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Outside Voices: Stephen Warley Suggests "Sunday Morning," Inc.

(Stephen Warley)
Each week we invite someone from outside PE to weigh in with their thoughts about CBS News and the media at large. This week, we asked Stephen Warley, a digital media strategist 602 Communications and contributor to the blog LostRemote. He's also the author two more blogs, Broadcast Web Ideas and Digital Video Jobs. In the past, he has also contributed to various CBS broadcasts including "Sunday Morning" and "The Early Show." Below, Stephen suggests that "Sunday Morning" become its own production company or a separate division at CBS News. As always, the opinions expressed and factual assertions made in "Outside Voices" are those of the author, not ours, and we seek a wide variety of voices. Here's Stephen:

Growing up I always remember my father regularly tuning in to watch "his buddy" Charles Kuralt on CBS "Sunday Morning." It was a special ritual for him, particularly as someone who doesn't watch much television.

Twenty years later, the show that provided my father with such solace gave me my start in media. I was "paid" to go to journalism school, learning from the best storytellers in broadcasting.

After just two years, I left "Sunday Morning" because I felt there was no future for me in broadcasting as it was known. Most people thought I was crazy for leaving. What I have come to understand about the future of media is what people like my father understood all along: "Sunday Morning" wasn't a show, but rather an experience, a feeling. Going forward, successful media companies will be organized around a specific niche or the communities they serve, not a platform like broadcasting or even the Web.

This got me thinking: what if "Sunday Morning" was turned into its own company or even just a separate division of CBS News? Seriously. It serves a timeless "niche," the celebration of the human spirit and our need to create beautiful things. Its brand could easily extend across multiple platforms -- and talk about the possibilities for community-generated content! Here's my pitch for "Sunday Morning," Inc.:

Small is the new big.

When was the last time a major media company had a new idea? The only way they seem to grow these days is by buying upstarts, only to dilute what made those companies great in the first place.

Let's unlock the value of a brand like "Sunday Morning." The cost of technology is falling through the floor. Just about anyone can produce and distribute video for mass audiences now (just check out YouTube). The old network economies of scale are fast becoming irrelevant.

A financially successful brand like "Sunday Morning" could certainly sustain itself. I don't buy the network argument that one show's profits should support another. Top-down corporate strategies are not suited for the bottom-up media culture in which we now live.

I say go deeper, not broader. Set a show like "Sunday Morning" free to move as nimbly as possible to best serve its community, not some arbitrary corporate strategy. Think about "Sesame Street." It's not just show, but a respected worldwide organization serving the greater good.

Broadcasting alone limits "Sunday Morning's" opportunities.

If we keep tying venerable brands like "Sunday Morning" to one distribution platform, not only are we holding back their potential, but they could very well die. The only thing advertisers care about now is return on investment (ROI). If a show can't deliver on ROI, advertisers don't care how good the ratings are. The age of media entities or individual shows surviving on one revenue stream is over.

People want experiences.

People not only want to control when and where they watch programs, they want to experience their favorite shows in new ways. Just watch your kids. Nickelodeon understands that it is no longer a cable network, but a portfolio of kids' brands.

Shows like "Sunday Morning" lend themselves perfectly to this new behavior. Think of the program as the catalyst that sparks a conversation. Now we must figure out ways to keep that conversation going beyond the broadcast. Every "Sunday Morning" story is a rich archive of knowledge. Sadly, competing corporate priorities have prevented even the "Sunday Morning" Web site from going even deeper than what I used to put on it seven years ago.

During "Sunday Morning's" 20th anniversary, there was talk of creating a "Sunday Morning" calendar to be sold in bookstores. It was to be a collection of the "suns" viewers had sent in over the years, but the idea got nixed. Let me tell you, those things would have flown off the shelves. As long as we keep thinking like broadcasters, we are going to keep missing opportunities like that to extend our relationship with our communities and to develop new revenue streams.

Distinctive brand.

Now that A&E and Bravo have all but sold out, "Sunday Morning" is one of the lone voices in mainstream media for arts and culture. "Sunday Morning" could become that exclusive brand if it were a separate entity.

The essence of its brand can easily be translated in a variety of ways, and I'm not talking about slapping its logo on some coffee cups and T-shirts. If Starbucks can have its own music division, certainly "Sunday Morning" can figure out how to wrap its brand around music compilations. Why didn't "Sunday Morning" have a book club before Oprah? How about a special membership card for discounts at museums throughout the United States? These all great ways to extend the "Sunday Morning" brand without diluting it, but strengthening it instead.

"Sunday Morning's" passionate community.

I was always astonished by the level of interest people had in "Sunday Morning." Charles Kuralt understood this. Most of his pieces didn't even include a stand up. He believed the people he interviewed could tell their stories better than he ever could. They were the centerpiece of the show, not him.

I remember when they finally replaced the 20-year-old chairs in the studio, the ones that looked like they were taken from the set of "The Brady Bunch." We got a flood of e-mails asking why we changed the chairs. In some regard, I think the audience was offended because they weren't consulted about it. I still can't believe that one!

As I mentioned, people regularly sent in various representations of suns to be used as graphics before and after commercial breaks. It was a rudimentary example of "community-generated" content. It was a small contribution, but probably the most important aspect of the broadcast, because it literally reflected the passion of "Sunday Morning's" community.

Success in media now depends on the depth of our connections with the communities we serve, as well as tapping into their passions. They want to be a part of our creative process. Who are we to say no to free, unique content? Not only that, but lets empower our communities to become advocates for our brands.

"Sunday Morning" will always hold a special place in my heart. I have nothing but respect for those who work on the show and admiration for those at CBS News who keep trying to push the envelope. For the sake of "Sunday Morning" I wish they would push just a little harder, so there was a little more "Sunday Morning" beyond Sunday mornings. If it should ever cease to exist, it won't be because of poor ratings, but rather a lack of vision.

See you on the Web! (Sorry Charlie, I had to!)

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