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The End of “Local”

It’s a favorite argument of broadcasters:

“One of our remaining competitive advantages relative to blossoming competitors is simply this – we’re local, they’re not.”

But what do we mean by “local”?  And how is this an advantage rather than a convenient cliché, a poorly understood talking point?

“Local” is usually used to describe a broadcast signal area which, give or take, means a city or town of license.  It is, in other words, strictly a function of geography at a relatively broad level.

Unfortunately I think there are precious few issues which matter at the level of “local” where “local” means the entire “local” market.  In fact, I can think of only one of consequence:  Your city’s sports franchises.

While a very few issues matter at the “local market” level, a great many matter at:

  1. The personal level (which affect only me) – My desktop, my iPod, my personal music mix, my style, my relationship, my children, etc.

  2. The neighborhood level (that which immediately surrounds me) – my child’s school, safety, crime, housing prices, weather, traffic, and news. While some of this may stretch to the market, most of it stays at the neighborhood in terms of my personal interest and concern.  For example, I may not care who the mayor is unless she wants to move the airport next to my house.

  3. The interest group level (which is largely unconfined by geography) – groups which share a taste in music or movies or religion or fashion or knitting or books, etc.  Obviously, the Internet enables massive traction here.

  4. The national level (hence the appeal of national news and talk and the appropriately named NPR) – Laws and rights and freedoms and economy and taxes, etc.

  5. The international level (for those issues which affect us all as people, regardless of where we call home) – Terrorism and human rights and natural disasters and war and starvation and global warming and natural resources and disease and population, etc.

When we crow about our ability to serve our local market we are mistaking our address for our value proposition.

This is why the CNN iPhone app could be the most popular local news app in your market – because their national brand satisfies my need for national news and the tab which reads “My CNN” covers what’s happening around MY corner.

It’s why Groupon could be more popular than your local daily deal site – because they’re working to make it the best possible daily deal experience first, and only then being the local one.  They know a great experience can be localized more easily than a local experience can be made great.

It’s why Google Places can do a better job at marketing the corner dry cleaner in its own service area than a broadcast outlet which promises to spread its message well beyond that service area at a much higher price.

It’s why Pandora can attract 60 million consumers across America – because those music fans are not seeking what most people want most of the time, they’re seeking an experience that’s customized to them personally.

There was a time when our community was defined by our neighbors in a geographic sense.  Today, our communities are based on shared interests, not shared sidewalks.

What that means for broadcasters is that your primary asset is not being “local.”

Your primary asset is that you have as many local consumers tuned in as you do.  And they have a relationship with you.  They have given you the permission to sustain and neighborhood-ize and personalize that relationship according to their needs.

Or else.

The issue is not that your brand is HERE and some other brand is not here. The issue is what your brand helps me do here, whether or not it’s where YOU are located.

Ultimately, I – the consumer – don’t care where you are.  I only care that you care where I am.  And that you give me what I want wherever and however I want it.

Great opportunity awaits the broadcaster who delivers on this to its existing communities of consumers.

Or you could just be “local.”

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