Are Viral Videos Good for Local Television?

By Merrill Knox 

Broadcasting & Cable has an editorial today examining the complicated relationship between local news and viral videos, in the YouTube age where sharing an “eminently snackable — short, funny, safe for work” clip is always just one click away.

B&C points out that while some stations court the viral attention — like the above camel attack video from WWBT, which was heavily promoted by both the station and WWBT reporter Tara Morgan herself — the viral nature of sharing has an especially dangerous underbelly for local news outlets:


YouTube is no enemy to local TV. Hearst TV and LIN stations are among the Top 25 YouTube destinations, according to a recent Ad Age study. But anchor goofs are devastating to local news and play into the perception of TV reporters as mannequins with perfect hair and teeth and air where the brain is supposed to go—that local news is, in a word, laughable. Does a college student want to go into a profession that friends mock every time one of these clips is circulated? Does the FCC feel obligated to preserve broadcasters’ spectrum when much of what they see from stations is a weather guy squealing like a schoolgirl when a cockroach crawls onto the set?

Ultimately, B&C concludes, the responsibility of using the internet to traffic clips that showcase a station’s reporting chops — as well as the less-than-impressive ones that are just good for a laugh — rests with the stations themselves:

It’s live television. Mistakes are unavoidable, curses slip out. Staffers lose it, same as they do in boardrooms and teachers’ lounges and grocery stores. No one knows exactly how to harness YouTube’s considerable might, but it’s up to local television to figure out how to get their corruption-busting investigative ace in front of the digital masses—not their reporter who got pooped on by a pigeon.

What do you think — are viral videos good or bad for local stations? Let us know in the comments.