It’s the time of the year when communicators are starting to think about plans for 2024. But if you really want to understand the media business, it’s important to look ahead to 2025.
The commercial local TV business already is.
From what we’re hearing, the large corporations that own the most local stations are forecasting budget plans for the year after next. They’re looking that ahead because they expect to be temporarily buoyed by election advertising cash in 2024. When that ends, a new reality begins.
The good news for local TV news is that, depending on the survey, as many as 83 percent of Americans trust what they see and hear on their local channels. When there’s a big story, it’s still where the audience comfortable with it goes to find out how it’s impacting their community. But the bad news is that even though it’s the closest thing to “mass media” in most markets, like all traditional media businesses, it is challenged to keep up the enormous revenues and profits of the past. The reasons for that are numerous but include increased competition at all hours from streaming and other screens, younger audiences not following their parents’ habits or, in many cases, even aware of the local TV station offerings, decreased relevance of network programming that used to serve as news lead-ins, and longtime personalities retiring or moving on who are replaced by anchors and reporters not as entrenched in and familiar to the community.
If there’s one job in a TV station that always seemed it would be safe (not necessarily for the person holding it, but safe in that it was so likely to continue to exist), it was the General Manager, the top executive of the station. But now, Scripps, one of the largest owners of local TV stations in the country, is eliminating the job at some stations around the country. You can read the memo that explains it. And Sinclair, another mega-owner, is starting to combine news director jobs. For example, two stations in Michigan, one in a large market and one in a medium market, have local news operations overseen by the same leader even though they are 150 miles apart.
Some stations groups are trying to innovate, by making their news product more accessible via apps and their websites, thinking beyond “news, sports and weather at 5, 6 and 11” on a main channel that younger audiences don’t even remember. Others are continuing their investments in investigative reporting, that could stand out to new audiences. Anyone who depends on working with these outlets should pay attention.
Those of us in PR trying to do our jobs the right way have had to explain to clients that “that radio station no longer does news” or “no, there’s nobody to cover that beat at the paper anymore” as other media have decimated staffs or simply been cut out of existence. While it would be an overreaction to start planning for that kind of 2025 fate for local TV, especially in bigger markets, anticipating change will make it easier to manage.