An interview with Kevin Chupka, Executive Producer at Yahoo Finance. We talk to Kevin about the differences and power of the Internet as a news media, with viewers expectations of a real-time, always-on reporting and coverage cycle versus how that may differ from other media, and how very important this is during a pandemic.
Jeffrey Freedman: Hello and welcome to The RP HealthCast by RooneyPartners. I’m your host, Jeffrey Freedman.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been speaking with journalists about our current health care crisis. We took a look at the coverage from the perspective of all different types of media, whether that was from a print journalistic point of view, from The New York Times and Barons or from live television, from MSNBC. This week, we’re going to take a look at the health care coverage from a different media point of view, from the internet. Our guest this week is Kevin Chupka. Kevin’s the Executive Producer at Yahoo! Finance. He’s also worked as a producer for several other news desks including MSNBC, CNN, and ABC News. Today, we’ll be talking to Kevin about the differences in power the internet as a news media. With fewer expectations of a real time always on reporting and coverage cycle versus how that may differ from other media.
Hi, Kevin, welcome and thank you for joining us today.
Kevin Chupka: Thanks for having me.
Jeffrey: Now, before we get started, I want to ask you how everyone’s doing at Yahoo! Finance both physically and emotionally? I understand your team was personally affected by the coronavirus. One of your colleagues actually I heard lost several family members and we want to express our sincere condolences over that. How are you guys doing?
Kevin: Yes. Well, thank you for that. By and large, we’re doing well. We have weekly check-ins with our folks as a group and then my boss and I, the senior executive producer of the live team, we’re going through and slacking people, texting people, calling people, jumping on Hangouts, making sure everyone is kind of all there. I also think that to some degree the work is helping, right? It gets you on a schedule, it gets you up, gets you showered if that’s your thing, breakfast and something that you can do every day, but at the same time we’ve also tried too. We’ve been very understanding as you mentioned the colleague who lost several family members. We had another colleague who tested positive, bounced back amazingly fast. So all well there, but the company from the top down has been very understanding which has helped.
Jeffrey: That’s great and you really have to be in this time. That’s great to hear. All right, Yahoo! Finance. You are the executive producer in charge of your video content. Where does Yahoo! Finance sit within Yahoo, as the portal to BMS? So, what is it that Yahoo! Finance and in certainly, yet the video content Yahoo! Finance? Can you explain to everybody what that is?
Kevin: Sure. So, I’ll try and briefly give a little history of how we got to where we are because that will inform this a little bit, but when I started almost, I guess, nine years ago, video was just a– it was all VOD, there was no live. We did a few minutes a day and put it in articles and what grew out of that at scale was this interest the traffic month after month and so, we then launched one hour, well, it started to 10 minutes live and then an hour and now about, well, a year ago this past January. So a year and a half ago, we went eight hours bell to bell coverage to essentially offer some online only competition to the CNBC’s Fox Businesses, Bloomberg’s of the world. What makes this unique even in that competition is the fact that we are a website first and so, whereas perhaps for others and I’m not going to speak for them, but they are terrestrial first and they have a website, we are a website and top to bottom. So, the video and the live video particularly that I helped oversee is just one part of what makes Yahoo unique and what makes Yahoo successful. We have a large team of people who are text first. We have a team that is events first. We have a team that’s VOD first and we work closely with all of them. So, we take the events team and put their stuff on our live air. We take the VOD team and the video that they produce that predominantly and specifically goes as a video on demand product, but we run that on our live and we use the reporters and the text first people as our on air talent, as our reporters on frontlines. So we’re set up a little differently than many others in the media space and I think that’s part of why we’ve been so successful.
Jeffrey: Yes. That’s so interesting. With what I do, in health care marketing and health care education, a lot of times– now, a lot more than we did historically we take an internet first approach and the way we do that is very, very different than the way we used to do in a print approach, right? Because our consumers have a different expectation on an internet first consumption, right? So, can you talk about what you think your viewer’s expectations are in this internet media consumption versus other types of channel?
