With the rapidly changing ways the average consumer accesses news, media organizations have had to become remarkably adaptable. Recently, executives representing various media outlets met at the Las Vegas offices of City National Bank to discuss these changes and what the future of media could look like.
Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
What challenges are facing the media industry?
Emily Neilson: The biggest issue we face is that little phone that every one of us has in our pocket. It’s an opportunity and a challenge; it’s the change in consumption.
Tom Axtell: The biggest challenge for us is trying to create business models for the new technologies. More and more viewing or interactivity is occurring, yet turning them into revenue producing activities, particularly in a non-commercial environment, is a challenge for us.
Lisa Howfield: Our biggest challenge, in this market, is the platforms for which we’re distributing. Another challenge is how to create content that has appeal to an up-and- coming market. We always hear that a news audience is comprised of 25 to 54 [year olds], but I think the new 25 to 54 [year old market] is different because of the way they’ve come up with new technology that’s in their hands at all times. Not only do we have to find those distribution points, we also have to find a way to deliver a type of news or content of news that is appealing to that market. It will not only keep our advertisers happy, but also stay true to whatever your stations philosophy is. That’s one of the things we’re looking at now; how do we provide content to a market that may see news differently than what we’re used to.
Jerry McKenna: Our challenge is growing, particularly in this metropolitan area and others like it, which got so hammered in the recession that we’re having a hard time getting advertisers to think about growth. Let’s face it, people and businesses had to survive, we priced ourselves to the bottom in our media, how do we grow it back?
How has the addition of online news changed the industry?
Connie Brennan: The way we deliver news and information is changing, although I do believe there will always be a demand for credible news sources. The operative word here is credible.
Neilson: There’s a larger appetite for news than there’s ever been. It’s just how you’re receiving it that’s different. There is a strong appetite for good content, and there always will be. Luckily with television news, we’ve been stable since the late 1990’s; 58% of people get their news from television every single day.
How do you track your audience?
Axtell: I think 40-years ago they were looking at raw numbers. [Advertisers] wanted to see how many eyeballs or ears did you touch and then they began to ask what are the demographics of that audience. Now, they’re trying to define engagement. Are people actually watching you or were they multi-tasking, did they really see it? They’re trying to see, if someone clicks through on a webpage, does that show engagement versus someone who just remembers you. The models keep changing and, as each of the different players bring different measurements in, the agencies are playing different measurement schemes against each of the media properties as they’re trying to sell their content. There isn’t a gold standard, there isn’t a broad enough sample for any of it to be true, and a lot of it is judgmental when you’re talking about engagement or propensity of a certain demographic to have a certain buying or voting behavior.
Howfield: We don’t subscribe to Nielson [Reporting] anymore, because of what we felt was inaccurate measurements, not to mention how much it costs. We’re in a new world; there are better ways to get measurements of who’s watching TV or whose watching your program.
Neilson: The end result is still 400 homes in Las Vegas that Nielson wires that is our currency. That is the currency for every agency and every large buyer in this market. We get our demographics still from paper dairies that are mailed out four-times a year.
McKenna: It’s the same thing in radio.
Neilson: They’re trying to shift away from demographics to lifestyle patterns. Adults 25 to 54, that’s not a really good buying demographic anymore, instead you want a family with young kids. Those parents may be 50 or 60 with young kids or they may be 30, so I want a family with young kids or I want a family that does outdoor activities, or single only. If we start buying by lifestyle, it will be a much better return for advertisers than 18 to 49 or 25 to 54, because think about how our lives have changed so much. Just the beta generation, what that’s done to the 50 plus, that’s happening in every single demographic. Until we can get our currency, and agencies to switch to that, it’s still exactly the same way it was 30-years ago.
Tom Porterfield: It has to be a technology that’s less intrusive on people; do you want someone coming into your house and fiddling with the back of your television set with a screw driver? I don’t. Would I say that people are represented equally by the Neilson sample? I don’t believe that they are because they pay for that sample, so people might be more inclined to accept Neilson for different reasons than others.
Howfield: We only use Rentrak [reporting] at our station, we don’t have Nielson anymore. They have about 22,000 homes that have return pack data. We’re looking forward to this kind of change because they look for lifestyles as well as consumer habits. There’s a lot of data out there, by the auto manufactures for example. They say, “We know in your market about how many people are getting ready to buy a Nissan, Toyota or a Honda in this upcoming year.” Being able to cross-reference that information with viewership habits straight from the set-top boxes, it’s going to create great tools for us in the future. You need the good information and you need to have it applied to the different platforms that the information is going out to. We have a lot ahead of us; we have to stay on top of things.
Are marketers more strategic with ad placements?
Brennan: I’ve noticed a shift over the last several years. It used to be that our clients just wanted to buy an ad or they wanted to place a 12-time contract. Now, they want the advertising, website and apps. They also want to tie into events and be able to reach out and touch some of their clients.
