How to Streamline Digital Distribution in a Broadcast Newsroom

By in Broadcast, News Production

The pandemic hit the advertising ecosystem hard: linear TV ad spend shrank 41 percent in the first few months, according to the IAB, and gains in the second quarter were limited. But while it may take a while longer for traditional advertising dollars to resume their normal flow, the IAB predicts a quicker recovery for digital video advertising. After the 2020 election cycle, and with the future of live sports in doubt, local broadcasters will have a much-needed opportunity to diversify their revenue—and that means leaning into digital distribution.

On a higher level, we’ve discussed best practices for digital distribution. Knowing how to tailor your content to various platforms, being selective about the platforms where your station shares content, and integrating digital video creation into your workflow does quite a bit to push distribution along. Now we’ll explore the foundation needed to enable a smooth digital and social workflow for broadcast newsrooms.

1. Think Digital First

The gap between Americans who prefer to get their local news via TV and those who prefer to get it online is shrinking, according to Pew Research Center. Fears about cannibalizing one’s broadcast audience may have made sense a decade or so ago, but today, digital distribution is a vital tool in every newsroom and it deserves recognition as a crucial part of the broadcast workflow.

This mindset is extremely helpful when it comes to breaking news. After all, the next major news event might be just around the corner, and you can’t simply hold stories for the 6 o’clock newscast.

Thinking digitally first doesn’t mean jettisoning the broadcast mindset; the two can work hand in hand. And sometimes, they need to—if a reporter is on the scene of a protest that begins to produce some news, your newsroom needs the ability to immediately share that footage via social and other digital channels, or stream it live.

Think of CNN’s Go There, an entire show with staff devoted to the Facebook Watch platform. Or, instead, think of smaller stations like Louisville’s WAVE 3—their footage of a reporter being shot at with pepper bullets live on air immediately spread across social media. WAVE 3 repackaged the clip for digital distribution while the reporter, Kaitlin Rust, wrote about the experience for the website.

In the event that news breaks on a live stream, the broadcast team needs ready access to this footage. This requires that both teams work from a common shared storage and asset management system so that everyone has instant access to what they need and can deliver it as fast as possible to any platform.

2. Empower Your Digital Video Team

Whether you reallocate current personnel or make new hires to fill out the team, it takes a separate group of people dedicated to digital to properly execute a digital distribution strategy. Many broadcasters already have this kind of team—RTDNA reports that 60 percent of broadcasters aim to implement a digital-first strategy—but as budgets contract, it becomes a component of your newsroom worth fighting for.

And that separate, dedicated team should be in constant contact with the broadcast editorial team. They need to be able to see what footage is coming in and understand what’s happening with that footage for broadcast. They also need to have the authority and capability to edit and publish the footage on their own.

These team members will pull their footage from the same sources as your broadcast edit team. However, the graphics they use will need to be different, both on an aesthetic front and from the technical side. The tech specs for digital video vary quite a bit from those required by broadcast, so easy access to source files is crucial.

3. Simplify the Distribution Method

Having to go through a host of steps just to access source footage slows things down. The surest way of keeping these workflows organized is to connect your digital publishing tools to your central media management system.

To ease digital and social workflows for broadcast, there’s increased demand for the ability to turn live broadcasts into a vertical format that’s friendlier to mobile, while offering more monetization opportunities. A plug-and-play service like this can go a long way toward earning a digital audience and the digital ad dollars that go with it.

For instance, French public broadcaster France Télévisions, which airs massive live events like the Tour de France and the Olympics, decided to offer an equally large suite of digital channels for those events to French viewers. They used technology from Wildmoka to feed dozens of live channels to an app, web browsers, and connected TVs. From there, viewers could watch different angles of live matches at France’s French Open tennis tournament and catch up on what they missed—both highlights and full matches. Most newsrooms won’t need quite as robust a solution as France Télévisions uses, but the fact that the tech is out there to deliver these capabilities speaks to the scalability of a cloud-based product.

Some media management systems also offer the means to integrate social and digital publishing into their workflow. Look for products that automatically connect to (and utilize) your organization’s NLE. It’s a way to give editors the flexibility to work well in the formats—i.e., vertical, square—that social video in particular requires.

Some of these changes are easier said than done, and they take time. If you’re not ready for a dedicated digital team yet, for instance, focus on how technology can ease certain challenges, or vice versa. Even incremental mindset and technology shifts will go a long way toward upping your digital distribution strategy, and will leave you better leveraged to handle the inevitable ebbs and flows of ad spend over time.

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Oriana Schwindt is a freelance writer based in New York. She primarily covers the TV industry, dabbling also in travel and culture.