Kevin: Yes. I mean, I think there’s a balance between all the people that come to Yahoo! Finance, a lot of them– maybe probably most of them are coming for stock quotes to look at the portfolio that they built on the site and we are there front and center when you get there. We, meaning the entire content team, all those different arms that I just mentioned. So, I think we have those people that come there and they just want to see their portfolio and then they want to read about, the stocks that they have in it or the stocks that they’re thinking about adding to their portfolio. We have people that come there and then want to watch lots of video, I hope. We’ve got people that just are there to discover new stories, new ideas, and we provide it all, within the utility of their portfolio that they’ve built which is very unique.
Jeffrey: Yes. I mean, you’re truly surrounding that viewer and serving them whatever it is that they’re requesting and that’s it. That’s the great thing about internet media is that you’re able to serve them what it is they’re exactly looking for. Is that, right?
Kevin: Yes. I think there’s a balance even within that of the people that want to see what’s going on right now, which is predominantly where I sit right? The eight hours, you commit– you know 12:16 PM, and you want to know what’s happening at 12:16 PM and we’re there for that. But then there’s also and I’m sure there’s an overlap the Venn diagram must be a mess, but people that see that and then want to dig deeper and we’ve got first rate, first in class reporters that are digging into these stories and offering 500, 5,000 words on the topic that maybe we’re talking about for two or three minutes.
Jeffrey: Yes, no that’s great. That’s the power of that internet portal. So, you said about a year and a half ago, you guys went from one hour, two hours to a full day reporting on financial media and I understand they built you a beautiful state of the art studio down in the village, down in the East Village in New York. I haven’t been there yet, I hope to go, but I heard it’s very impressive.
Kevin: We hope to have you.
Jeffrey: Well, I’m looking for to it. As soon as I can get out of the house.
Jeffrey: Right. So that here we are, right. We’re in a pandemic. So how’s the work environment changed since the onset of the coronavirus? Now, with social distancing requirements, can you use this state of the art studio?
Kevin: Yes. Right now it’s gathering dust, really, that’s what it’s come to. Back in the middle of March, we saw the writing on the wall days before it got here that something drastic had to happen for us to continue doing our work and the supportive company, Verizon really from the top down said, “If your people aren’t comfortable coming to work then they shouldn’t come to work,” and we’re open to that. As the days went on, more and more of our team were kind of like, “I don’t want to ride the subway in, I don’t want to have to commute in on Long Island Railroad and NJ Transit and Metro-North,” all viable fears. So, we very quickly tried to figure out how we could make it happen that we could work from home. So we went from a little more than a hundred people coming into the office at the beginning of one week and by the end of the week, we were I think to one person. That one person is still there. There’s still someone, one human being who goes in to make sure that the equipment is up and running but we’ve found ways to remote access the computers that run our control room and have been leaning on Google Hangouts and are broadcasting via Google Hangouts. They’ve been incredibly supportive. We’ve had a great working relationship with the folks at Google to give us the best of the best within their product and we’ve made it work. It’s been incremental. Day 1, March 16th, I think it was looked a lot different than it does today. The amount of graphics we could play, the amount of video B-roll we could play, the amount of sound bites we could play. They were essentially zero, essentially on day one and now we found ways to get quite close to having the screen look the way it looked, in January.
Jeffrey: Now, the great thing about the internet you have immediate feedback, right, immediate data and analytics. Now, how has the demands changed for or I should say not to man the consumption of the media on the platform with everybody working from home now has that changed?
Kevin: Yes. I mean our numbers have skyrocketed and I think a lot of the news media and the financial news media and specifically has seen similar jump in numbers. If that is fantastic and we like it, we wish that that happened because of something good, not something bad, but it is what it is. We also, the difficulty in that is figuring out what our programming impact is on that. The decisions we make day in and day out, it’s getting a little bit easier now because it’s become a new normal, even if it’s a temporary new normal and so you can see fluctuations in the data now based on decisions, but for a long time, it was just a massive new people coming and the numbers were sky high and you had no idea if what you did on a day-to-day basis was making an impact in those numbers for the good or bad higher low. So we’re starting to be able to look at that. The other question mark is what becomes of this a year from now? Are we at a new– is this the new normal for our numbers or do we go back to where we were? We hope that we don’t go back to where we were. We hope that people flock to us to get their information and that a lot of them stick around because they see that we do a really good job, and that we offer something that other outlets might not and we have new loyal viewers. Again, we wish that it was because awesome things were happening, but it is what it is.
