Welcome to 2018. Amid all the usual predictions about our business, I’ve been thinking about the faces of local TV. As change and retirements seem to become more frequent, so does the notion that maybe it’s not about people anymore. Is it just a “content machine” we need to mind?
There’s discussion that the network “star system” is slipping away. Matt Lauer is fired, the Today ratings go up. Charlie Rose is disgraced, CBS This Morning continues to plug along. Jeff Glor anchors the CBS Evening News and few people have even heard of him before.
CJ&N research shows that people are still powerful reasons to watch television. But powerful people on local television are in short supply, and even their influence is fading as generational change occurs. Part of it is the avalanche of information we get all day long with no face attached to it. Digital content is institutionally driven, not personal.
Having a well-known and respected anchor is no guarantee of generating an audience on TV, either. But it still helps.
Before you get swept up in the mindset that all is lost and it doesn’t matter who viewers see when they tune in, consider this “truth” about local television that has not changed in almost 70 years: People watch interesting people. It might be a weather talent with a “shtick,” or a high-profile consumer advocate, or an anchor who knows the market inside and out. It may be someone who is warm and fits your area so well that he or she is a local treasure.
Chances are they are not slick, may not fit in another market, may look or sound different and might have an odd quirk or two. In short, they will never be “network stars.” (Importantly, neither are they “crazy people” or so polarizing they drive many viewers away.)
But they do share important traits as a group. First, they are smart. They “get it.” They understand the special bond they form with viewers and are protective of that. It helps them make good decisions for not only themselves, but for your brand, too. They know what’s important to viewers. They are steady performers in the sense that their focus is rarely on the next show assignment or the next job opportunity. It isn’t a lack of ambition, but acceptance that if they are important to viewers in the long run, it will be rewarded. And they usually are proven right. One of the country’s most successful meteorologists, James Spann, calls it “having the heart of a servant.”
In today’s environment, these kinds of people may be the best shot you have at keeping viewers coming back for something they cannot duplicate anywhere else. Local TV’s strength is still its connection to the community it serves. And having people who your community trusts and can call “its own” is still a powerful asset in 2018.