McKenna: Multi-level strategic marketing is nothing new. I just think that engagement is something new. Advertisers are waking up and saying, how do I engage with that listener or viewer in many different ways. If you don’t have the digital resources or the experiential and event resources, you can’t really connect in all those different ways for that advertiser’s customer. The world today uses media differently than it did five years ago, or even two years ago. There are different ways to engage, I still believe that the strongest way is to reach these people is mass media. Mass media still gets the message out quicker and faster than any other medium that’s out there. The savvy advertisers are realizing that there is more than one way to do it. I was fond of saying advertisers don’t want to buy spots on the radio stations, what they want is to buy the promotions and we give them the spots. I believe that’s true, I don’t think that spots, per se, in radio stations really matter half as much as coming up with some kind of way to engage a listener. Advertisers will pay significantly more for that than the other way which was, where’s your value added? I’ll buy your stuff, but where’s your value added?
Cory Cuddeback: With streaming ads, two or three years ago, you couldn’t give them away, people didn’t care, didn’t want them. Now, a third of every buy includes stuff like streaming ads. They want them for free, but they’re now requesting it a lot. They’re getting that there’s other avenues to reach our listeners other than just the on-air.
Is the recession still plaguing the media industry?
Howfield: I only have my own numbers to look at, but I’m feeling a little bit optimistic right now. Any station that goes into the month of January wants to see how that month is going to do, and right now, it seems to be pacing pretty good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I don’t want to go out and celebrate yet, it just feels better than it has in past Januarys. All of the stations benefited from a strong political season. We had a strong political season in this market, but you can’t let that get in the way of you taking a realistic look of what could happen in 2013. We’re coming into this year with some pretty realistic budgets in place and right now, I’m feeling pretty good about what I’m seeing. If that’s any indicator, I’m going to say it’s potentially moving up, but I think maybe at a snail’s pace, which is okay with us. We can just see a tick up, because I think if we were going to survive at all, we’ve already made all of the changes we had to, to get through some of the tougher times. Getting through 2008 and 2009, those were some very difficult times in terms of cutting back on staff. We had to make changes that kept the business afloat. It’s been really difficult, at least on behalf of our station, it’s been a rough time and I’m feeling better about it now.
Brennan: As the only print publication in the room, I can tell you that it hasn’t been easy for us either. We’ll put about 50 percent of our next year’s revenue on our books in the last three months of the year, so we can pretty much project what the year’s going to look like. Most of our advertisers are contract advertisers that plan ahead, and our business is up substantially year over year. I’m really optimistic about what this year is going to hold for us.
Porterfield: I’m optimistic about it. It’s about consistent growth that’s meaningful and not driven by demand. Would my corporate like to see more than four percent growth over non-political advertising? Absolutely, and I think that’s really doable, especially in terms of what we’re seeing in the first quarter but to believe that this market could sustain, whether it be housing, or media, or anything—is beyond me. I’m interested to see how we get there and hopeful that we stay at a more sustained growth. We are the 40th media market in the country, that’s pretty good.
Brennan: As an industry we were the first to feel it. When the recession began, everyone said, “We’re in trouble, let’s cut the media out, then let’s cut the advertising agencies out and then they cut in-house marketing people out.” Conversely, I think coming back out of it, we’re going to be the first ones to benefit from the recovery.
Neilson: It definitely feels like it’s stabilized, but I think it’s really slow growth, just like others in the industry may feel like we’re still really susceptible to national forces. If we have something bad happen and tourism drops down, then we lose more jobs. Until the jobs start growing, we’re not really going to grow, but we’ve stabilized, which is a good place too be.
Larry Charlton: California is [also] very important to us, 60 percent of our tourists come from California. We need California to be robust and strong and that really helps Southern Nevada. It’s very important. I’m a California-based bank, so I really listen to what’s happening over there because that makes this much better; you watch the spend on the Strip go up and that helps.
Is unbiased media a thing of the past?
Howfield: Local newscasts tend to be unbiased. You can take that position if you’d like to, and any station in here would have the right to do that if they wanted to. For the most part, if you sit in on any news meeting, they work really hard to make sure they’re just telling the facts of the story and our only agenda is to get an audience. If we immediately begin to take a position, the outcome could be that you alienated 50 percent of your audience. At the local level, I don’t know if I’m speaking for everyone in this room, I sit in those news meetings and I see them working really hard to make sure that they’re telling the full and complete story without taking a position.
Axtell: If you go and read the verbatim emails from the people that comment on your news, you can run a story right down the middle. I’ll get 10 emails that say we’re very conservative and I’ll get 10 that say I’m very liberal. It’s the perception of what is said. I don’t know that you really get an unbiased viewership anymore because they are looking at what you’re saying through their filter. We’re better than most because we were a swing state, so that must mean that there are a lot of people who haven’t made up their mind about which side they’re on yet. Let’s hope that continues into 2014.