Culled from the headlines of the media and technology trade press by Katz’s Strategy, Analytics, and Research Team, Content Matters provides a periodic snapshot of news and issues that affect the business of creating, producing, and distributing content across TV, radio, and digital media. Here are this issue's 5 THINGS TO KNOW.

2019 Q2 Issue #1

 1   No News is Definitely NOT Good News

They’re called “News Deserts”. These are local areas which have become underserved news markets, primarily because of the loss or consolidation of their local newspaper.  A lot can happen to these communities without a news watchdog acting as a public advocate. Local government budgets and agendas go unchecked, impacting community investments, infrastructure and taxation.

When local news disappears, people suffer.

Online resource Patch is probably the most notable hyperlocal digital news property that’s stepped in for many defunct local analog newspapers. But its model doesn’t vary from market-to-market. It is a national service functioning at the hyperlocal level. Recently, it’s been reported that Google and McClatchy are partnering to provide digital newsrooms to three “news desert” communities, although it has not been disclosed which markets these are.

The irony, of course, is that digital access has made local news easier to produce than ever before. Viewers and readers submit their own content to news organizations, multiplying the scope of the stories that get picked up without having to increase overhead. However, blindly going this route opens things up to more unchecked agendas and uninformed spin posing as news.

Fortunately, there is a grownup in the room that can provide the news leadership experience responsibly. (You probably know where we’re going with this.)

Local broadcasters not only have the wherewithal and resources to admirably fill those hyperlocal gaps, they also enjoy the built-in trust of their constituents. Their gravitas in the marketplace, properly distributed, can transform these deserts into lush oases.

There’s more about it here at the New York Post (Facebook says it can’t find enough local news after helping kill local news) and TVNewsCheck (Loss Of Local News Leaves Public In Dark, Google, McClatchy Collaborating On Local News) and an extensive study on local news and how Americans get it in this study from the Pew Research Center (For Local News, Americans Embrace Digital but Still Want Strong Community Connection)

  2  Cable Finds Itself Downstream

We may have just passed a major crossroad in the TV landscape. According to a report from the MPAA, there are more steaming subscriptions than cable subscribers on planet Earth.

It’s not just belt-tightening audiences cutting the cord that is attributable to tipping the scales in streaming’s favor.

Ironically, the cost savings that come from cutting cable’s coax cord might just roll over into another wallet-drainer: multiple streaming subscriptions. Netflix gets most of the buzz, but it doesn’t have all of the programming. Streaming-friendly homes tend to subscribe to more than one service – and that’s likely to rise as more distributors enter the mix boasting exclusive content. Soon enough, those Marvel movies you’ve been binging on Netflix will be infinity-stoned over to Disney Plus. And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg.

The tides and eddies of the streaming ecosystem are still forming. We’re much closer to the primordial beginning of their lifespan than the evolutionary coda. The landscape of separate streaming services is the realization of the consumer drive for an ala carte option cable system. Only now, you need to individually pay for what you want to watch rather than subtract what you don’t. Time will tell how that will work for the consumer in the long run. There’s already been some speculation that eventually the streaming services will coalesce under one mega streaming distribution service option (i.e., “Basic Streaming Plus” gets you Netflix and Hulu). In other words, streaming may one day evolve into a cable model.

Sometimes, evolution takes a step backwards.

Go to Worldwide Streaming Subscribers Surpass Cable Subscribers For First Time on Mediapost and The Future of Streaming is the Cable Bundle on Vox.

  3   This Online Shopping Thing May Just Catch On

Continuing along the “for the first time” path, February marked the first time that the percentage of online general merchandise retail sales outpaced traditional in-store sales.

The difference is razor-thin (out to the third decimal), yet it’s the crossing nexus of the trend lines that have been on a collision course for years. But now that the Rubicon has been crossed, chances are unlikely that it will reverse itself.

There are dozens of other “unthinkable” intersections that have been breached that have become the new normal (flash back to the time that broadcast had an unassailable dominance in share over cable or newspapers dominated local news).

