The Road to OTT: Flying solo in Oklahoma

How do news organizations find their footing when the ground starts shifting? We’re providing 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.

How do you engage in the Streaming Wars with only two television stations? Our stops on The Road to OTT have taken us to broadcast groups with dedicated corporate technology and business teams. How to navigate the route without that? Driving past oil and gas wells nestled below towering wind turbines, you are reminded of Oklahoma’s pioneering roots. Despite conflicting economic, social and racial themes, Oklahoma has always cultivated entrepreneurism. The state’s entrepreneurial spirit is not lost on Oklahoma-based Griffin Communications.

Griffin’s two television stations are among only a handful of local operations not part of a consolidated broadcast group. That means the hard work evaluating technology and business opportunities falls to a small group. For Griffin it also means sticking with what has made the family-owned company successful for almost seven decades—consistently serving local communities in the state of Oklahoma.

It starts with weather in the state that ranks first in tornadoes-per-square-mile. It is not coincidental that the Storm Prediction Center sits just a few miles south of Griffin’s Oklahoma City station. CBS affiliates KWTV in Oklahoma City and KOTV in Tulsa have been aggressive about developing digital products supporting extensive weather coverage. “During a severe weather event, we can easily have four or more simultaneous live video streams,” according to News Vice President Todd Spessard who adds they haven’t seen a lot of demand for OTT platforms like Roku or Amazon—until now.

Spessard explains the company pays very close attention to audience analytics. “We use multiple sources for data, including a recently hired expert who really understands all the different sources of data, because we’ve known for some time that traditional rating services were not accurately measuring our audience,” says Spessard. That is why the first Griffin station OTT product will launch on AppleTV in the next few months. “Our Apple users are the most engaged and give us the best feedback,” says Marketing Vice President Houston Hunt.

Spessard says both KWTV and KOTV newsrooms want to experiment with different kinds of storytelling. “We’ve been re-tooling our newsrooms to create a 24/7, multi-platform, on demand news cycle which includes more content and different kinds of content,” says Spessard.

Each newsroom is reinventing itself to include at least 20 MMJ’s—now the universal term for video journalists who often shoot and edit their own video. Spessard says the MMJ’s add—not replace the dozen or so news photographers working at each station. It is all about more content. “And as part of our commitment to the state of Oklahoma, we have created the only locally staffed Washington, DC newsroom which will report for both KWTV and KOTV,” says Spessard.

The Griffin newsrooms still cover sports. KWTV covers the Oklahoma Sooners and KOTV handles the Oklahoma State Cowboys. “We are the only media to cover every Thunder basketball game—home and away,” says Spessard referring to the state’s incredibly popular NBA franchise. He adds that sports content could be another streaming opportunity.

Spessard pushes back against the idea that the family-owned company is immune from financial pressures. Changing relationships with the networks, cable companies, advertisers and audiences impact Griffin just as others, but the company doesn’t have the scale of the consolidated operators. The real advantage is staying nimble. An example is fostering future relationships by streaming newscasts live on Facebook where Spessard says they hope to reach people unlikely to watch on any other platform, but quickly adds he’s not sure that is a long-term business strategy especially as broadcasters learn whether streaming platforms can become viable local businesses.

Back on the Road to OTT. Those of certain generation will chuckle at the coincidence that Historic Route 66 passes directly in front of Griffin’s Oklahoma City headquarters. And, just like Route 66, we expect more twists and turns ahead.


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