Case Study Snapshot
Interactive newscasts and supplemental content
Wowza ClearCaster appliance
Broadcast news is a traditional medium, but many local affiliates are turning to online platforms to reach new viewers and engage with today’s audiences where they are.
Recognizing this trend, KHQ-TV—an affiliate serving Spokane, Washington and North Idaho—began producing non-traditional content for broadcast on Facebook Live. Their “Facebook Lunch Break” segment features hosts and programming that are unique from the regular news broadcasts. Whether it’s a breaking news segment, an interesting smaller story or a Q&A with the audience, this online content is interactive, creating conversations that draw new viewers in and more deeply engage existing ones.
Using t, providing reliable streaming delivery and allowing on-screen talent to interact with viewers through the Talent View display.
In this video, recorded at the 2018 NAB Show, Neal Boling and Tracie Zeravida from KHQ discuss the ways Facebook is changing the broadcast news industry. They also describe how using the Wowza ClearCaster appliance deepens audience engagement and provides more reliable streaming delivery.
Full Video Transcription
Evan Paul: Hello, my name is Evan Paul, and I am the director of product marketing at Wowza. We are here at NAB 2018 to talk about how Facebook is changing the broadcast news industry and how to adjust. Today, my guests are Neil Boling, KHQ’s station manager, and Tracie Zeravica, the Kohl’s director of content and marketing.
So, let’s start off with a little introduction of what KHQ does. What is KHQ, Neil?
Neil Boling: KHQ is the NBC affiliate in Spokane, Washington. We’re the mothership, if you will, for the entire Kohl’s media division. We have markets in tri-cities, Yakima, Missoula, Montana, Billings, Montana, Great Falls, Beaute, Bozeman, pretty much the entire state of Montana.
Evan Paul: Basically all the beautiful places in the world.
Neil Boling: Yeah.
Evan Paul: Sounds like.
Neil Boling: Exactly. Unless it’s December, then some would question that.
But my role, I specifically oversee the TV operation in Spokane. However, I’m the one that goes out and does our vendor agreements, so I have to stay up on the new technologies and I help develop the strategic plan with this one, here.
Evan Paul: Perfect.
Tracie Zeravica: Yeah, and my role is I was the news director at KHQ, and over the last few months, my role has evolved to content marketing for all the stations that Neil mentioned that are in the Kohl’s family.
Evan Paul: Perfect, great. So, there’s a reason you’re here, and that’s because you guys are currently using a Wowza ClearCaster and using that on Facebook Live.
Tracie Zeravica: Sure are.
Evan Paul: So, let’s just start off with: How are you using Facebook live at KHQ?
Neil Boling: Well, we have used it traditionally, I say traditionally for whatever the year and a half or whatever that Facebook has really been pushing the Live product, to supplement anything that we would stream live on our website.
Over time, we’ve more or less adjusted our best practices so that events that don’t necessarily have a known outcome, like a car chase or like livestreaming about bald eagles nests, something like that where … [crosstalk 00:02:30]
Evan Paul: Those are the best.
Neil Boling: Yeah, well, you’d be surprised. I don’t know what it is about our market, but those bald eagles they get a lot of attention.
Evan Paul: Or panda bears. It seems like bald eagles and panda bears, yeah.
Neil Boling: Exactly. But the thing is, when there’s a little bit of a mystery as to how something is going to end up, those seem to be the better things that are streamed on there. What we’ve done since just throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks is, we’ve actually introduced specific products, one of which is the brainchild of Tracie, here.
Do you want to talk about Lunch Break and how we use the ClearCaster to execute that and what were you thinking? I guess I’m taking over the questions here.
Tracie Zeravica: What were we thinking? You know, it was an interesting genesis. January, about a year ago, we got together a group of folks, millennials, in the newsroom and we said, “Okay, we have a test team. Let’s talk about how you actually take in news and what actually would drive you.”
The group got together and, ultimately, they said, “I think we’d like to do a spin, a twist, on what would typically be a new newscast, but we wanna do the non-newscast.”
From that, they created Lunch Break, which, if you have a chance to see it, will be obvious that it’s not our main anchors. We did that quite intentionally. We wanted somebody or a couple people who, quite honestly, were not your typical anchor types, who actually live the digital world and interact.
From there, we actually had a broadcast that was born that does everything from breaking news, live events, news that is actually gone viral. The platform has opened up a multitude of opportunities. Not only for breaking news as it happens, because now we have a built-in audience that will come and visit because they expect us to do something, but on top of it, we’ve come up with a viable opportunity for sponsors.
