Top broadcast news execs contemplate future

BES leaders took a few jabs at each other while addressing the evolution of their business and ways to reach younger audiences.

Television and media industry execs gathered in Toronto yesterday for the annual Broadcast Executives Society’s luncheon, at which CBC News publisher John Cruickshank, Canwest VP news operations Troy Reeb and CTV News president Robert Hurst took a few jabs at each other while addressing the evolution of the business and how to reach younger generations.

The discussion began with references to declines in the print media industry, and how dollars will shift from that medium to new media opportunities – possibly bypassing the broadcast industries. One figure cited by the panel indicates that only about 19% of young people will become active newspaper readers in the future.

Cruickshank noted that declines in the print industry have been continuing for decades, and in a media climate where a ‘declining interest in news altogether’ exists, broadcasters must effectively invent a new business case.

‘No matter how different things are now in Canada in terms of how newspapers or television or radio hold onto audiences as we go forward, there’s going to be an extraordinary new media industry,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be tough on the media, and even tougher on the advertising people, who are trying to connect with people and audiences that no longer aggregate in the ways that they used to.’

With some reference to the new economy of free information that is emerging (as recently noted in trend pieces by Wired magazine), Reeb suggested that, from a news standpoint, major media brands such as the New York Times and the Guardian in Britain ‘are not monetizing their product.’ He suggested advertisers should sit back and think about how to get the best value for their dollars.

‘The important thing for advertisers to remember as they stampede online, because that’s where all the ‘cool kids’ are, is that the face of a television personality is unique, and the community aspects they bring help make that advertising proposition more valuable,’ said Reeb. ‘A seal of approval comes with services that are advertised on local TV newscasts. There’s an automatic positive association with that, and it doesn’t come through elsewhere.’

News programming, Reeb added, is among the least PVR’d and least time-shifted element of the broadcast media industry – not susceptible to ‘many of those other monsters chewing’ at on-air programming. Hurst was quick to support the notion that news programming, unlike scripted series or reality entertainment shows, has a place in the future model of the broadcasting business.

‘We are seeing in television, of course, an erosion of our revenue,’ said Hurst. ‘But it has not hit television with the same arrow through the heart that is attacking newspapers.’ He then recounted past examples of CTV’s attempt to reach millennials that failed because, ultimately, people pay closer attention to news only after certain life responsibilities kick in, such as taxes, family, etc.

‘Information is spinning around the world instantly,’ said Hurst. ‘We are in an explosion of communication. And what is our business model? To you and your neighbours, we are navigators. This is the business, in terms of the future of news. Your customers and our viewers want more and more and more news, because they are immersed in it. The question then is, ‘What is the delivery mechanism?”