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How do news organizations find their footing when the ground starts shifting? We’re going to provide a hands-on view into the process that’s unfolding as newsrooms at the Missouri School of Journalism begin exploring and launching over-the-top (OTT) products and projects.

Are we there yet? Remember that line from the back seat in the days before iPads, earphones and earbuds?

The road-trip to the future of local television stretches for miles. Some think the latest version of ATSC standards for television broadcasting, or ATSC 3.0, that was created by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) is the destination while others say that will be just another roadside attraction — and one that may be far off. If your road-trip memories are like mine, the stops along the way are often more memorable than the destination.

The Missouri School of Journalism invited me to come along on their trip to OTT under the umbrella of the school’s NBC affiliated KOMU-TV. One faculty member described me as equal (?) parts consultant, counselor and facilitator. Randy Picht, executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, asked me to share the journey. Consider these postcards from our trip: Quick reads and hopefully some reports on what YOU are seeing on your journey.

First off, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

If anyone tells you they have figured out OTT, feel free to scoff because the reality is you’re more likely to encounter folks who don’t even know what OTT stands for. (It’s “Over The Top,” which is the worst possible name for TV channels that come into the living room, or anywhere, via the internet, not the airwaves.)

The Mizzou team agreed from the start that the road to OTT is the start of much longer journey — a journey that every local newsroom is taking. Some speeding forward while others are taking time to see the landscape along the way.  At the school, it is imperative that the Columbia Missourian, KBIA-FM, Vox Magazine and Missouri Business Alert all join the ride.

I pulled off the OTT highway last month. The media publication TVNewsCheck assembled its first OTT News Summit. I shared my takeaways on campus earlier this month, so here goes with my first postcard.

  • OTT is television. Ask your “civilian” friends and they won’t recognize the term. For the audience, it’s about Roku, Amazon Fire, AppleTV and similar technologies. What makes OTT special is that it exists as its own eco-system at the intersection of journalism, video and information eco-systems. We’ll come back to that in a later postcard.
  • News — particularly local news — needs to be viewed as a special case. It is not Netflix, Hulu or any of the other entertainment-based applications. News on OTT is part of the broader eco-system including websites, mobile apps and social media. Katie Larson, VP of Brand Strategy and Innovation of Magid, opened the News Summit with four recommendations based on their market research:
    • Plant a flag on streaming platforms — quickly.
    • Think beyond distribution and build connections with target audiences.
    • Expand content portfolios beyond traditional linear newscasts.
    • Plan for multiple revenue streams.
  • Technology can quickly turn into a detour. CNN and CBS News Digital built large parts of their own technology simply because they could not find the features they needed when launching their streaming products. Understanding the importance of the overall news eco-system, newsroom workflow and overall integration are now becoming far more important considerations.

Time to pull back on the OTT highway. Look for our next postcard soon.

Steven Ackermann  
 
Special Projects Consultant



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