Wisconsin Broadcasters Association

No business category (except for possibly airlines) has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic like broadcasters. As entire communities shut down, ad budgets disintegrated, virtually overnight. Many of us have lived through economic downturns and thought the Great Recession of 2008 was the worst we’d see in our lifetimes.

And then along comes the pandemic. We’ve spoken with broadcasters across America who’ve witnessed declines of 50 percent, and some 70 percent, in their revenue. While this tended to occur in April and May, and there are signs of improvement, returning to the revenue levels of 2019 feels like it may be way off.

The good news for broadcasters is our “customers” – listeners and viewers – continue to engage with us pretty much the same way they always have. While our COVID-19 research studies for radio indicate shifts in the way they access content as they spend less time in the car and more time at home, consumption levels for both radio and local television are relatively fine.

Your customers can’t say the same thing.

Not only have they been affected financially, but the way people interact with retailers, restaurants, and many other purchasing behaviors have been significantly impacted, possibly forever. This not only will change the way many businesses allocate marketing and advertising budgets, it will change their entire way of doing business.

Don’t believe me? Walk downtown or into a shopping mall. Or watch CNBC and read The Wall Street Journal about the closures and bankruptcies in the retail space. The old structure of the way businesses have transacted has been altered. They don’t require as much physical space as they used to as their customers are no longer willing to browse slowly down aisles or sit in a coffee shop for a few hours.

While we don’t know how permanent this shift is, a May study from daVinci Payments finds that seven in ten (71 percent) of US adults plan to do more than half of their holiday shopping digitally this year. While eCommerce giants like Amazon have been encroaching on local retail, the virus has accelerated this behavioral change, and for businesses to survive, they must adapt.

So, what does this mean for broadcasters?

The bad news is, for the time being, the advertising market is going to be soft. The good news, however, is businesses still need what you have – listeners and viewers. It’s just that their needs have changed, and to be successful, broadcasters are going to need to pivot along with them.

If consumers are shifting to eCommerce, the logical solution is for broadcasters to provide an array of solutions for them beyond :60s, :30s, and :10s. While I don’t expect any of you to build the next Amazon for your clients, re-configuring station websites and mobile apps make sense. They can contain links to each participating client’s eCommerce website, for example, and provide a more direct link between your audience and your clients. And of course, you can charge for this.

We’ve been working on an app solution for cities and towns as they re-open. It contains listings of local retailers, including hours, links to websites, mapping, etc. because we’ve heard from many of you of the need to provide a solution.

Other approaches include really beefing up station website databases to provide clients with targeting opportunities, push and text messaging programs, and organizing virtual events in conjunction with sponsors.

The bottom line is life is going to go on. It’s just going to be different. None of us have any idea of how this is going to end, and as a result, we don’t know when things will return to “normal.” So, it’s time to take matters into our own hands, listen to our customers, and provide new, digital solutions.

Let’s not forget that despite how things have changed, one big important thing remains: Broadcasters provide the one thing advertisers want most – local customers.

The WBA Digital Hotline is a free service of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association. If you have any questions about your digital, social, or mobile strategy, contact Paul Jacobs at paul@jacobsmedia.com or Seth Resler at Seth@jacobsmedia.com.

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