Evan Paul: Very interesting. So, it all came from the brainchild of a bunch of millennials.
Tracie Zeravica: It did. It really did.
Evan Paul: That’s very cool, that’s very cool. So you do both breaking news and pre-thought-out content?
Tracie Zeravica: We do. What we just talked about was Lunch Break, which is anything. We’re very transparent with the audience and we say, “Today it could be two minutes, it could be 20 minutes, it could be an hour if we think it’s valuable content.”
Evan Paul: So, not your 30-minute segment.
Tracie Zeravica: No, it is not.
Evan Paul: Okay, cool.
Tracie Zeravica: But on top of that, in addition, we also do breaking news. Our fellow who actually anchors Lunch Break will run out and do breaking news elements that are in addition to that that are live. In addition to that, we also do a nightly weather cast that we do that’s a prime-time mix.
So, we’ve done a variety of things that have built on after establishing Lunch Break, so we are on, I would say, three or four, five times a day with something that we actually produce local content from and is not just driven from things that come maybe from the network feeds, the latest car chase or, dare I say, the eagles hatching.
Neil Boling: Right, and the ClearCaster has really helped us in two key ways. One is because of the sponsorships that Tracie has mentioned. We’re able to tag those sponsors a lot more efficiently, effectively, quickly without going through this whole process.
Additionally, we like these Lunch Breaks to be interactive. We wanna engage with the audience in real time during the execution of these. The display is very slick; it allows our talent to actually read the comments and so forth on their confidence monitor, essentially.
Evan Paul: Yup, so let’s get to engagement as well as talent view, but let’s talk about quality first. What advantages does Facebook and ClearCaster have over your typical OTT to your website?
Neil Boling: Well, right now, I would say that Facebook is the mass audience generator. We have so many people who now just rely on Facebook as essentially an aggregator of news. They can go there, get a one-stop shop for all of their news content for the day.
We try mightily to promote people to go to our OTT platform and so forth, but Facebook is just easy. They’ve got it all figured out, and especially when you add in tools like the ClearCaster. It just lends itself to the immediacy, getting things on and the simplicity.
And then also the engagement. It’s a focus group of sorts for us as we’re producing our stories for the other legacy platforms. Namely, broadcast television.
Tracie Zeravica: We have-
Evan Paul: Is-
Tracie Zeravica: I’m sorry, go ahead.
Evan Paul: Is the quality that you’re putting onto Facebook representative of KHQ and what you’d want?
Neil Boling: That’s a good question.
Evan Paul: The actual resolution and-
Neil Boling: Oh, yeah, because we use our studio cameras, which are fully high-def and the whole nine yards. We don’t route it through our control room, but because the ClearCaster is fully HD and everything, you don’t notice any kind of signal degradation or anything like that.
Evan Paul: Perfect. Tracie, were you gonna say something?
Tracie Zeravica: The thing that has fascinated me with this partnership, for all intents and purposes, is the fact that now we can have better conversations with our audience and, admittedly, can be more responsive to them.
We find more times than not we will actually do something throughout the course of the day, and it’ll change what our game plan is for the actual newscast because, not only do we get a feel for what they want to consume, but what they need. That’s allowing us to be better providers for our local audience, and that actually has been absolutely priceless.
Evan Paul: With ClearCaster, you have a talent view so that the people on camera actually can see the comments coming in on Facebook. Do you guys leverage that to have those kind of conversations?
Tracie Zeravica: Oh, every day. You mean to talk back and forth as it’s happening?
Evan Paul: Talk about it dynamically.
Tracie Zeravica: Absolutely.
Evan Paul: Adjusting to what the audience wants.
Tracie Zeravica: Like I said in the very beginning, we worked very hard at the start of it when the test team came up with this idea not to make it typical anchors. Not because they’re not incredible, because we have incredible talent. But the reality is, you’re programmed differently as broadcasts to actually speak out to everybody as opposed to interacting. What these folks have been able to do is pave the way by having those conversations.
Here’s been the fascinating thing. Our main anchors now, when they do join us when we have something that it’s an important role for them to be a part of it, actually will do the same thing. So, their engagement level with the audience has increased tremendously.
Neil Boling: And to build on what Tracie’s saying, broadcasts used to be such a one-way conversation. It was the old news anchor reading the news every night, and it was one direction. But now, we’re really not content curators anymore; we’re more conversation curators. We need to have our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the community, and Facebook is an important tool in order to essentially gather that conversation and curate it effectively.