The shifts in consumer sales may trigger another shift – advertising category shifts. Local retailers have already begun to embrace digital ad solutions to be deeper through the purchase funnel and to capture more transactional clicks. And guess where they’re going?

Auto sales, gasoline sales and food/beverage sales are still safely on the analog side of consumer spending. After all, it’s still not in Alexa’s skill set to fill your tank. But as retail goes, so goes America. And this is just one more trendline that shows that the future is more and more of an America online. (No, not that one.)

Online shopping officially overtakes brick-and-mortar retail for the first time ever” tells more of the story on CNBC


  4   Apple Made an Announcement

Zeitgeist University’s sponsor Apple made another culture-shifting announcement recently. Well, maybe nothing quite culture-shifting as the iPhone, but it was an announcement.

They’re going to release a TV app. It will be available on devices far and wide, not just Apple devices. Oprah approves, Steven Spielberg is involved, Steve Carell and Jennifer Aniston will be on a show, and it will be exciting.

What we don’t know is how much, when, or what. The why is pretty clear. iPhone sales are on the decline and streaming is the Wild West. Everybody is getting into the game, including non-media companies like Walmart. Apple is a lifestyle/culture brand. It wasn’t about how, when, or what. It was only a matter of destiny.

So Apple threw an upfront as only they can. It was bathed in black and white (probably as an homage to Steve Jobs’ turtleneck as much as branding, as Rose Gold was unfairly ignored), driven by hyperbole and short on specifics.

We know that it will be known as Apple TV+. Clearly, Hulu Plus and Disney Plus have not cornered the “+” market.

We know nothing about the cost. “But wait – there’s more! We have Jennifer Aniston!” Marketing 101 suggests that you make people eager for your product, then hit them with the price. But it’s hard to be eager for something that you haven’t really seen. No clips. No price. Just a name that doesn’t create any separation from others in the marketplace.

We’re Apple. It’s going to be great. Trust us.

Having no content, no pricing, and no context is no way to go through an upfront, son.

There are plenty of articles online discussing the Apple announcement. Here are a few: Apple TV Plus doesn’t have its Game of Thrones grabber…yet, from CNET, Vulture’s We Learned a Lot About Apple TV+ Today, But Not How Much It’ll Cost, Hollywood Reporter’s Critic’s Notebook: Apple’s Big TV Presentation Tells Us Little About Apple’s TV Plans, and Forbes’ Apple Announces Apple TV+: Will It Succeed In A Crowded Streaming Market?

  5   What Podcasts Resonate with Listeners?

Now that over half of all Americans have listened to a podcast, and one third listens at least once a month, where are people spending their podcasting time? 

Well, if you look at the top four formats in February according to Podtrac, people want to laugh, to think, to feel, and to make money at it. (Comedy, News & Politics, Society & Culture, and Business are the top four podcasting formats.) 

That comedy is the top podcasting format tracks well. Like TV, comedy provides escapism. During bad economic times, comedy is simply easier, more comforting content than “watching a coroner pick shrapnel out of some poor guy’s body parts” as Chuck Lorre once said. Substitute bad political times and Lorre’s observation holds together as well today as it did back in 2011.

It shows that it pays to follow the spectacle. The News & Politics format has a unique monthly audience of over 1.7 million, while the Government & Organizations format clears just over 55 thousand. Listening to bureaucracy isn’t nearly as engaging as listening to the people who are trying to get there.

TV & Film comes in as the #10 format, showing a year over year audience growth of 86%. But with only 255 thousand monthly listeners, it’s less than half of the Sports & Recreation format delivers each month (575,000). However, Sports & Rec is stagnating, with only an 8% bump vs 2018.

Why is this important? 20 million more people are listening to podcasts than in 2018. Older demos are catching up to younger demos in podcasting usage. More entertainment companies are producing bigger-ticket content that’s more streamlined for easy, snackable access. Smart speakers have connected nearly every room in people’s homes.  We’re at a point where there’s little doubt that 20 million will look like a pretty small number soon enough.

Radio Online’s “Podtrac Provides Rankings for Top Podcast Categories” and the New York Times’ “Podcast Growth Is Popping in the U.S., Survey Shows


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