THE BLOG
05/15/2015 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tragic News -- Millions for Nothing

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Training Evening Standard Print Reporters To Use iPhones for Video

Here are two tragic news stories that appeared back to back last week:

London Live and Al Jazeera.

Both are TV news start ups that had a lot of money behind them -- London Live is London's only local commercial TV news station and it is being funded by the Lebedev family -- net worth north of $1.1b. Al Jazeera America news, funded by The House of Thani, the ruling family of Qatar, net worth well north of, well, the North Pole.

In both cases, the projects were extremely well funded.

And both are abysmal failures.

In a recent article in The NY Times on the resignation of the most recent CEO for Al Jazeera America, the paper noted that the news channel had about 30,000 viewers. That would make it more profitable for the network to have burned their ads onto DVDs and paid people $10 each to watch them.

London Live, London's only commercial local news network (somewhat akin to NY1) is equally a disaster with a reported 0.3% of the viewing audience.

How is it possible that people with so much money messed up so badly?

At lot of it has to do with the kind of programming they were putting on.

In a word, boring.

In other word, 1971 TV.

Yes, both shows went out of their way to ape the height of television news in the early 1970s.

Frozen in time.

Audiences, of course, moved on a long time ago.

Like around 1979.

No, actually around 2003, when the Internet came into its own in the news business.

Television, and particularly television news, is the child of technology. Television does not exist without technology. There was no television news in Roman times, as there was law and medicine. But the technology keeps changing. Alas, the architecture of the broadcast does not - at least not for London Live nor for Al Jazeera.

The technology, in fact, has changed very fast.

If the automobile industry had moved as quickly as the information tech business has (Thomas Friedman, New York Times reported), applied to a 1971 Volkswagen: you would be able to go with that car 300,000 miles per hour. You would get two million miles per gallon of gas, and all that for the mere cost of 4 cents! Now, you'd still be stuck on the [Highway] 101 getting here tonight, but, boy, in every opening you'd be going 300,000 miles an hour!"

The local news business is still offering consumers a 1971 Volkswagen.

And, big surprise, they aren't buying.

But what could Al Jazeera America and/or London Live have done?

(Clearly, money was not an issue).

You will note that earlier this week, The New York Times, (along with a lot of other news organizations) announced that they were going to start putting their content on Facebook. That's because nearly one third of adults already get their news from Facebook, according to a recent Pew study. With 1.2 billion users (beats 30,000 viewers), there is a bit of a lesson to be learned here.

100% of the content of Facebook (pre NY Times, and not counting ads), is user generated. As is 100% of the content of Twitter (another new news platform) and Instagram and TripAdvisor and Airbnb, etc...

With eight million people in London with smartphones, London Live could have tapped into this massive potential for an entirely new kind of news. (Well, not entire new - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.. are all doing it already). We, by the way and by way of full disclosure, trained about 40 of the print reporters for The Evening Standard and The Independent, both papers also owned by the Lebedev family) to shoot and edit their own stories with iPhones. They were quite good - as they were quite good reporters already.

I don't think London Live ever used many of them.

See what I mean? Tragic waste.

The same goes for Al Jazeera, except they could have done this on a global scale.

They didn't.

Instead, both networks chose to spend their millions imitating a model of television news that was cast as a reaction to 1971 technology.

And both are going broke.

Because there are no viewers.

Because the viewers all have smart phones and they are on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter all the time.

And they don't relish spending their time watching the Museum of Broadcasting.

Big surprise.