Remember when news just meant linear broadcast? In case you’ve been trapped in a cave for the last decade or so, the new normal is a proliferation of platforms—linear broadcast, OTT, on-domain, in-app, and let’s not forget the all-important social channels. Sure, it’s important to consider how to deliver to all these channels, but the bigger question is what to deliver.
In this episode, we ask: How has multi-platform delivery changed how news is reported? How are broadcasters thinking about tailoring content across channels and determining their optimal mix of platforms?
Listen to Hear:
- How NBCLX is breaking the mold in terms of both content and platform
- How a multi-platform distribution strategy influences content decisions
- Why experimentation and testing is key to NBCLX's strategy
Our Guest This Episode
Matt Goldberg is the VP of Content Strategy for the NBC-owned TV stations, where he leads the team that developed and launched LX. Matt has been with NBC for 17 years, previously as Assistant News Director at KNBC in Los Angeles and at NBC Bay Area. Prior to moving into management, Matt was an award-winning investigative producer. Matt was an elected board member of the non-profit Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) and served as Board President from 2016-18. He began his career in TV news while attending Arizona State and has also worked in Houston, Texas.
When you run a business like this that has two north stars—the first being to research and take risk, and then the second to build a brand and create a new audience—it can be daunting.
Matt Goldberg, VP of content strategy, NBCUniversal
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Craig Wilson: Hi, it’s Craig Wilson here, your host for the Making The Media podcast, and welcome to the latest episode in our season. I’m going to be talking to Matt Goldberg, Vice President of Content Strategy at NBC Universal, for the NBC-owned TV stations in the United States. In this role, Matt leads the team that developed NBC LX, a new channel which launched last year. Firmly dedicated to innovative ways of storytelling, delivered on multiple platforms, and seeking new audiences makes LX a model which others will follow. I talked to Matt about his role within NBC Universal, his journalistic career, and the strategy behind the station.
Matt Goldberg: In this role, what I do is I have led a team for the last couple of years in trying to analyze how we can find new audiences—and particularly younger audiences—and bring them to television news, either because they have never watched and they’re “cord nevers,” or because they have been turned away because they don't like the product—so they’re “cord cutters.”
So I've been doing this job for a little over two years. I previously was in news management for TV stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where I was the assistant news director and running both pretty large market television stations. And then before that—before I got the management bug—I spent about 15 years as an investigative reporter and worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and I started in college, when I went to Arizona State. So I have a rich background in journalism. Really what's in my blood is storytelling and getting to the bottom of things, and that has really transcended into what I've created with LX in that it really is all about storytelling. Getting to depth and context, and really getting to answer the “why” in everything that we do.
CW: So the channel is available as OTT. So tell us a little bit about this kind of scheduling options, because I gather even with that, it's a little bit different around the number of commercial breaks that you have, or maybe the timing of commercial breaks as well, and again, how that how that differs from a more traditional approach.
MG: Yeah, so LX is a very unique product not only in content but also in platform. The whole idea is that we are everywhere that we can be. So we are first and foremost on traditional because we are owned by NBC and owned station, so we are broadcasting over the air in about 50 television markets. We are on cable in about half of those markets. That represents somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 million households in the United States, because most of those are large markets.
Then, on top of that you mentioned OTT. So LX has an app that you can watch our content both on the Apple iOS and on Roku. We are on LX.com, both in our clip content and also the linear stream of the network is available on LX.com—I think only within the US; I'm not 100 percent sure. It might be geofenced. But that's unauthenticated, so nobody ever has to say, “Oh, I've got a cable provider so then I can have access to it.” We are currently on NBC's new Peacock product in an on-demand capacity. We will be a part of the channel lineup on there soon, and we're having discussions every day with more OTT products from Xumo, Hulu, or on YouTube TV as a channel.
So what is interesting about it is you can watch all of our rich storyteller content and those mini docs—if we do an interview with somebody, we'll excerpt that and make that on-demand pretty quickly. But what is unique is that the linear channel is always available 24/7, kind of in a traditional programming sense. So the idea is that you can watch it whenever you want, however you want, both in the on-demand capacity, but also, what we've seen too, in developing this, is so much of the audience, particularly on some of these OTT products like Roku and Peacock, people actually want to just sit back and watch a linear stream—they don't want to actually go searching for something.
And early on, we just started being Nielsen rated, but we're seeing really good numbers. And particularly in the evening hours. We are one single stream, so if we do live news at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, it's airing at 5:00 PM Pacific Time, but we have a lot of our shows, we'll encore, so even though we may do a live show, then we'll encore a few times in different day parts and we're seeing a lot of viewership well into the early hours of the morning, for sure.
