Breaking the Broadcast Business Model

You don’t have to work in the media industry to know that local news changing. It’s decreasing in some ways, though not as much as many fear.

More on that in our Local News by the Numbers research out now. It’s certainly facing more competition as sources of information proliferate. A recent Pew study found that nearly seven of 10 of us have ‘news fatigue.’

Local TV news viewership is certainly changing, and newsrooms need to change with it.

But the demand for video content is strong.

Netflix, a 2017 National Murrow Award winner in the News Documentary category, is spending billions on content. Big platforms are looking specifically at non-fiction content too: Facebook recently announced partnerships with several broadcast and cable news outlets for exclusive programs on its Watch video service, though it has ended at least one previous program paying publishers to produce video content on the site.

With increasing competition from the biggest platforms, how can local broadcasters take advantage of interest in video news?

Newsrooms can stand apart in a crowded information environment and retain a changing audience by experimenting with different formats – non-traditional newscasts and longer-form specials – by taking advantage of their localism and by investing in enterprise and investigative reporting.

Doing the resource-heavy work of enterprise reporting requires either investing or pooling resources.

That’s the next place for today’s local broadcast newsrooms to innovate.

Some station owners, like Raycom, are putting their stations’ collective resources to work by forming national investigative units. Hearst will be launching a new investigative unit this month. (Just in: Raycom Media’s investigative unit is expanding with a new OTT app and nonprofit partnerships including ProPublica).

But surprisingly few stations – less than half, though more this year than last – have cooperative ventures with other stations or news outlets, our latest research shows.

Outside the broadcast world, nonprofit newsrooms are eschewing traditional ad-based funding for donations and grants, easier to come by when a newsroom is more focused on specific issues of impact.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, Center for Public Integrity and Retro Report are among the Murrow Award-winning digital outlets with a nonprofit model.

ProPublica, another Murrow-winning independent nonprofit newsroom, recently funded 7 investigative reporters (one with a broadcast outlet) through its Local Reporting Network.

Could broadcasters start to get in on the nonprofit business model through commercial-nonprofit partnerships?

We first looked in April at a unique partnership bringing in-depth investigative coverage to Denver.

Rocky Mountain PBS doesn’t produce daily newscasts, but its investigative unit, formed about two years ago, produces monthly half-hour specials, with plans to expand, and shares them with KUSA to break down for its broadcasts. Rocky Mountain PBS’s John Ferrugia says there is no other public media relationship like it, but that “public media needs to rethink itself” and look for more opportunities like this partnership.

Now there may be another model to watch.

Launching June 14 at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Orlando, Investigative Network will be “the first of its kind nonprofit journalism organization to exclusively produce video & film based investigative content by experienced award-winning broadcast investigative journalists,” according to its business plan.

Its Chief Investigative Reporter and CEO Brian Collister, most recently of KXAN, says the new nonprofit will be modeled on U.C. Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Productions, a nonprofit company which licenses the school’s documentary footage to commercial distributors like Amazon Prime Video.

Investigative Network is looking to streaming services and commercial television outlets for content distribution, and it will be funded through those partnerships as well as grants, donations and workshops.

For stations that want to widen their investigative footprint but don’t necessarily have the resources to grow their investigative teams, could looking to nonprofit partners be a better option?

We’ll be following closely!

Originally Published at Radio Television Digital News Association: RTDNA.org

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