I just returned from a weekend trip out of state to see relatives – a whole house full of young couples, new babies and familiar old faces. In addition to lots of food and laughter, it gave me new appreciation for how people who aren’t in the “media bubble” see the world these days.
I love my relatives but they are the first to admit they are not sports fans. On a March Madness weekend, my sister-in-law said, “There are basketball games on? Who is playing?” In a house with no cable or satellite, I turned to the NCAA streaming app. Once on the home network and with the help of Apple TV, it was an amazingly good viewing experience. Several of us got to see any game we wanted (for free) while the rest of the group figured we’d lost our minds. On a drizzly March weekend I also checked the weather a few times, read a couple of CNN stories that were pushed to me, and generally kept tabs on the world.
What was missing? Any local television – not even a whiff. I asked my brother-in-law if he saw his local stations. “Not really, we have Netflix,” he said. “I see everything online. I think there is one local station we don’t even get.” (He was right – I checked their over the air signals and the CBS affiliate didn’t come in.)
The younger generation had no complaints because they have never paid for cable; it all seemed normal to them. In conversation someone mentioned a video they had seen and my 30-year-old nephew ended up showing it to us on YouTube on a 60-inch screen. Everyone seemed satisfied.
My relatives probably aren’t “average viewers” or even normal (whose family is?). But it does give you pause to see how easy it is for local broadcasters to be marginalized by viewers who have many choices at their fingertips. In a million-channel universe, it is awfully hard to be indispensable. Focusing on local content that you can’t find anywhere else – including the other stations in the market – is still local television’s best defense. Unless your team is tied in the last thirty seconds of the game and there’s only one place to see it.