Evan Paul: And that’s gotta be extremely important for a local news channel to have those type of conversations.
Tracie Zeravica: I’ll give you a great example. We actually had a horrendous storm that happened. Storm was supposed to go past us, and Mother Nature didn’t cooperate with what the model said. Boy, did it start midday.
Because we were interacting with the audience as we were on Facebook with them, there were two instances where we had people who said that they were either stuck or they actually had unique little stories where they were. One guy in particular was actually trying to get out of a parking lot of all things, and we said, “Oh, great, talk to him there,” and then got him on the phone and took the next step to be able to chat with him.
So, the reality is, it’s allow us to do things in real time and have incredible give and take that we never would’ve been able to before. And not only did he have a good story, but also there were people in that area who were also affected by what he was going through because it was traffic. It didn’t allow him to get out there.
Evan Paul: That’s really good to hear, and that’s exactly why we wanted to create ClearCaster and put it on Facebook Live, for exactly that reason.
But you guys are in business to make money. How is sponsorships playing into that Facebook Live? You can’t do traditional commercials anymore. How are you working that?
Neil Boling: Well, that’s the million-dollar, hopefully, question.
Evan Paul: Hopefully more than one million dollars.
Neil Boling: We’ve experimented with the tools that Facebook gives us, which is just the simple tagging of the primary sponsor. We’ve also explored the notion of product placement. A sandwich company, for example, that wants to sponsor our Lunch Break. We have the sandwich wrappers or whatever sitting up on the desk. And then the traditional radio reads, which is, “Today’s Facebook Lunch Break is brought to you by Subway. Let’s get to the news.” That kind of thing.
This is where using non-main anchors gives us a little bit more flexibility, because we wanna protect our main anchors from crossing over that line. We call it the separation of church and state. Sales and news. They have to stay pretty far apart. By using more of the digital actors in the news room, we can experiment a little and we can see how that works.
Tracie Zeravica: We had an interesting phenomenon happen with one of the folks who decided to advertise. It’s a local place called Swinging Doors, and they actually … We did our thing with them and did the read, and we moved on, but it started a conversation among the people on Facebook who were communicating with us.
So, the benefit to the underwriter advertiser was that they got much better endorsement just from people who were sharing their experience, which obviously was positive in that case, than ever would’ve been if it was just a commercial that had been pushed out on regular broadcast. It was fascinating to watch unfold.
Evan Paul: So the engagement not only goes for your guys’s news, but to your sponsors-
Tracie Zeravica: There’s a halo effect. In that case, there was.
Evan Paul: Very interesting. Very interesting. Have you thought about taking any of that up to more of the news section, or are you gonna keep it church and state? Is that the plan?
Neil Boling: Well, we’ve thought about everything. I think that it’s just going to be … Because of that tension that exists, there, between that separation, we just have to be very strategic and very thoughtful about what we try and how we experiment.
We might settle on a strategy that we haven’t even thought of yet, but that’s the brilliance of Facebook Lunch Break, because there’s no template. Every day can be a completely different product. We’re just trying to see what makes the audience the most engaged.
Tracie Zeravica: And it’s interesting how transparent you can be, because the medium is not the traditional for everybody. There’s not the same level of expectation. So, because you can experiment a little bit, you can figure out what actually works for both the comfort of your news room as well as for the underwriter who decides to sign on.
It’s been an interesting journey because the audience seems very, very receptive. They understand, and they separate just fine. And, honestly, it feels like it’s a great local opportunity for sponsors who actually also live and work in our area.
Neil Boling: We’re at this point of time, it’s unique in the evolution of Facebook. But broadcasters really rely on Facebook to promote their legacy product, like our newscast and getting people to our website. Facebook has long been the number one referral source for people going to khq.com.
But we make our money still, to this day, or most of our money, on the main newscast, whether it’s the morning show or the evening shows. We have to be creative about how we drive people to those products.
Evan Paul: Perfect. Well, and the sponsors that you’re putting on the Lunch Break, are they open to new ideas as well? Is that what their expectation is? They’re just trying to find new avenues to promote their products?
Tracie Zeravica: I would argue they’re not traditionalists in any way.
Neil Boling: Yeah, they’re the ones that are like, “You know what? Let’s just try something different, here, and see what this gets us.” They are advertisers in the sense that they have been on TV, the ones that we’ve used so far, but they’ve also been TV advertisers with unusual products.
