For local TV, what if Conan jumped to the web?

By Cory Bergman 

Revision3, the online video production company that sprung out of the popular podcast Diggnation, has posted an open letter on its site offering Conan O’Brien his own show — and just about anything else he wants.

“I know you don’t have a big footprint in online media at the moment, but take our word for it: Internet television is the future,” writes Revision3’s Ryan Vance, who adds, “I promise never to pull a Jeff Zucker on you.”

However, O’Brien is on record believing in traditional TV. “Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet, a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the ‘Tonight Show,’ I believe nothing could matter more,” he said last week.

But even the folks at the New York Times wonder if his best move may be to the web. “For Mr. O’Brien’s core audience, the time slot is being replaced by a URL,” writes Nick Bilton, who advises that O’Brien start an online show while keeping a presence on TV. And David Carr writes that fewer people watch late-night TV because most of their material has already made the rounds on the internet.

Even if O’Brien isn’t quite ready move to the web, you can imagine future talent making the “backwards” jump, creating web-first programming that spans nonlinear distribution outlets like Xbox, Netflix, Hulu, cable on demand, direct-to-DVRs and mobile apps. If something becomes ubiquitously available on demand, then people aren’t going to make an appointment to watch it on local TV.

The implications for local TV stations? Control your own destiny by creating your own compelling, low-cost, local/regional programming that spans television and the web — memorable, branded content that goes far beyond creating another newscast or a simple derivative. In my opinion, this means 1) re-engineering content production around a lower cost structure and 2) finding or partnering with talented people who can create innovative multi-platform programming outside the news department.