Local Television: A Question of Relevance in a Changing World
Like the once great pitcher whose fastball has lost some of its speed, or the boxer whose timing is a second or two slower than it once was, local television is also out of step with a world that is now dominated by citizen journalism and fast-paced individually driven social media venues.
I am of course old enough to remember a time when only two or three channels were available on your TV dial, and you actually had to get up off the sofa to manually change between stations. Or how “rabbit ears” as they were called had to be masterfully maneuvered to ensure the best possible reception. More style than science, a good picture and sound was also accomplished with a sharp bang to the side of the set, which interestingly enough seemed to work despite the TV’s internal make-up of mostly glass tubes held in place by a few connecting prongs through which the electricity would pulsate. Yes it is true, TV back then was more like a radio with a picture tube.
During this heyday, when Lloyd Robertson was still with CBC and his counterpart Harvey Kirk at the CTV network would battle for ratings (until Robertson made the jump over to the “new” network), locally produced television shows were a big part of a station’s lineup.
Delivering a flavor that was uniquely indigenous to the region it served, local programming reflected in a kind of ironic twist, the personality quotient that today’s media experts indicate is a key ingredient of successful Internet venues such as blogs or on-line radio shows.
With the world today being a much smaller place, local TV’s decline is not so much a reflection of a changing taste or appetite for local fare, so much as it is a by product of our attitude towards traditional media in general.
These sentiments that were reflected in a 2009 UK report which highlighted “the fact that consumers continue to tell Ofcom (the Office of Communications) they value a choice of regionally-based television news and relevant local content.” However, the report warned “that the UK’s local and regional media are facing unprecedented challenges, driven by growing use of the internet.”
Ofcom’s conclusion? An “independent news consortia could be an effective means of achieving this valued choice of news, alongside the BBC, while providing a potential platform for the future development of more local services, including local TV, and using other media.” The emphasis on the “growing use of the internet,” and “other media” is mine.
Closer to home, and in his June 4th, 2009 post titled “Who Cares About Local TV?” Dave Cournoyer added another dimension to this conversation when he openly wondered if he was the the “only Edmontonian who believes that our local television stations don’t feel very local anymore?”
A fair question considering the fact that following the sale of “Edmonton’s two main private television stations” to what he referred to as “the massive CTVGlobeMedia and CanWest Global media corporations,” the stations he lamented “adopted the brand of their national owners.” Despite retaining many of the same personnel, Cournoyer believes that the re-branded venues have lost the “uniqueness of their former local identity.”
Others are less generous or nostalgic in their appraisal of the situation including the Editor of the S.E. Calgary News Markham Hislop whose November 16th, 2009 article headline read “Newspapers and TV Stations Are Sunset Industries. Let ‘Em Fail.”
A November 13th, 2009 Globe and Mail article asked the question “if a local TV station in a Canadian City goes dark, does anybody notice?” says a great deal in terms of how out of touch traditional TV is with its intended viewers.
An observation that gains further creditability as the same article reported on the brewing battle between Canada’s big television networks and their largest cable and satellite carriers over what else . . . money. One can only smile at the fact that these two sides are fighting over territory that is gradually slipping into the hands of the viewers themselves. At least as it relates to local television.
The advent of citizen journalists who communicate through blogs, Internet Radio Networks such as Blog Talk Radio and, Internet TV means that the public is no longer dependent on the artificially narrow media streams as a source for information and entertainment.
It is just a matter of time before you will see hundreds if not thousands of “local” Internet TV Stations pop-up across the country. The technology is certainly there, and the proof in terms of being able to attract viewers has already been demonstrated by shows such as The Young Turks, which has more than 13 million hits per month on YouTube alone.
Some detractors may suggest that sending out a signal and appearing on camera is light years apart from producing and broadcasting a “professionally polished” show. They make a good point to a certain degree. However, TV’s early days had moments of spontaneity that were anything but polished and certainly not professional. In Winnipeg for example, it was a common belief if not fact that a local sports announcer may have on more than one occasion been three sheets to the wind during live broadcasts. Rather than offending, it actually added to his homespun charm, which fueled many a colorful anecdote.
I am not suggesting that imbibing become a part of anyone’s pre-show preparation routine. What I am saying is like any new medium there is a “learning curve.” However, and unlike mediums such as radio and TV, the learning curve in the virtual world of social media is considerably shorter. This means that before long, the high quality content associated with many blogs and Internet Radio shows will also flow into the realms of Internet TV.
So while the dinosaurs fight over the “hundreds of millions” of dollars that are still available today, the world of social media is forever changing everyone’s world.
Just ask J. William Grimes who at a conference this past summer predicted that daily newspapers in the US will be gone within the next five years. Or perhaps study the results from the FTC’s workshops and roundtables from earlier this month which asked the question “How will journalism survive the Internet Age?”
With these market dynamics changing the media landscape so dramatically, local television is at least in its present form, like the pitcher whose fastball has lost its speed, or the boxer whose timing is now slower. Instead of trying to compete when one is no longer capable of being competitive, the best thing to do is to retire and reminisce about the past glory days. Like the old George and Ira Gershwin song from 1937, no one can ever take that away.