For example, Swinging Doors, that Tracie mentioned earlier, has long been the sponsor of one of our segments in the morning show, Birthdays, where we read out, “And happy birthday to Evan. By the way, you get a free lunch at Swinging Doors.” We’re gonna talk about how do we evolve that even so that there’s some benefit for people to now support that brand and that sponsor.
Evan Paul: Well, on the horizon, do you think there’s any opportunity to bring in other non-traditional advertisers that have shied away from advertising for whatever reason on air but maybe could do something a little bit more interesting on social?
Neil Boling: I definitely think so, because there’s a certain … Facebook has this certain vibe of accessibility. There’s a stigma about broadcasting that, “Well, the ads are just too expensive,” which, if there’s any advertisers out there right now, that’s not true; you can really afford broadcasting pretty easily.
But there is definitely a lower threshold there for something like a social media-embedded ad and that sort of thing. So, hopefully they’re also watching this, ’cause we have a lot of followers of our Facebook page, and they’re like, “Huh, maybe we should jump on this bandwagon. Maybe we could get in on this action.”
Evan Paul: Let’s talk about archive content. Are you doing anything interesting with all of the assets that you already have in storage?
Neil Boling: Well, that’s an interesting question. We launched our app for connect-to-TV devices back in November, and when I say connect-to-TV devices, I mean your Rokus, your Apple TVs, your Fire Sticks, that sort of thing.
We had been really working on developing this app for quite a while, and one of the conversations that I’d been having with other TV stations across the country is, “What are you finding the most success with?” I basically kept hearing the same answer, which is, “You have to do something unique. You have to bring value to this OTT app that they would not get just by watching the normal newscast,” or what have you.
So, we’re sitting in a room and we’re scratching our heads. Then our thought was, “We’re a family-owned company. We’ve never changed ownership hands, so we have these big rooms of old video tape that’s just sitting down in the room gathering dust. How can we bring this video back to life again?”
Nostalgia’s big, right? Will & Grace is back, Roseanne’s back. What’s old is new again.
Evan Paul: Every movie ever made is now being made again.
Neil Boling: Exactly. So, let’s give this content some new life. Like Disney has the Disney Vault, where every now and then they’ll bring out the video of Bambi or whatever and rerelease it to the public, well, we have what we call the Q Vault. We’ve gone in and we’ve identified every week of the year some kind of major story, and we quiz the audience in our newscast, “What year did this happen? Was it 1999? 2000? 2001?”
We then also put this on Facebook, where it’s the ultimate Throwback Thursday. “On this day in history, this serial killer was arrested,” or, “This team made the Rose Bowl.” That sort of thing. We give ’em just enough of a taste to whet their appetite, and then we push them onto the OTT platform, where they can watch the entire story as it was originally presented, straight out of our Q Vault.
Evan Paul: Makes a lot of sense. You’ve already got it there, and everybody wants to Throwback Thursday, watch things that are old.
Neil Boling: Exactly. Throwback Thursday on steroids.
Evan Paul: Let’s wrap up with one question that’s on every broadcaster’s mind, it has to be. What does the change in the Facebook algorithm mean for broadcasters, and especially for KHQ?
Neil Boling: Well, that’s gonna be the second million-dollar question with everything. We use Share Rocket to monitor our metrics, and we’re somewhat obsessive about it, wouldn’t you say? Every day, we’re looking at our report card and seeing how many people are watching and engaging with our content.
We’ve heard things like, “Well, Facebook is going to still try to give local broadcasters, local news sources, an edge because we have built that relationship with the audience.” Yet they’ve changed the algorithm, which the outcome there …
I haven’t really noticed a huge drop off in terms of how many people are actually engaging with our product, but it’s still early in the process. We’re barely one quarter into this whole change up, and I think Facebook is, “When’s the next change gonna be?”
That’s the danger of relying on a product that you can’t control-
Evan Paul: It is.
Neil Boling: … to place your destiny in their hands.
Evan Paul: Well, it’s gonna be interesting over the next few years to see how it affects us and affects broadcasters like yourself. But until then, I just wanna thank you, Neil and Tracie, who’s just having a little trouble right now.
Neil Boling: Yeah. Tracie, unfortunately, she came down with a cold, and so she’s in a coughing fit right now.
Evan Paul: Yes, but thank you both for being on.
Neil Boling: It’s our pleasure.
Evan Paul: We really appreciate it. This is Evan Paul for the Wowza Studio Session, and thank you very much, everybody.