Media Companies Revive Old Cable Strategy for Digital Age

I usually go to my local hospital, South Nassau Communities, to visit a sick friend, use the emergency room or have a procedure. So, it was a pleasant change to attend the Fair Media Council’s Future of Communications Summer Boot Camp, held Friday, July 26, in South Nassau’s conference center.

It was a morning of networking with other communicators and listening to experts discuss the changing media landscape and how their organizations are responding. What struck me was how media companies are adapting strategies used during the cable TV boom to the new technologies.

Steve Rubel, Edelman’s chief media ecology officer, described how usage of digital media has evolved from browsing, searching and social to a new phase he calls direct. “People are picking three to five brands they have relationships with and are willing to pay for,” he said, adding that media companies need to “super serve” these audiences in order to get people to pay through their time.

“Be focused on loyalty to and sustainability of the business,” he said. “You can’t be all things to all people, but you can serve niches.”

Sound familiar? I covered the cable TV industry in the 1980s. Back then, cable companies were building out systems in the suburbs and large cities, and programmers were taking on the big three broadcast networks by launching new all-sports, all-news and all music channels.

The strategy worked. Within a few years, more than half of all U.S. households were hooked up and the fledgling cable networks started making money.

Rubel said media companies could succeed in niches with original content, targeting vertical market, promoting their expertise and having impact in the greater community (moving markets, changing behaviors). Opportunities could be found by targeting three P’s: Purpose (parenting, the environment), Passion (hobbies, sports) or Profession, he added.

What is different today is that a media company cannot rely on one medium alone to develop an audience. They, as well as marketers, must develop multi-platform strategies so they can meet the consumer where he or she can be found in a format that appeals to them.

“TV stations are becoming multimedia,” said Manoj Shamdasani, vice president, news development, at News 12 Networks. “We no longer have a pay wall except for our live feed. We are using all means to get people to News 12.”

Toward that aim, News 12 uses: linear channels that just provide traffic and weather; native media, which includes mobile phone apps; social media; over-the-top (OTT) media streaming services like Roku and Amazon Fire; third-party distributors, and podcasts.

Long Island’s PBS affiliate, WLIW-TV, recently launched a narrowcast service called “All Arts” that offers both new national and local arts programming plus older programs from PBS brands such as “Great Performances” and “American Masters.” Its distribution system includes OTT services, a separate website, social media, a newsletter and an app.

“We have to be everywhere to reach our audience,” said Diane Masciale, WLIW/WNET vice president and general manager. “Everything has to have a home on one of our platforms.” For example, viewers 65+ tend to watch on broadcast while the 35-55 age group favors OTT services and apps.

Social media sites appeal to different demographic groups, as well, she said. YouTube does best for the 18-24 age group, Instagram for the 25-34 demo and Facebook for older views.

“The principals are not different from vertical programming on narrowcast channels,” she added. “Everything old is new again.”

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