Online: In Pursuit of the Perfect Web Site

Aug 2, 2009  •  Post A Comment

By Hillary Atkin

For television and radio stations and newspapers across the country, adjunct Web sites are an essential tool in reaching their target audiences and extending their brands across cyberspace.

Creating the most relevant site can be a challenge, however, and maintaining its effectiveness
is a never-ending process. Whereas many broadcast sites were once used mainly for promotion of on-air content, today’s industry standard incorporates mobile applications and social media,
and the promotion is on-air for the Web site.

So is there a road map for the creation and maintenance of a successful site?

According to Ron Stitt, vice president of digital media for the 27-member Fox Television Stations group, “You need a plan to produce content of interest to the audience, then you need an infrastructure and a way to build in community and interactive tools. Then the goal is to figure out how to coordinate that with what you’re doing on air.”

For the Fox stations group, another key factor is localization, while elements like budgeting, core platform and key supplier decisions, broad strategy and sharing of best practices are coordinated centrally. “One of the things that defines our approach is really looking hard at each local marketplace and defining audience niches that are underserved,” Stitt said.

The approach from a corporate standpoint is to encourage local stations to come up with their own ideas, which have resulted in additional digital properties like MyFoxHurricane.com, a resource for all things hurricane-related, including satellite views, storm tracks, storm-related links and live chats. Plus a group of free dating sites that began in Phoenix has spread to six other markets.

My Dating Place, launched by KSAZ-TV in May 2007, currently has nearly 30,000 profiles, as does Good Date LA, launched in January 2009 as part of MyFoxLA.com, the Web site of KTTV-TV in Los Angeles.

Several key vendors have emerged in the marketplace for radio and television stations and newspapers that want to farm out creation of new media elements, management and even ad sales. The granddaddy of them all is Internet Broadcasting Systems, known as IB, which was formed in 1996 at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. WorldNow, founded 10 years ago, also offers turnkey solutions as well as individualized platform, design and consulting services.

“Our overriding philosophy is to make sure stations have a successful online presence—and be able to generate revenue,” said Jill Hooper, vice president of marketing for IB, which has about 70 broadcast sites as clients.

“We’ve seen a significant decline in revenue on air. We are helping them make that up by driving revenue. We help with thoughts and ideas from a user perspective. We do Web design, a significant amount of ad operations, and actually produce advertisements,” she said. “We’re all in it together with local station management, and we pride ourselves on how we can help them implement strategy and succeed.”

Internet Broadcasting Systems also functions as a content network for its clients. “We have an actual content management system to enable Web sites to be dynamic, and a team of journalists and editors that push out national content that they can publish,” said Hooper. For coverage of the death of Michael Jackson, she said, “We created a special section, with video clips, slideshows, original content and material pulled in from AP and CNN. We’ve gotten such great [user] feedback. It allowed them to focus on local-level news.”

WorldNow provides various technologies to its clients based upon their needs. “We like to customize our relationships,” said Craig Smith, the New York-based company’s executive vice president of distribution and ad sales. “For example, with the New York Daily News, our relationship is just video-streaming tools. For WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, we work with site hosting, video, national sales relationships and national content. We look at ourselves as a custom solution provider, helping with technology and revenue with different services that can help stations.”

The majority of traffic is during the business day, with peak hours in the morning, at lunchtime, and at the end of the workday. Research suggests that the sense of personal connectedness that people feel to news anchors in their markets often makes station Web sites more popular than those of newspapers and radio stations.

“A lot of folks build Web sites and publish content, but very few are taking the time to go to individual stations and analyze market position and key franchises in a local newscast, like weather and health,” Smith said. “When you go online, do they translate? We’re finding the stations taking time to analyze and document and site-plan with a style guide really are driving great success. Good strategy can influence great design. We work to make sure our stations have a great strategy.”

Smith believes the greatest contributing factor to success is the number of stories that are published monthly. But for the average station taking its content online, the story count is fairly low.

 The competition is newspapers that produce a lot of content,” he said. “The average station does less than 400 stories a month, measured against traffic and page views. They should start aiming for 900 to 1,000 stories a month. Too many are going after shiny objects on the Web. If the content’s not good nothing else matters.”

“It all comes down to the user experience,” Hooper said. “If you’re producing a positive user experience in a good way, the pieces all come together.”

As stations become multiplatform media companies, how do they translate brand advantage?

"The idea of competing with newspapers, and breaking news faster, and being more trustworthy—even with a much smaller staff—that’s really a compelling thing,” said Arul Sundaram, VP of business strategy for IB. “You have an advantage, how do you leverage it and continue to establish that connection, whether on-air, online or over the phone. How do you maintain it? I don’t think anyone’s necessarily cracked it.”

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