Family watching TV

Content Tips & Ideas From Detroit Public TV

By: Sarah Ambrose

Most of us grew up watching public television – Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, anyone? – and many still enjoy it today. Although public television is usually known for its children’s and educational programming, it offers a wide variety of interesting content for viewers of all ages.

I had the opportunity to hear the CEO of Detroit Public Television, Rich Homberg, speak about how he sees the future of television changing (and not changing!). He made several points about how important content is and what you should consider when developing content. Although Rich works in television, his proven theories about creating successful, engaging content are applicable across all types of media and all industries.

Do you know your city?

When you’re working in a regional industry like public TV, it’s important to know the area in which you work. You don’t just need to know local streets and the best restaurants – you need to be aware of the biggest issues and “hot topics” in your region. This is helpful for knowing what to include in your content calendar and what not to include.

Detroit Public TV has traditionally been very focused on the city of Detroit. However, the team sees opportunity in pursuing stories around the suburban areas of Detroit, as well. Expanding your geographic focus just slightly can often introduce new opportunities and stories you might not have considered previously.

You should consider how your business or industry is perceived in the city where you work. A corporate blog, YouTube channel or podcast can all be an opportunity to customize content about your company in the geographic area where you operate. It can also be a way to change the conversation and cover relevant topics.

Do you know your audience (new & existing)?

Everyone is always trying to reach a new audience: new viewers, new clients, new customers. Homberg advises that while it’s great to target specific content to new audiences, also remember what your existing audience enjoys and responds to already. You don’t want to gain new customers at the expense of your current ones.

For Detroit Public TV, there’s a constant struggle about attracting younger viewers versus older viewers. However, the current, older viewers are often very active in their communities, active and informed voters and financially support the station. These are the ideal viewers (or clients)! Often, your existing customers are more valuable than potential customers, and your content needs to be appealing to them.

Do you make your audience cry?

An idea that resonated strongly with me was when Homberg said, “You never know what will make someone cry, and we try to make our viewers cry once a week.” The stories you tell through your content should resonate with your customers or viewers. Your goal might not always be to produce tears, but you should be trying to connect with the people receiving your content.

This can be achieved through content that speaks to an experience that someone has had or would like to have. It can be aspirational, such as highlighting a country where someone would like to visit. Content can also highlight under-reported stories or trends in your industry – such as the recent Detroit Public TV story on autism and children.

Programming that covers particularly intense or timely issues in your community also often produces an emotional reaction in viewers or readers. The most valuable decision you can make is to not just cover the story but also offer a valid solution or way to solve the problem. It’s much more moving when you are able to say, “We were faced with a problem and we think this will fix it.”

Does your audience trust you?

I think the most valuable point Homberg made about content was the high priority placed on building trust. One reason public television has been successful for so long is because viewers trust the programming public TV produces and shares.

Parents trust that children’s programming found on public television will be educational, fun and not contain offensive material. Casual viewers trust they’re seeing objective, non-biased coverage of world events and issues.

Trust is vital for companies to forge partnerships and gain new clients, and building trust should be a goal when it comes to producing content. In this era of digital publishing that allows anyone to create, publish and share content instantly, customers often don’t trust that news they are receiving is real or accurate. Building trust by telling real, serious stories through your content can set your organization apart, just like it has for Detroit Public TV.

What philosophies guide your content creation?