Jeffrey: That’s the Holy Grail, right? You get this bolus of viewership and it’s trying to keep them and serving them what it is they’re looking for. You certainly have the advantage on the internet side of, the portal side because you’re seeing exactly in real time where they’re going for. I want to talk about content changes, but back to operational changes that you have with going from a hundred to one in the office right now. A lot of adaptations. Do you think any of these changes that you’re making today? Although, I’ll be a– because the pandemic are actually better for the company. Do you think any of the changes you’ve made now are going to be permanent changes in how you develop produce and broadcast your content? What do you think the life at Yahoo! Finance is going to look like? You know, in a post Corona goals.
Kevin: Yes. We’ve gone back and forth with what the new business as usual. I believe is the term that that Verizon is been using and honestly we still don’t know, but that aside what we’ve learned is that we are extremely adaptable that we can do a lot more without being tethered to a control room in a studio. We want to get back to the controller in the studio, it’s more stable, there’s more you can do, but I think things like being able to stand up a show remote which we don’t do a whole lot that, maybe our terrestrial brothers and sisters do because they’ve got bigger staffs and they have been working with satellite truck since the dawn of satellite trucks and we just don’t operate that way but now we’ve found ways to be able to originate shows without needing a home office. Again, I don’t think that would become the everyday, but now, oh there’s a really cool event and we want to do our entire day from there and we don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars that a network would have to, well, now we know how.
Jeffrey: Right. So you just plug in. That’s great. That blood into your thinking, so it’s definitely a huge positive. Now, what about the content changes that you were talking about?
Kevin: Yes. Is…
Jeffrey: Yes, go ahead. I mean, has daily programming changed? Are you more Covid related or are you still strictly following the financial media?
Kevin: So we were, I’d say a hundred percent Covid. I mean, it was all what is Covid doing to this stock, this company, this market, that what when have you, but we were for a long time from middle of March to even just a couple of weeks ago, all Covid all the time. Everything that we talked about is related to that because that’s just life right now. So we’re even if you have a liberal view of things, we’re probably still almost a hundred percent Covid, but we also know that there’s a fatigue that has said in with that news and so we don’t want to hammer it home, put too fine a point on it. We still know that people want to know what else is going on, but again, you talk about a company and supply chains. Well, you talk about supply chain, you can’t talk about that without discussing the impact of Covid because that is what the supply chain is right now. So it’s hard not to do it and I guess with the point that we’re at now is finding a balance so that we don’t drive people away, who do have that fatigue and finding some more silver lining stories, the positive things people are doing and we’ve been doing that all along but doing that even more so and also looking at the road to recovery which we’re going to be hammering home a lot more, what, how do we get back to some semblance of normal? What does that look like? What does that impact on not just the company’s in the markets but your daily life and how you do things?
Jeffrey: Yes. We’re all looking forward to that part, of course, getting back to normal life. Now, you lens a very interesting perspective to this, right? I mean, you join Yahoo! Finance a while ago in 2011, but before that, you worked in TV, right? You had seven or eight years, you worked at NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC and your background was more of a focus on politics and the environment rather than Wall Street. So this is, I don’t want to say it’s a whole new world for you, but how is that transition both from television, traditional television media and politics and environment now focusing on to this thing called the internet in 2011 and more Finance Wall Street?
