Allen Media Group has achieved great success with Local Now, a FAST channel initiative and spin-off of The Weather Channel. The company’s Head of Digital Michael Senzon talked about the process and strategies that led to this success.
Local Now launched in 2016, and offers 225 specialised FAST channels across the United States, to provide “a unique local channel in every market.” It offers viewers a tailored experience, regardless of the state in which they live. Allen Media Group’s Head of Digital Michael Senzon describes the strategy as one of always aiming to create something Local Now’s users can, and will, love.
“It’s important to really keep it simple: users and love. Make something, they love it, continuously follow that lifecycle,” said Senzon.
FAST: A 225-headed beast
This extreme level of FAST channel customisation seen in the 225-channel local specialisation is made possible by what Senzon calls a “one of a kind content engine.”
A huge amount of content has to be collated and created for the 225 FAST channels, and there are several sources for it. “We then went out and signed up just about every partner in the US to give us local clips,” said Senzon.
The platform also “marries data and imagery to create segments,” he explains. One example of this is real estate content, where popular local listings can be combined with photos to provide content relevant to that feed’s local area. Other segments in this style include restaurant and book reviews, local air quality reports and lottery results. Each Local Now fork’s content can be made much more pertinent to the viewer than a traditional national broadcast.
Each Local Now channel is populated by this generated content, clips from third-party partners and reporting by Allen Media Group’s own newsroom employees. “What that resulted in was this kick-ass FAST channel with really diverse mix of content that is refreshed 24/7,” said Senzon.
This constant refreshing of content is crucial to a quality FAST channel, particularly in this high-competition content environment where FAST is often seen as the successor to cable TV, in the US. “It’s getting really tough out there,” said Senzon. “It is extremely difficult to be competitive in the marketplace.”
”Anyone who’s in FAST knows refresh matters, repeat [viewership] matters. So if you have something fresh, people will come back.”
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FAST: The upbeat angle
The use of local content allows Local Now to stay fresh, but Senzon said there’s a clear separation between its channels and traditional local news. It isn’t necessarily a question of quality of content, as Allen Media Group has hired journalistic and editorial talent from recognised names such as CNN and CNBC.
Local Now instead tries to avoid a downbeat tone, which can often accompany the lead stories in a traditional news, or a local news remit. A feel-good angle links back to one of the earliest points in Senzon’s IBC 2022 talk, that the aim is always to create something people will enjoy, and grow to love.
“Our job is to make things people love,” he said. This strategy stems from a clear-headed approach to the direction of the channel.
“The greatest lesson I’ve learned in the last two years is keep it simple,” said Senzon. In this case he referred to a paring back of the approach to development, and getting to the root of what the consumers, the customers, were asking for.
“Users kept saying we want more local and we want a better-performing app that runs faster.” Widespread familiarity with smartphone apps has given most audiences very limited patience for apps that do not feel smooth to operate or tailor-made for the service on offer.
“If you have an app strategy it had better be native if you want to be competitive in the next several years,” said Senzon.
Just as the content should be tailored for the end user, so should the app used to access it. Senzon also stresses the needed to be represented on every possible platform, for the widest possible reach.
Local Now is available as an Android or iPhone app, on Amazon Fire TV and Roku, free to access in all cases. It can also be watched through paid linear TV networks including Dish Hopper, YouTube TV and Sling TV.
“In the last two years we’ve really skyrocketed in streaming,” said Senzon. Getting onto as many platforms as possible is the most direct way to increase audience size.
FAST: Diversification in content
The Local Now team further widens the reach of the offering through constant iteration in how content is presented and produced. As well as offering on-demand access to thousands of movies in the Local Now app, there are custom channels.
These include relaxation channel Local Now Zen and Local Now Discover, which focuses on food and travel content.
Senzon sees this as just the beginning of content customisation coming in the future. “I do believe the future of streaming is personalised channels. And, with Quickplay, we’re working on that. Because my movie channel should be different from yours,” he said.
Allen Media Group recently partnered with Quickplay, to manage the back-end for all Local Now channels and unlock these future content distribution strategies.
Senzon’s team also takes a realistic view on the team’s own performance, allowing for a clearer take on exactly where improvements can and should be made. He notes multiple ways the very well-established The Weather Channel platform still can be improved.
“No-one’s really clicking on our on-demand section, so we’re trying to figure out what to do. We’ve got all this great content that no-one is seeing. So you’ve got a design problem, you’ve got a product problem. Is it too slow? Did we code it wrong? We’re working through those details… We’re also not on every single platform yet. That needs to happen,” said Senzon. “You’ve got to be attacking this from every angle.”
To summarise, some of the crucial strategies employed in the Local Now strategy are to aim for as wide a reach as possible, to constantly refresh both the channels’ content and approach, and to always focus on content the audience will love.
Allen Media Group President of Digital Michael Senzon discussed the growth of Local Now in conversation with Allan McLennan, Chief Executive of M&E Industry at IBC 2022 in Amsterdam.