Inside The TV Membership Project: Why local news media needs this right now


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By Jed Williams • Chief Strategy Officer, Local Media Association

When we first embarked on the idea of The TV Membership Project – long before it was a structured Accelerate Local program, or even had a name – we focused on just one thing: listening closely to our customers (as we so often advise them to do with theirs).

Jed Williams

Williams

An extensive round of empathy interviews with leaders across the local media ecosystem underscored a known truth, but in bolder strokes than we could have imagined. That truth: meaningful relationships with deeply engaged audiences are essential, and in turn open up new pathways for direct consumer revenue. These were not just executives from newspapers or other subscription-focused organizations saying this. Rather, this was a universal refrained echoed by everyone we spoke with, including and notably television broadcasters.

“Why?” you may wonder. TV broadcasters, like their newspaper peers, have strong, credible brands serving their communities. They also boast unique assets: robust video content, renowned talent and personalities, and established franchises (weather and sports, for example). But in the vast majority of cases, their relationships with viewers and readers are currently built on broad reach – a one-to-everyone megaphone instead of a personalized, one-to-one experience that enables them to connect, communicate, convene, and transact.

Combine these unique assets, existing gaps, and strong ambition to build a more audience-first business and the concept of The TV Membership Project was born.

Over the next nine months, Accelerate Local, in conjunction with a set of best-in-class partners, will work hand-in-glove with three progressive broadcasters – FOX Television Stations, Meredith Corp., and WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Co. — to help these local institutions more deeply understand their audiences’ values, wants, and needs, then empower them to launch an actual membership model or other direct consumer revenue initiative, utilizing customer insights to drive entirely new revenue streams.

Our grounded hypothesis is that membership and similar direct consumer concepts can indeed succeed with broadcasters. This could be specialized, premium content. Perhaps it’s more experiential; think VIP access to talent and/or community events. Or maybe it’s a commerce-based offering. It could be a mix of all three, or something entirely different. Our mission is to test this universe of ideas, then bring extensible learnings and application to the industry at large to promote models that should be more widely considered, and possibly replicated.

Consistent with Accelerate Local’s approach to any initiative, The TV Membership Project begins with original customer research foundations (both focus groups and surveys) that will spotlight functional and emotional drivers for consumer participation in a membership program. These insights will then inform recommendations that will serve as cornerstones for “Minimum Viable Product” membership and direct consumer brands that will be built and launched in a pilot.

Courtesy Magid

All along the way, participants will share learnings and best practices with each other to sharpen design-and-deploy strategies and accelerate progress.

We’ve seen green shoots of progress with broadcasters reaping the benefits of strengthening their audience relationships beyond their traditional linear channels. Graham Media Group launched its pilot KSAT Insiders program in San Antonio earlier this year, and has seen important gains in repeat audience engagement, newsletter subscriptions and event attendance. And public broadcasters such as KQED in San Francisco, WGBH in Boston, and WHYY in Philadelphia have storied histories of successful membership and donation models that now extend across digital platforms. We’ll look to each of these models and tests as guideposts to help illuminate our path.

As we embark on The TV Membership Project, we will also fast-track new research and due diligence on how this work could benefit other media segments, be it newspapers, radio stations, digital publishers, city/regional magazines, and more. If you are interested in learning more about The TV Membership Project, and/or discussing similar work for other local media, please get in touch! We’d love to talk to you.

Jed Williams is the Chief Strategy Officer at Local Media Association and Accelerate Local. He can be reached at jed.williams@localmedia.org.