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Brian Buchwald, executive VP, local integrated media at NBC Universal, outlined how consumer preferences for local content are changing, along with the definition of local itself. Buchwald walked through NBC’s view of how local is changing, and how NBC is adapting to it. A key message was finding a niche in local is key. Being a generalist is a losing strategy.

While he says trust in the NBC brand remains strong, consumer demand for traditional local content is diminishing. Buchwald says the nature of local is also changing in three specific ways.

  • First, local is becoming “poly-local” where distinctions between national and local are eroding. “If a consumer lives in NYC but is interested in LA, there are 1,000 places to go today to be just as in the know as someone who lives there.”
  • Second, consumers seek mobility. The audience today is constantly in transit, so it is imperative to stay connected. Local content providers have to understand the different need states of consumers.This means understanding the media that consumers value most at different points of the day, for example radio in the morning, online in the early afternoon, mobile late in the day and TV at night.
  • And finally, local consumers want dialogue, Buchwald said. Thirty years ago, the “voice of god” news anchor would come on at 6:30 p.m., and consumers just assumed it was the truth. The world today it is much different. “Top down information is dead. it is all about two-way or multiple node communication.”

Buchwald says NBC’s local strategy is built around reaching what it calls “social capitalists.” These are consumers in the 25-44 age range, roughly split by gender, and they are affluent. Their psychographic makeup is more relevant. These consumers value new content and love their cities. They are leaders not followers, and they pride themselves on knowing what is going on. They are highly social, they have eclectic tastes, and “anything that keeps them in the know is a keeper.”

By targeting this group, NBC is focusing on a niche rather than making local all things to all people. The latter is a mistake in his view. He cited a conversation with the head of the Bravo cable network who says the best decisions are often decisions not to do something, because it would extend beyond the core meaning of the brand.

Since launching last November, NBC’s local site in New York has expanded from 30 million to 180 million page views and from 6 million to 14 million unique visitors, increased household income average from $53,000 to $73,000, and reduced average age from 44 to 35. All of this has driven up the value of the site’s inventory.

Earlier this month, in by far the biggest media deal of the year, Comcast and General Electric announced that the cable giant would acquire a majority share in NBC Universal. Reports that the deal was in the works surfaced back in September.
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The deal involves Comcast contributing US$6.5 billion in cash, plus its own cable TV networks (including E!, Versus, the Golf Channel, plus 10 regional sports networks, collectively valued at about US$7.25 billion), and other assets in return for a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal. GE will keep a 49 percent stake in NBC Universal, which includes TV networks, a movie studio, theme parks and local TV stations (valued at US$30 billion).

Buchwald did not spend much time addressing this deal, but he did get a chuckle from a mock cheesy sales pitch for the “Comcast Triple Play.”

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