Will local broadcasters capitalize on the greatest opportunity in 40 years to increase their market share?

Digital subchannels offer the possibility of niche community programming
Digital subchannels offer the possibility of niche community programming

by Mark Friedrich President at Michigan Free TV Inc.

The switch to digital broadcasting and the sagging economy, may present local broadcasters their greatest opportunity in 40 years to increase market share. Digital broadcasting has effectively tripled the amount of programming content that they can provide, during a time when consumers are looking for ways to save every penny. The only question is, will they capitalize on it?

To be effective, a new mind-set and spirit of coopitition (cooperative-competition) among local broadcasters will be required. Instead of competing head-to-head for all viewers, they will have to work together to provide a variety of programming choices that will diminish the value of subscription offerings. Sure local broadcast news departments will still compete against each other, the networks will still vie for primetime viewers and they will have to be careful not to diminish or compete directly with their own primary offerings. This still leaves a lot of room to entice viewers away from “pay” TV to “free” TV. It most likely will require cooperation from the local broadcasters affiliated networks to provide what is currently “subscription only” content on a re-run or time shifted basis. Some broadcasters are already airing some pre-packaged content like RTN and This, which is better than nothing, but I don’t think that this type of programming alone will be enough for people to give up their subscriptions. The biggest reasons for maintaining subscription services, is the availability of sports, conservative news and documentary programming. All of which are readily available through affiliated networks and independent sources.

Remember, Local broadcasters have two distinct advantages that subscription services never will. They are free, and can target their content to their local demographics. You don’t have to provide content that necessarily beats that of subscription television, you just need to provide a wide enough variety of targeted content to make the additional offerings of subscription services, not worth their cost. Every household that switches from pay service to free broadcast service eliminates up to 200 channels of competition for those viewers, increasing the value of broadcast advertising time.

Local broadcasters also need to start cross promoting their own sub-channels and reminding viewers that what they are watching is available in digital clarity without a monthly subscription.

My response to Mark’s discussion on LinkedIn.com:

  1. I agree 100%. But, again, broadcasters can be their own worst enemies.

    One of the battles is already lost. Broadcasters, and their government, spent the past 18 months telling people that signing up for cable and satellite is the easiest way to stay connected. A lot easier than getting one of those “in short supply” coupons that often expired before stores got converter boxes.

    Your vision is already happening. I have three PBS affiliates, each offering four channels of programming, in my region. From arts to politics, to music, to obscure documentaries, I have a wonderful FREE programming mix.

    Unfortunately, the commercial broadcasters in my area can do little more than an automated weather channel and maybe a CW affiliate. Maybe because they have eliminated most of the staff that could have produced fresh, local content. They barely can produce a few hours of news each week.

  2. Mark Friedrich

    Mark Friedrich

    President at Michigan Free TV Inc.

    Griff,

    PBS is doing a great job. Here in Detroit, they are airing a sub-channel of primarily high definition children’s content in widescreen 480i (I would defy anyone with an HDTV smaller than 40″ to tell it isn’t “True High Definition”). The Flint PBS station which overlaps considerably with Detroit, is even airing a west coast feed of their primary channel to avoid duplicate programming.

    I wouldn’t expect local commercial broadcasters to incur the expense of additional local production (initially), but that doesn’t mean they can’t compete. There are several local broadcasters that are already producing content locally as webcasts that could be aired on sub-channels (for the life of me I can’t understand why they don’t put them “on air”).

    I see the biggest opportunity in broadcasting time shifted network subscription programming. What would it hurt to air yesterday’s subscription only baseball game at the same time as today’s network soap opera, or put their networks most popular conservative cable news program (time shifted of course) on at the same time as Ellen on their primary channel? They could even re-run some of their prime time shows at different times to gain the audience that either can’t watch at the time it originally aired or chose to watch something else. If they can make it available on the internet, you would think that they could put it on the air.

    Then again, just the fact that there are only 384 members of this group (as opposed to 3,452 in the television broadcast technologies group) tells me that both network and local broadcast executives think that they already have all the answers and don’t need input from other sources.

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