By Nathan Rudyk
Over the years I've had the distinct pleasure of contributing tech commentary to both CTV Ottawa (formerly CJOH-TV) in addition to being called on by BNN, Canada's national business news network. I received an email in advance of last weekend's "Save Local TV" open house from Paul Brent, CTV Ottawa's respected Tech Now show host, saying that his station's getting squeezed from two ends – recession-driven advertising cut-backs and the increasing diet for social media that parks previously TV-oriented people in front of their computer screens while they participate on Facebook and YouTube.
The good news is that 2,500 friends, advertisers and loyal viewers turned up to CTV Ottawa's studios to express support on the weekend. The other news is that CTV stations are sustained on a steady diet of "me-too" American programming that can be accessed across a multitude of on-demand digital channels on and off the Internet.
My take is that Paul and the local news team, including community-minded luminaries like Max Keeping, Leanne Cusack, Leigh Chapple and Norm Fetterley, must be unleashed to produce what Carleton University J-school professor Chris Dornan calls "hyper-local" news and community cultural programming that's not easily duplicated elsewhere.
It's no huge secret that one of the last areas of growth in the newspaper biz is community papers. My friends Rob and Kris Riendeau at theHumm, a hyper-local community newspaper in market2world's hometown of Almonte are putting one of their biggest issues to bed as I write this. It's been the same for the last several months. No recession there.
Forget about Desperate Housewives. They'll remain desperate on a galaxy of other channels. Given what and who they know and how committed they are to Ottawa, the CTV Ottawa news team could skillfully take on a distinct hyper-local point-of-view like Ottawa AM radio station CFRA, and with on-air tie-ins to social media (recognizing that many people watch TVs with their laptops or iPhones by their sides) that engage viewers real-time in Web-enabled conversations about local issues, news and people that make Ottawa happen.
Is it a quick fix? Doubt it, but experienced local news reporters and producers could, I suspect, make it happen faster than the meetings at CTV HQ to provide the hyper-local mandate. The quick fix currently being recommended involves porting revenue (via service price hikes) from cable and satellite providers to help pay the costs of the local stations. I'm not against that either, but I'd propose that any new digital content toll attach a hyper-local mandate to the recipient stations.
It's ironic how the hyper-digital universe is driving specialization/localization in so many spheres – the exact opposite of how large-scale mainstream media has (previously) succeeded. The change cometh no matter what.
Could this approach work to save local television? What do you think? Also check out Ottawa Bus Operator Randy Martin's "Save Local 'A' and Ottawa CTV Facebook Group" here.