At the upcoming Feb. 5-7 Innovation Mission, one of the many disruptive companies we’ll be visiting is WRAL. We spoke with John Conway, General Manager, CBC New Media Group, Capitol Broadcasting Company about some of the things going on at the company
Q: WRAL has a long, storied history as an innovator in local media. How does the company maintain its progressive culture and DNA over such an extended period of time?
I believe it begins with our CEO, Jim Goodmon. He created the culture and expectation that Capitol Broadcasting Company should be an early adopter — the first whenever possible — of new technology. That first-mover advantage lets you understand the opportunities and challenges of emerging technologies. Also, being privately owned helps the company move quickly into new areas of interest. That allowed us to be early on the web, first with HD, early to mobile web and apps, early with data broadcasting, among the first to broadcast in 4K, and early to the game with OTT apps and voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home.
Q: You’re already invested heavily in digital video, but are doubling down in 2018. Why do you see this as such a robust opportunity?
All of the forecasts and trends point toward continued rapid growth in digital video consumption. That means that advertising and marketing dollars will follow. We have a ton of video content, but much of it was created for TV news broadcasts. Some of the video works well on digital devices. But we also want to explore new ways of producing video to appeal to younger audiences and people using other platforms. And we want to experiment with ad formats and distribution channels.
Q: You’ve also been an early mover on Facebook, whether it’s Instant Articles or Live. What are a couple of the biggest learnings thus far, particularly when it comes to monetizing the platform?
Publishers are seeing different results with Facebook Instant Articles, so the best advice is to test, measure and adapt. Find out if Instant Articles are generating incremental growth or cannibalizing referral traffic to mobile web. Facebook has started rolling out tools (though not widely) to help publishers compare results. You also need to know which elements on your mobile pages drive the most revenue and make sure you can retain as many of those on your Instant Article pages as possible. We’ve experimented some with Facebook Live for sponsored content. There’s some good potential there, but don’t underestimate the resources and training it will take to execute that content. It also requires educating clients on what type of content works well on social. It can’t look like a :30 TV spot.
Q: As you head into 2018, what’s the #1 disruptive trend, opportunity or challenge that you anticipate for the business?
There are so many disruptors it is hard to pick just one. The common thread is time. Because of disruptors, information consumers have a rapidly expanding menu of content and platforms to choose from. But no one can add more hours to the day, so competition for people’s time and awareness escalates. Whether you have an ad model or subscription model or both, you need to convert as many visitors as possible from casual fans to loyalists. That means having engaging content and services with unique value propositions. And because our audiences are pressed for time, we need to help them save time and surface the content that interests them the most. That means greater use of passive personalization, as you would expect from Netflix or Amazon or Facebook.
Q: For IM attendees, what kind of discussion should they expect and what do you hope to hear from them?
Our team looks forward to a free-flowing dialogue (excluding confidential info, of course) that benefits everyone. We don’t hold the patent on good ideas. We want to hear about the big rocks that other publishers are trying to move in 2018, whether that is collection and analyzing data, adding marketing services, growing reader engagement, building an events business or executing video production cost effectively. Or, hopefully, building something entirely new!