CW: Yeah, I mean, that was something I was going to ask about; what do you see as the difference between those that watch live and those watching on demand? Because again, I guess you know one of the things about live broadcast is that kind of appointment to view, so you know at 8:00 PM at night there's going to be a news show, and at 5:00 PM at night it's going to be a news show. So I guess that live element is still something that I think is a draw for people to view in the way that you know sports, live events are the big things which drive the audience there. So I'm interested in what you see as people who are watching live compared to VOD and what are those kind of numbers like?
MG: You know, I think there definitely is some energy about live that people like. The fact that it's coming to them not recorded and certainly on LX.com we're seeing viewership more on live then we see in the encores, whereas on broadcast and TV we're seeing kind of an even mix. But the great thing is that it's all available, you know, depending on how people want it.
VOD content gets a little more specific to, I think, what people's interests are, and we have certain verticals like environment and social justice that perform very well, but I think as far as the news product, what is a little different about LX from, say, a more traditional news channel like a CNN or MSNBC is we really try to hold true to our brand and we're about the depth and context. It gets back to taking that step back and realizing what's broken about traditional media and what we're trying to do to change that. So it's almost like hearing the voice of the viewer in your head all the time and realizing, like yeah, no, they actually don't want that, so let's try it. And you know, we've got a license to experiment, so we're going to do things and have done things where we do something and we watch it and we go, “Let's not do that again.”
I mean, so much of what we've already done, from our set design, having the less formal anchor desk to free flowing. I mean, some of my leaders, when I told them how I wanted the studio to look, and I said, “I'm going away from robotic cameras and I'm coming back to Steadicams,” they looked at me and said, “What? That's old school!” And I said that old school is in again. But it creates that authentic energy and that connectivity that I think started to get missing, particularly in local news, but also in traditional news broadcasting, where there's so much formality between the presenter and the audience. And the audience—at least from everything I've seen—wants us as on-air personalities to be a guide, to be their friend, and to be authentic.
But we're already seeing some of those risks that we took starting to pay off not only for us, but even our TV stations are talking about getting rid of their sets and changing that formality. And we saw it in the pandemic with everybody presenting from home—it almost forced the entire industry to just sort of say, "We gotta do this." So I think once the world gets normal there will be a lot of that stuff that stays.
CW: I think that’s a really interesting approach, because that’s something where you have to really stick to your guns. Because I think there is the temptation that, "Everyone's covering it so we should cover it as well." So you have to have your pretty strong editorial guidelines in view of what you're actually going to do to actually take that decision to back it up.
MG: Yeah! And it carries through even from the anchor to the reporter, to even just writing copy. I mean, a lot of our producing, when we we're going to present a story about something through a traditional VO or VOSOT, we often will not script it. We will literally do it as bullets, and it requires the personality to be more engaged and to understand what the bullets are. But the idea is that then they're going to convey that information and knowledge in their own natural voice. You know, it's the same thing with storytelling, and I've worked with a lot of traditional reporters who [speaking with exaggerated formality] track their pieces like this and talk like this, [in a normal speaking voice] and, you know, a technique that someone told me about to tell others is to tell me the story like you're telling it to me. And if that means when you're recording your track, the first thing you have to say is, “Craig, let me tell you about something,” and then you go into your line, it actually creates that diffusion of the formality because it's like I'm telling it to you over a beer, or I'm telling it to you in the living room. And I think some of those little techniques are starting to really invade our business.
CW: I know that there are some things that you've done on LX that are a little bit different in terms of how the news is being presented. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about some of the slightly more unusual things that you’ve done as part of it as well?
MG: We have experimented with a lot of different formats and techniques. Two things in particular; we have a franchise that we call "Drag News," and it is drag news. It is drag queens kind of reading and reacting to the news. It's part satire, part information, but there is takeaway. Basically what they do is they take a look at a news story, watch a news story, and it's almost—if you remember Mystery Science Theatre 2000—it's like almost a reboot of that concept where it's like, “OK, so did that guy really just say that? I mean come on,” and then they'll act stuff out, but they are in full drag and it's really just sort of fun. It's disarming. We get a little selective in what we choose, because you're not going to talk about a murder or someone's loss with that kind of satire.
We also do a franchise called "ASMR the News," leaning in on the ASMR concept. So it's shorter, but one of our contributors in LA does it, and you know, he whispers the news and talks about it like that and will have little sounds and things that will be a part of it. It's creative stimulation, both of those. And I'll be honest with you, when "ASMR the News" was pitched to me, I went like “What? Come on.” But what do I know? Let's see how it comes together and decide.