Kevin: Well in 2011, I was talking with friend who is at Yahoo. I was at MSNBC at the time and I was saying, I really think I need to get into digital because I don’t want to be 50 years old with a kid and I didn’t have a kid at all the time, but with a kid or kids that were going off to college and having someone say to me, “Oh, you’ve been in television your entire career and we’re all digital now, so you got to get out of here. We don’t have a job for you anymore.” So I was thinking playing a very, very, very long game at that point. This friend said, “Well, there’s an opening over here for finance.” At the time, it’s kind of very reticent to move into a financial news because I didn’t understand it. Honestly, if I needed to make that jump today with the infrastructure that we’ve built in the expertise, we’ve built at Yahoo! Finance. I don’t think I’d be able to cut it. But at the time they were taking baby steps into video and they were willing to take– to let me take baby steps and learn financial news. I knew what a stock was. I didn’t know what an ETF was. Someone had to tell me that. You know, bought stock markets for dummies and was reading Investopedia and just picked up the Wall Street Journal for the first time in my life that now is a daily read and so that was a big change and I still there’s– I’m surrounded by people much, much, much smarter on topics of markets and stocks than I, but I’m confident. I know what’s an important story and what’s not, I think that’s the point that– that’s kind of my job now that and managing the staff so I’m very comfortable with that. It’s all of a love for all that other stuff, but then to the mechanics of terrestrial versus digital, they’ve all kind of mashed up into one now, especially that we have been doing this eight hours of programming. The lines are very blurred and so that’s good that we– and I think that’s where the whole digital space is going. You’re going to have a lot more people trying to get in on the– I’m going to do a full day coverage 24/7 or whatever it maybe on digital and so having that tool kit that I had from TV has certainly helped. Then all the other stuff, the changes, the differences in digital came because when I got here we were going, like I said, with three minutes of VOD, 9 minutes of VOD a day and in those nine years, we ramped up and I feel like I figured it out along the way.
Jeffrey: I’d say, absolutely. I mean, you definitely had a vision, you played the long tail and that’s fantastic and exciting and great for you. Now, what do you think in the next 10 to 20 years? What do you think this media coverage is going to be and what’s next step forward?
Kevin: Yes. I wonder a lot about the people that have been saying for a long time that the likes of NBC Nightly News is going away. Right the 6:30 broadcasts are going away or that, 24/7 TV, TVs going away because millennials and xennials don’t watch TV. The thing is that they’re all watching TV. They’re just watching it on their iPads or their iPhones. So I continue and have always found it hard to believe that 30 Rock goes away because they don’t need studios. We’re a perfect example of that, right? That Yahoo! Finance built a brand new studio 18 months ago, actually less the studio itself is even newer than the broadcast. So I don’t see it going anywhere. I see the way we consume it being different and there being a lot more– a lot of other options, you already see it. You don’t get 20 million people watching a sitcom anymore. You’re just okay with that. There’s lots of different people watching lots of different things and I do think that you have all these streaming products just going to be a consolidation. I don’t think they can all survive forever, but there’s an appetite for everything that’s out there and so it’s just more about the consumptions.
Jeffrey: So round peg for round holes, as long as there’s enough the people out there. They’re going to find out something they like. That’s great. Now, RP HealthCast, we are a health care focus podcast. So question on health care. Based on what’s going on in the world right now with the Coronavirus and how you all at Yahoo! Finance, we’re getting the love right now, Corona every day, health care coverage that type of stuff. How do you think that’s going to change in the future? What sort of permanent changes do you think health care will remain a hot topic of coverage? Now, I don’t want to say in the near future obviously, well, in the near future, but it’s huge.
Kevin: Well, I think for starters to be– networks have long had health care correspondence, doctors on their payroll, and so perhaps some of that just grows as interest grows. I think you’ve seen that since the beginning of media, right. Or when it goes where the interest goes. I feel like this is going, this has legs. This story has legs. This topic has legs. We, you know, a year and a half ago didn’t have a health care reporter, it was kind of, get people from the outside to come and come in, have our anchors just bone up on all this stuff. We before this all happened hired a fantastic health care reporter who’s been very, very busy as you can imagine. So I think you know expanding your health care expert roster whether it’s on staff or outside is a smart thing for any media company to do because I feel bad saying this, but I don’t think this is– whenever this ebbs I don’t think it’s the last we’ve heard of this virus and potentially not the last we’ve heard of another virus or another sickness or another epidemic that tears through our society, which is unfortunate. But health care joins up with so many of the other topics we talked about and so I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. I mean, it’s connected to climate change. It’s connected to politics. It’s connected to your money and through the way the government budgets and all this stuff that, means perhaps the light wasn’t shown so brightly on it before and maybe that’s what happens now that everyone was a wait. This is actually important and the media companies follow so by focusing on it more.
Jeffrey: Kevin, this is been great. Thank you so much for joining us today and I hope to speak with you back here again soon.
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