Local TV is back and more social than ever

By Cory Bergman 

After a few years of tough times, many local TV stations are roaring back with higher margins and more newscasts. But have TV stations taken the economic turbulence to heart and embraced innovation in a new media world?

“Our view was that local broadcasting had gone on autopilot,” said Dave Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting (right). Industrywide, he said, newscasts had “become sort of commoditized and formulaic – arguably in many cases irrelevant.”

Gannett execs told the NY Times that the difficult economy has helped motivate its stations to rethink how to connect with viewers. “(It) helped us put our focus more on the customer,” said Lynn Beall, the president and general manager of KSDK, who explains that social media has been key to community outreach.

Local TV has certainly ramped up its adoption of social media — 92% of TV stations use Facebook and/or Twitter, a recent survey found. “There appears to have been a shift in the last year from using social media primarily as a promotional tool to using it heavily – if not primarily – to have conversations with the audience,” explained Bob Papper, who oversaw the research.

Meanwhile, local TV has adjusted to cost pressures by centralizing operations and embracing more “multimedia journalists” who shoot, write and edit their own stories. “We have more people gathering content than we did a year ago, because more people are trained on more platforms,” Beall said. While many in the industry have despised “one man bands” for reducing quality, the multi-platform focus yields more coverage on TV websites and social media channels.

Does all this lead to an enlightenment of sorts in local TV? It’s too early to tell, but given the rebound for better-run station groups, it appears local TV has more of a runway to switch off the autopilot.