Monday, November 30, 2009

Rosenblum: Local TV is Like GM

Michael Rosenblum is cited on Lost Remote with another insightful commentary on local TV. Rosenblum, in an interview, compares local TV to GM, but there will be no bailout.

"They know how to do things in the 1950's. They still do it that way. They cannot bring themselves to change. The change that is required for them to survive, is essentially to have to burn the place to the ground," Rosenblum said in an interview with Mark Joyella.

Ignoring the amusing hyperbole around "death, and GM and burning," Rosenblum is right. Old media needs to be more efficient, in an extreme way. The top line and thus the margins won't be there to support the infrastructure and headcount in the future. They need to revamp their cost structures and start by asking, "is that WSI (or other expensive hardware) system worth it? Is this building worth it? Do I need this chopper or five live trucks?"

Rosenblum says they must burn the station to the ground because the stations are full of absurdly expensive gear and people and the institutions can't help but perpetuate themselves because it is all they know. It is their livelihood. Local TV (and media for that matter) is competing more and more with organizations and individuals with much cheaper gear such as streaming servers, pro-sumer cameras, etc. They don't have to pay for expensive engineers, broadcast towers, million Watt radars, etc.

"When Google does Google News in New York with video. It ain't gonna start in the CBS building with a chopper," Rosenblum said.

Rosenblum is correct, but how does TV evolve? They still have existing costs that must be supported by existing customers and clients.

I would start by committing to build a separate news and information Web site (or networks of sites) with a dedicated P&L and staff. I would incubate that interactive initiative and let it function unencumbered from the biases of the legacy organization. The station management would limited in their ability to drive or influence the organization. Most stations have abandoned the newsroom within a newsroom approach in favor of cross training the TV staff on interactive. This is proving a a painful strategy that is strangling the interactive initiatives.

In all of this, the one media type that may have the best chance to succeed in this change is the newspaper. The newspaper organizations have already been cut to the bone. Their reporters are free of the vestiges of traditional TV production values and their buildings are free of the expensive TV equipment. They are already slashing print production costs or are shutting down the print portions of their businesses.