OTT: Local TV's Latest Growth Opportunity
Stephanie Slagle saw what was happening.
As director of digital strategy at Dispatch's CBS affiliate WBNS Columbus, Ohio (DMA 32), Slagle had noticed that millennials were moving away in droves from appointment-style TV viewing and toward over-the-top options accessed through smart TVs and set-top devices like Roku and Amazon Fire.
Clutching an eMarketer report from last May laying out the size of that shift, she pleaded with others at the station that it was time to plant the flag on the OTT landscape. They came around.
“The report kind of became our rallying cry that we need to have a presence in this space,” she says.
WBNS, which is now continuously streaming newscasts via OTT, is one of a number of broadcasters and newspapers that are now experimenting with local or regional services on the OTT platform. Others include Tegna, Raycom, Graham Media and Scripps.
The legacy media are determined not to be caught on the back foot by yet another powerful digital trend.
“You have to be where the eyeballs are going,” says Guy Tasaka, chief digital officer for Calkins Media, which developed an OTT platform for its media properties and is now selling it to others. “OTT is where the bulk of viewers are and will be, and if you’re not there, you’ll lose the audience to someone who is.”
The services tend to resemble each other in the broad strokes. They comprise linear channels of news and other content, much of it locally produced, supplemented by some of the same programming available on demand.
To receive the services, consumers must download an app onto their smartphones or smart TVs that have built-in OTT software that links the sets to the internet. Consumers without a smart TV need set-top boxes or dongles like Roku, Amazon and Apple TV.
According to MarketingCharts, four in 10 U.S. households own an OTT streaming device.
These OTT services mostly aren’t generating much revenue yet, but some broadcasters see serious potential down the line, along with content development opportunities they’ve never had on their own airwaves.
“Who’s to say whether all consumers will eventually be OTT consumers or not?" asks Scripps’ Laura Tomlin, VP of digital operations. "We don’t know, but it would be a missed opportunity not to have our strong local brands in places where consumers are. It’s really important for us to be in that space and see how it develops.”
At The Local OTT Vanguard
As both a content and platform provider, Calkins was among the first to launch a full-blown local OTT service, at WWSB Sarasota, Fla. Its linear stream features original news and local magazine content replayed after the original airtime, along with syndicated content in areas where geographical restrictions don’t apply.
Calkins just sold WWSB and its two other small-market TV stations, but the buyer, Raycom Media, is maintaining the service and Calkins continues to forge ahead with OTT at all eight of its newspapers, including the Bucks County [Pa.] Courier Times, which runs original newscasts from newspaper staffers, thematically-arranged content and syndicated shows.
Tegna Media began streaming in June 2015, with each station offering a locally customized service. They include “a combination of local top news stories, the newscast as a live stream [and] unique local categories specific to each market,” says Frank Mungeam, VP of digital content.
Those original offerings include Land of 10,000 Stories for KARE Minneapolis, Grant McOmie’s Outdoors for KGW Portland, Ore., and Straight from the Heart for WBIR Knoxville, Tenn.
Raycom is working with an OTT platform from CMS provider Frankly to roll out services for its 62 stations. Live streaming will be augmented by news, lifestyle and sports content, including some original programming like The Southern Weekend, which the company runs on its own platforms as a digital-only feature.
“We’re creating a lot of Southeastern-oriented lifestyle content that creates the opportunity to do native ads within that,” says Joe Fiveash, SVP of digital and strategy.
Scripps has all 23 of its news-producing stations on an in-house-developed platform.
Dave Francois, senior director, product, says it runs all of its newscasts live, and most of it is delivered in VOD format, too. Each service also has a limited content integration with Newsy, the Scripps-owned, millennial-geared news service whose principal platform is its own OTT service.
Capitol Broadcasting's WRAL Raleigh, N.C., has been in the OTT game since 2015, streaming its live newscasts, Doppler radar and other locally produced programming, says John Conway, Capitol’s GM of digital platforms.
One of the more popular features has been live-streamed high school football games, of which six or seven are offered each week during the season. According to Conway, they are mostly low-production, single-camera affairs and inexpensive to put together, using part-time help or even the school’s own feed, though occasionally larger games will get the two or three-camera treatment and better production values.
It also offers a broad array of VOD choices — some 300-400 clips — ranging from consumer and entertainment franchises to loads of food-related content, Conway says.