So I think you've gotta use a little bit of your gut, you've gotta clearly look at metrics and how things perform. But then, I think coming back to, “Did I achieve what it is I really wanted to achieve with telling that story?” And some of that you can do in research with focus groups, like where you say to somebody, "What was your takeaway?"
But when I think about the brand of LX, what I really try to get with every story that we do is to get the viewer to feel something. So we're really trying to get sort of subjective thought happening. So I might in the course of an eight-minute story reveal loads of facts and figures, and you might not remember any of that. But if it was a story about how climate change is causing the famous Joshua trees to die in the National Park in California—if your takeaway from that is that that's happening, and that you are angry about it or you are concerned and you then get engaged, then I have achieved that subjective idea and got you to feel something. So I think that's really, at the end of the day—if we can pull that, then we have had success.
CW: So what do you think are the big things you've learned in the first few months of the channel being available in what has been a pretty extraordinary year?
MG: My greatest takeaway, I think, is that what we thought would work, works. That it really just took the commitment and the energy and the gumption to take the risk. Because early on we were running eight- and nine-minute pieces, and news executives higher than me would say, “Those stories are too long.” And I'd say, “Well, we've got like a 90 percent completion rate on them. It's not designed for you.” So I think it's seeing some of the things that we started to design, that we thought would work, working, was a great takeaway.
I think the frustration is when you build a new product—even when you are NBCUniversal—unless you've got, you know, a billion-dollar marketing budget, it's very difficult to get people to come sample you, because it’s a crowded marketplace. And what’s great is when people have come and experienced LX content, they're like, “Wow, this is great.” But it's getting people to take that step and to put it on, has been a learning curve for sure.
CW: I think the other thing about that is there's also a different way that people don't necessarily recognize they're consuming news. If you watch something on Facebook, for example, you don't necessarily think, “Oh, I'm watching the news.” You’re just watching something on Facebook, as opposed to, “I'm sitting down to watch the, you know, the six o'clock news,” or something like that as well. So there is a different mind share, if you like; do people actually realize that they're watching something that’s classed as news? And I think from a younger audience, they don't necessarily have that delineation, that perhaps someone of my age group would have.
MG: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right, and I think what we see is that that when you actually do get out of the formula, you can portray news in a way that really is even more beneficial to the viewer. And I think that that really is the key, that it comes back to that breaking the mold and doing it so that it's not traditional, but you're conveying the content in a way that makes sense for the content but is not formulaic and not predictable.
CW: So I've got one final question to ask. What is it that keeps you awake at night? What is it that makes you think, “Oh, this is something we haven't addressed there we need to do”? So what is it that keeps you awake at night? Or do you sleep really well?
MG: No, everything keeps me awake at night. You know, there's little things like, “Did I do the program schedule for next month?” But then there's also bigger things. You know, when you run a business like this that has two North stars, the first being to research and take risk, and then the second, to build a brand and create a new audience, it can be daunting. They come together quite a bit because if you do take risk and experiment and it works, it's going to help achieve the other goal. But I think being in a position where I get to be a disruptor comes with a great amount of—I guess it's stress, which is, “What's the next thing we need to do? How do we do this differently?” And so yeah, there are many 3:00 AMs that I kind of sit up like this and go, "Are we pushing the envelope enough?"
CW: Thanks again there to Matt Goldberg, Vice President of Content Strategy at NBCUniversal for the NBC-owned TV stations. And we’ll hear from Matt again later in the season in an episode where we focus on how broadcasters are trying to attract new and younger audiences to their content.
Now, if you want to find out more about some of the topics that came up in the interview, take a look at the links in the show notes, where we have some food for thought for traditional broadcasters looking to streamline their digital distribution and to learn from digital-first content producers.
In the next episode, I’ll be talking to Philip Bromwell, Digital Native Content Editor at RTÉ in Ireland about the rise of mobile journalism. Here’s a short clip.
Philip Bromwell: The game has changed. I just don’t think, at this stage, that we’re in a position to really acknowledge just how much it has changed. One of the things enthusiasts about mobile journalism always say is, "If you are using your phone just to do, you know, Facebook and answer emails and telephone calls, it’s really like driving a Ferrari in first gear.”
CW: If you like what you heard in the podcast, please spread the world and also subscribe to Making the Media. Please leave a review, let us know what you think, or suggest topics you’d like us to cover. You can reach me on Twitter, I’m @craigaw1969 or email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Avid on your social channel of choice to get updates on new episodes and a whole lot more about our products and solutions.
Thanks again to our producer Rachel Haberman. I’m Craig Wilson. Until the next time, thanks for listening.