OTT’s potential to innovate with local news is largely stuck at repackaging

OTT’s potential to innovate with local news is largely stuck at repackaging

Legacy television companies have jumped one after the other into the over-the-top video delivery service market over the past few years. Often, executives say it is an attempt to bring our content to new or younger audiences.

In this post, I’ll argue that the toolset is strong but that it is too often lacking in content that I believe the targeted, new audiences will want to consume routinely.

It may be important to remember that these are for-profit companies who are expanding their digital businesses at a time when the Pew Research Center reports total advertising revenue is “now mostly digital.”

Other important context: Pew’s data shows that news employment, overall, has declined by 26% since 2008. Television news employees make up a larger percentage of the overall journalistic workforce, but Pew notes that’s because the rest of the industry shrunk so precipitously.

So, really, I think question industry executives are trying to answer is: How do we reach more consumers on these profitable platforms despite static or decreasing resources?

One answer, they appear to believe, is repackaging.

That’s at the core of OTT platforms, especially when they’re new to the scene. They take preexisting terrestrial or cable broadcasts and deliver them through a new pathway.

Often, that’s the claim to the legitimacy of these new OTT platforms while they try to introduce other new, experimental content.

In my opinion, however, this is a solution to the wrong problem.

The issue isn’t that television formats are bad (I’m a big fan) but rather that cord-cutters have made an active choice to quit TV. Reaching them with television (which, by the way, is still cheaper with an antenna than it is over a broadband connection) doesn’t seem likely to work.

That’s why OTT platforms let audiences select some of the individual segments for playback, or build a “custom” news playlist, but those are still inescapably mired in the old legacy formats.

To put it another way, look at the other acronym television companies use for these platforms: FAST, which stands for free, ad-supported streaming television.

Fundamentally, they’re still delivering television.

Several companies are working on national-level projects to deliver alternative video news formats, which I applaud. At least one of those have been successful enough to go “backwards,” going from digital to old-fashion cable or antenna.

I just wish we would see those projects applied more often and more widely at the local level. If local news is to be the primary draw for OTT/FAST, and new or lost audiences are the goal, that seems to me like a place where we ought to make investments.

One format experiment that I was privileged to witness firsthand attempted to push the boundaries of format within traditional broadcasts, and it found positive results. I think the work could’ve gone much further if given the chance and I believe OTT offers that chance.

The question is: Will anyone invest more in video news innovation at the local level?