A Fresh Look - TBT to 2013!

Recycling and the Future of Video Storytelling

By Randy Murray

In 2012, the RMP team recommended that United Way save money by using the campaign video for two years instead of just one. Two years for a little more than the cost of one year? That is good math. United Way was thrilled to have a vendor trying to help them save money.

We felt that the majority of our audience only watched the video one time so a second screening with some new elements wouldn’t feel too repetitive. Plus, a large part of the audience did not see the 2012 video anyway, so this would be a first viewing for them.

We originally did not take into consideration, however, the many United Way team members who worked through the whole season showing the video. It made good economic sense to spend a little bit of money to create a fresh take on the United Way story to help keep these ‘super influencers’ energized. For me, the lesson learned is that I needed to be aware of not just the viewing audience, but also the structure that brought my stories to the audience. I also needed to pay attention to the value, or weight, of the different viewers.

So in the end, we built the 2012 video in a way that it could be freshened up a bit. When you watch the 2013 video, it will feel familiar yet it will also have new content.

Lawrence in front of barbed wire

Shifting Sands

This is a good lesson in a time of shifting structures in the storytelling delivery world. In college (I graduated in 1980 from the ASU School of Broadcasting, which later was renamed to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication), we were excited to be entering an industry that was transitioning from three broadcast networks to a cable-casting world with twenty networks. Today, the most successful brands in cable-casting are struggling. Just look at ESPN’s earnings. And the major networks are now offering their content online. It is no longer a world when you just have to create great content, you now have to create great delivery strategies as well. Could optimization replace good frequency and reach? I don’t think so, at least not yet. But get ready for even more change in how our stories are delivered, how we measure the effectiveness of our stories and their reach, and how we structure these stories.

Alone Together

I am no fortune teller, yet it is no trick to see the future. Ironically, for a while longer we will become even more isolated as we gain more power to be more connected. Many of us are already sitting next to our family members in the living room having individual experiences with a large number of strangers online. Sometimes, we even interact with the people sitting next to us via our screens! Soon, we will be sitting together with goggles on our faces. Just wait until virtual reality is a regular part of our daily lives. When we no longer watch the news, but visit it. When taking part in an event or activity virtually delivers real consequences and results. The power players in the VR world are not betting on the staying power of the ‘wow’ experience we get the first time we see a good VR video with our cardboard glasses. They are betting on the long term practical applications and benefits of virtual connectivity. I don’t see VR transitioning from toy to tool soon, but I think it will happen; when it does, I bet it will happen quickly.

Randy Murray Productions VR Glasses

Networks Won’t

It may seem like a small deal that CBS runs commercials on their network encouraging their viewers to watch their shows on CBS.com, but think about what this constitutes: an amazing breach of good faith and the shattering of substructures in the story delivery industry. Here in Phoenix, the Meredith Corporation owns KPHO Channel 5 and they pay CBS a carriage fee so that you can turn on your TV and watch “The Good Wife” or “Angel From Hell.” You get to watch these shows for free because local car dealers and utility companies and many other companies pay Meredith for a few seconds of your time.

But what to watch is not your only choice now. You can choose to watch “The Good Wife” and “Angel From Hell” on TV or on CBS.com ‘All Access.’ And it’ll only take so long to change people’s comfort levels with digital – as soon as you become more comfortable with your Apple TV, why would you choose to watch Channel 5? For the local commercials? I suspect this is a very contentious topic at meetings when negotiating the carriage fee. As a result, I suspect networks will someday soon look more like entertainment applications than the entertainment on our local TV stations.

Better Math

At first, I thought this was the ‘demonetization’ of local broadcasting, the beginning of the end for local TV. Being the optimist that I am, though, I am now thinking this could be the new dawn of local television. I was part of the first wave in the local television content development business in 1980, a B2B industry that brought you infomercials, branded content, tons of single market shows and televangelists. This betrayal of the local broadcasters by the networks may be the first significant shift in that business model.

When I was doing “Wavelength,” a local rock and roll show that aired Friday nights at midnight on Channel 3, I had a barter deal with the locally owned KTVK: KTVK sold half of the spots on our show and my partners and I sold the other half. Friday nights at midnight on Channel 3 in 1980 was a very affordable place to advertise – you could buy a 30-second spot for as little as $25.

Here’s a Wavelength montage we dug up for even more #TBT!

For us though, the math didn’t work. There were not enough $25 30-second spots in my half of the hour to pay for all the work it takes to make a quality local TV show. But there were businesses that found value in the audience of a local rock and roll show. Record stores, radio stations, concert promoters and bars would pay us $250 and more per spot so that they had this trusted conduit to their ‘super influencers.’ Okay, the math still didn’t work, but we were getting closer. So even though the math may not work for a single market TV show – even weighted math – barter deals may be a feasible funding formula for TV stations. (I think most of the syndicated content on local TV stations are still bartered.)

Business Always Wins

So if Channel 5 is no longer the place to go watch CBS content, Channel 5 will stop paying for it. That means they are going to be looking elsewhere for content. But will the math work? Only if the local businesses find that Channel 5 has content that they can’t get anywhere else and that delivers enough ‘weighted’ viewers. An obvious opportunity is localism. And with the cost of storytelling technology controlled by Moore’s Law (it gets cheaper and better every year), the cost of development continues to drop. This could be the perfect storm for local content. But who knows? As I said, I am not a fortune teller and you should not believe me if I tell you I can see the future.

Looking towards the future definitely paid off with the 2012 and 2013 United Way videos. Saving our client a bit of money paid off too, of course. Take a look at the “updated” version of the video and let us know what you think!


Randy is an award-winning director and producer with a passion for helping others through the power of storytelling. He’s also a political junkie, loves college football, and enjoys performing random magic tricks for children he meets in the street.