It’s an ongoing quest whose outcome may determine the future of video journalism: the hunt for those elusive younger viewers.
The latest venture comes from NBC’s owned stations. LX launched with a modest amount of content but ambitious plans to grow into a new linear channel for young people. It’s a dramatic example of how local TV stations are using digital platforms for experiments that might not sit well with traditional broadcast viewers but could point the way to the next generation of news reporting.
“We’re wrestling with how to connect with audiences that don’t watch local linear [TV] news,” Valari Staab, President of the NBCUniversal Owned Stations Group and the force behind the project, told Variety. NBC’s official announcement calls LX ‘a news brand for Gen Z and Millennials’ and goes on to explain that “LX stands for ‘Local X,’ the ‘X’ signifying the exponential abilities that LX has in telling our communities’ unique stories.” (It didn’t hurt that the NBC stations already owned the LX.com URL thanks to their in-house production company, LX.TV.)
‘Every Story is Local’ is the new brand’s tagline. But LX, which is launching on YouTube and social-media channels initially, only features local stories that can resonate with a national audience, says Matt Goldberg, who has been developing the project ever since moving from his job as assistant news director at KNBC about a year ago. “It’s all about elevating those stories, taking them from one local community and bringing them to the national community.“
Goldberg, a former investigative producer and a graduate of our own Walter Cronkite School of Journalism here at ASU (just sayin’), tells us he was thrilled when Magid research pointed to younger consumers’ appetite for more substantive stories. “Seeing that desire to have more depth and context than what I think folks are getting, particularly on the local level, was a great opportunity.”
For now, LX features five ‘visual storytellers’ who are empowered to tell stories in their own distinctive ways. “I wanted to find innovators — people who wanted to really experiment,” says Goldberg. The stories available at launch range in length from 3:08 to 10:13 and vary widely in subject too: profiles of an unconventional young Boston chef and of a Senegalese surfer in Venice CA; features on urban farming as an antidote for overheated cities and on disappearing Joshua trees; and explainers on Andrew Yang’s guaranteed-income proposal and on the likelihood of being attacked by a shark.
There’s a range of styles too, from narrated report to first-person mini-doc to on-camera soliloquy. But all of it is intentionally unlike standard local TV fare. The reporters “all have this natural kind of love for doing things differently,” says Goldberg. “We often talk about how we don’t want something to look too ‘local newsy’…and really leaning more on the storytelling and the story itself to guide what creativity might come out to tell that story.”
LX’s stories and planned franchises will focus on five areas: politics, lifestyle, community, technology, and the environment. Goldberg promises more quick-turnaround stories and says to expect 10 to 15 new pieces per week on YouTube as well as more items tailored specifically to various social-media platforms.
But that’s just between now and April, when LX expands dramatically and becomes both an over-the-air and a streaming channel based at NBC’s Dallas-Fort Worth station KXAS, with six hours of live programming a day. The service will be ad-supported, although NBC promises a lower commercial load than is typical of TV now. “Our goal all along was to develop LX as a new broadcast channel,” says Goldberg. “But I think we had to create ourselves digitally native first, because that’s really the content we’re trying to be like.”
NBC’s 42 stations (including Telemundo) will be a key part of the venture as well, contributing their own content to the expanded programming down the road. LX’s reporters are already embedded in their local station newsrooms, and Goldberg expects ideas and stories to flow in both directions under the leadership of Texas-based news director Meagan Harris.
NBC is not the only TV station group to experiment with new forms of linear storytelling on digital platforms. Here at the Lab, we’ve reported on TEGNA, Hearst, and ABC shows produced for Facebook Watch and on ABC’s Localish, which shares a lot of DNA with LX; Scripps’s high hopes for Newsy; Sinclair’s OTT channel Stirr; Gray’s InvestigateTV; and the 24/7 streaming service CBSN’s expansion to local markets, including most recently Boston.
Goldberg, who calls LX the “R & D arm of the owned stations division,” promises that the brand will “continue to evolve. It’s almost like a live test-tube of what works and what doesn’t.” He hopes that NBC’s local newsrooms will share the benefits of those lessons too. “At the end of the day, if we learn anything about this audience and about storytelling and about how to tell local stories in the world we’re performing in now, then we’ve succeeded.”
The quest continues.