Four Knoxville media heavyweights agreed on one thing Thursday when discussing the impact of “new media” on their businesses: they don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.
Jeff Lee, general manager of WBIR, the number one TV station in the market, Bruce Hartmann, president and publisher of the News Sentinel, Knoxville’s daily paper, Ed Brantley, general manager of Citadel, which operates four local radio stations including country powerhouse WIVK, and David Jernigan, the general manager of Lamar, the leading billboard company here, spoke to the Knoxville Advertising Federation at a luncheon at Peerless Steakhouse.
“There is nothing we won’t try,” Lee said. “This is a survival issue.”
- Lee said his station is facing “triple headwinds” when it comes to the business climate: the down economy; fragmentation of the media landscape (“Our largest concern is not other TV stations. It’s that people have other choices altogether.”); and NBC’s primetime TV schedule which, he said, “is not where it used to be.”
- Hartmann said charging for content on the Web sites of news organizations will not work. The News Sentinel tried that several years ago with its GoVolsXtra sports news site, which cost subscribers just a few dollars a month. When the site got up to 4,000 to 5,000 subscribers, it plateaued, he said, and the company decided to make the content free. “At the end of the day, paid content will not work,” he predicted.
- Brantley said the most successful advertisers will integrate their ad buys, using broadcast, print and Internet platforms. “The more you integrate, the better you will do,” he said. “We don’t just sell spots anymore. We sell whole marketing packages.”
- Jernigan said he is seeing more acceptance of digital billboards among the public and elected officials and that technology, he said, provides an interactive element to outdoor advertising. “One of our weaknesses used to be that we couldn’t deliver as quickly. But now we can get messages out on the streets in a matter of minutes.” He cited one billboard he has seen advertising a radio station and listing the currently playing song under a headline, “Now Playing.” It changed with every song.
All said they are sharing content with other media organizations in order to cut costs and Lee and Hartmann said the journalists of the future will have to work in all the fields, combining print, broadcast and interactive.
Lee addressed a question about why WBIR is eliminating the popular and long-running “Heartland Series.” “I have to cut expenses,” he said. “We have done everything we can to cut things behind the scenes. Now when we cut something, the viewers are going to notice it.” He said keeping “Heartland” on the air would take “a lot” more money. “Not everybody is going to survive this,” he said. “We want to be one of the survivors.”
All the executives tried to end on a positive note. Brantley said he has fully embraced new media. Jernigan said he was excited about the changes in outdoor and that many advertisers now list their Web sites on billboards. Lee and Hartmann stressed that their companies have expanded their offerings to include various Web sites and mobile applications. All said they were excited about the changes and what the future will hold.
In my opinion, media Web sites such as knoxnews.com and WBIR.com are still the most trusted sources for news on the Internet and they are going to stay strong. And where readers go, advertisers will follow.
So whether you believe, as one audience member opined, that Thursday’s program was “like watching the dinosaurs talk about the Ice Age,” or you see a key role for traditional media in the digital era, it was a fascinating snapshot of where the top dogs in Knoxville media see themselves right now.