all understand how to connect with their audience – whether it’s one person or a million.  And I believe their secret is audience awareness.

Trump’s trouble

Still, some of the best make mistakes.  I’m sure Donald Trump is furious about this week’s episode of Celebrity Apprentice.  In fact, I bet he’s mad enough to fire somebody.

The show featured country star Trace Adkins and two emerging singers in a clear attempt to attract country music fans.  But the strategy failed, because the show ran against the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS.  How could this happen?  An opportunity was lost, and a smart strategy was ruined, because somebody forgot about the audience in the middle of their planning process.

Audience awareness

Don’t worry, though, I’m not suggesting style over substance.  Far from it.  I’m simply suggesting that the best style, strategy and substance will all be wasted if you lose sight of your audience.  Create your strategy, choose your channel, and craft your message, but always remember the receiver.

For example, if you’re designing a website, prioritize the user experience, even if that means dialing back some of the bells and whistles.  On the other hand, if being on the leading edge of technology is your ultimate message, those bells and whistles may be the best way to convey it.  In other words, always look at your message through the eyes of the audience – throughout the process – because what the user understands on their end is what defines how much of your intended message actually gets through.

Learning from Zappos

This is very similar to the ICEE theory of Twitter, a popular concept created by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He says all Tweets should either Inspire, Connect, Educate or Entertain, which resonates for me, because it’s so similar to my own ideas about writing for TV.  For years, I’ve taught writers that they should use all of their writing and video production techniques to inform, interest and entertain our viewers.  Each theory is simple, focuses on the audience, and can be easily applied to other communication platforms.

In fact, Hsieh’s success showcases this communications cross-over. He’s successful in e-commerce because of an easy-to-use website, and customer-friendly policies.  In other words, his success is audience-based.  So, it’s no surprise that he’s also good at social media, and just about everything else.  He’s simply a great communicator, who realizes that focusing on the audience works across the spectrum.

Born communicators

In reality, most of us do this instinctively.  Even as kids, we knew which parent to ask for something special, when to ask for it, and how to word it.  As adults, we realize some people respond better to a phone call, others to an e-mail.

Yes, it’s just common sense, but that’s really what communication is, isn’t it? You’re simply creating a message to get past any interference and connect with the audience.  So, if you anticipate the interference, and adjust to avoid it, your results will be even more successful.

What do you think?  Do these theories apply to your business?  Or are there times when audience should be secondary to your point?  I’m always interested in my audience, so please let me know what you think.

Why Journalists Should Use Twitter

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I get asked a lot of questions about social media.  Fellow journalists wonder why I spend so much time on Twitter, while online friends wonder why so few of my colleagues do.  This blog seems like a good place to answer those questions, and explain why they matter.

The journalists’ questions make sense if you put yourself in our shoes.  Why write messages for hundreds of people, when you’re used to writing for hundreds of thousands?  And if your entire professional life revolves around daily deadlines, how do you justify taking days or weeks to learn about these new tools?

Facebook First

Journalists want information now, and we want to distribute it immediately. That’s the way we’re wired, and that’s why our first (and often only) step into social media is the easiest:  Facebook.  I did a story about Amelia Santaniello learning Facebook, almost exactly a year ago,  that had some excellent analysis from David Erickson of Tunheim Partners.  He said Facebook is so popular because it’s “easy to use, and simple to understand.”

That’s also why it’s popular with so many journalists.  But while it’s a great first step for using social media to interact with friends, family and maybe even colleagues, it misses the real benefits – particularly network expansion – of Twitter.

Advantages of Twitter

Twitter is a much better tool for journalists, because it’s built to connect people who don’t already know each other – something journalists have traditionally done over the phone.  In fact, when Twitter is done right, it’s basically phone-work on steroids.  Thanks to Twitter, I now have hundreds of extra contacts, places to find stories, and people to poll for information (crowdsourcing).  Better yet, those hundreds turn into thousands whenever my connections retweet my questions.  That tool has paid off so often, I actually quit counting all the tips and stories I’ve gotten through Twitter.

Social media sites also allow for extra access to news sources.  Sometimes, it’s planned,  like Norm Coleman announcing plans for the future on Facebook, and sometimes it’s not, like Kevin Love  Tweeting about Kevin McHale before the Wolves had a chance to announce he’d been fired.  These days, a good follow list can be just as valuable as a good contact list.

Still, one of the most effective uses of social media is rarely discussed:  market research.

A Virtual Water Cooler

We are constantly searching for “water cooler” stories, things that get people talking, which is what Facebook and Twitter are all about.  Particularly Twitter, with a chance to watch EVERYTHING in your tweet stream.  The random, coded conversations that intimidate newcomers can be incredibly valuable for journalists.  They can help us identify trends, measure buzz, and react to it immediately.  In other words, there’s a virtual water cooler right there on your computer.

In fact, while I was working on this post, the New York Times discussed ways to use Twitter as a tracking tool, calling it a personalized news feed.  Whether watching  the Trending Topics list, searching Twitter directories, or simply observing the comments in your own tweet stream, there are so many ways Twitter can help you analyze the audience.  And the information is not only free, it’s available immediately.

I realize that TV already has valuable measurement tools.  But overnight ratings have limitations, because they aren’t posted until the next day, and they only measure the audience in 15 minute increments.  Since most of our news stories are only one or two minutes long, those ratings provide relatively imprecise feedback.

We’re pretty good at analyzing those numbers, extrapolating them, and figuring out what works for our audience – but when you’re looking for an edge, extra information is always helpful.  Yes, the analysis needs to be strategic and targeted, but if you agree that the audience is the key to communication,  you shouldn’t turn down anything that helps you better understand it.

Other Businesses?

My question is, how does this translate to other businesses?  We’re all trying to connect with our customers/audiences, so how do you use social media to improve your business and understand your customers better?  Please let me know.  That’s how I’ll get to know this audience better.