Even as stations learn and perfect new digital interactive techniques, the formula for success is simple. It's all about extensive hyper-local content. Above all, TV broadcasters must make their online platforms original, participatory, conversational and commercial. Bottoms-up enterprise is required.
Television stations are in the same quandary as housing and other industries whose core assets are undergoing excruciating revaluation due to tumultuous economic, technological and competitive change.
If an estimated 20 million-plus homes find themselves without local television station reception when analog switches to all digital early next year, they will be lost to broadcasters that can ill afford to lose more viewers or ratings points.
While the advent of digital multichannel 24-hour local news and sports sounds promising, such parallel programming efforts may not generate much money during a protracted economic slump. On a broader scale, it's all about establishing yourself as the authoritative source for quality detailed micro-local information on TV, the Web, cable, radio and mobile.
Local TV stations appear headed for the same restructuring and consolidation ravaging the banking, telecommunications and airline industries. Stations able to solidify themselves as the definitive sources of local news and advertising will thrive if they find new ways to translate that online.
Effective digital age branding of people, content products and services demands skilled consumer engagement, relevance, function, convenience, peer socializing and applied value--for just 30 seconds or as long as it lasts. It essentially means comprehending, bonding and relentlessly responding to your niche constituents.
Digital relief for traditional ad-supported media--especially local television and newspapers--may not come fast enough to avoid serious financial repercussions in 2009. Local TV's ability to generate revenues from interactive platforms is key to surviving economic travails.
Booming international demand for products and services is expected to be the salvation of American business, but recent events such as Russia's aggression against Georgia and even the Beijing Olympics are reminders of the minefields that must be maneuvered for a shot at global wealth.
The divergent power of selection was once the domain of television and newspapers that fed the masses the news and interpretation they deemed fit. The seemingly pervasive Internet has joined their ranks in unexpected ways, as evidenced by the Olympics--and that is the fault of consumers as much as it is NBC Universal.
Time Warner's plans to recast itself as a supersized digital content player will fail as long as it lacks the strategic mindset necessary to transform its products and services--including its blue-chip magazines--from static to interactive gems. Selling non-core assets and relying on cyclical traditional film and TV hits isn't going to cut it. To date, Time Warner is just another digital wannabe dabbler.