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Web gives TV stations fix for revenue ills

Jun 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

At a time when the ad market is soft and stations are looking for new revenue streams, a Web and telephone program called “Ask the Pros” seems to be catching on with stations.
San Diego-based Wolfe Media partners exclusively with one TV station in each market to create “Ask the Pros” Web sites. “Ask the Pros” links the sites of local businesses to a station’s site and creates a custom Web site for the advertiser.
Viewers can e-mail questions to the “Ask the Pros” Web page located on a station’s site, and the local business will respond via e-mail. Advertisers can also be reached via an interactive telephone system. Wolfe Media has already signed up partner stations in 18 markets across the country.
“We got the idea because our whole goal at our company is to come up with creative programs that generate new revenue for our media partners,” said David Wolfe, CEO of Wolfe Media. “It has to appeal to advertisers who are looking for accountable marketing programs from stations and to the consumer.”
Some newspapers are already interested in the product, and their Web sites have a higher traffic volume than television stations. But Mr. Wolfe said his company, which helps provide nontraditional revenue-generating programs for stations, is “first and foremost a TV player, and there are some great market that are currently open and haven’t been tapped yet.”
While it varies market to market, stations get about a 75 percent share of the ad revenue generated from the site, and Wolfe takes 25 percent. Ad categories buying into the program are laser eye surgery, plastic surgery, dentists, doctors, professional services such as heating and plumbing, auto, home improvement and health and wellness. Wolfe offers full statistical reports to see how many people are linking to advertisers’ Web sites from the “Ask the Pros” page.
Wolfe signs new partners by going into untapped markets and holding seminars at stations. Stations invite potential advertisers-often targeting businesses that usually advertise in yellow pages and other nontelevision media-to the presentation.
Media General is the first station group to sign up, with nine of its stations participating in the program. Mr. Wolfe said Media General stations have already billed over $1 million of nontraditional ad revenue.
“You can imagine for a TV station to be bringing in new advertisers they’ve never talked to before, this represents new business at a station at a time when stations are looking at all of the opportunities that are out there in a down advertising economy,” Mr. Wolfe said.
In Los Angeles, Young Broadcasting-owned independent KCAL-TV is the exclusive partner, launching “Ask the Pros” on its Web site Monday. For the past year, KCAL had success with Wolfe Media’s telephone information line, which the station dubbed “Call KCAL,” where viewers call in for news, weather, sports, legal and career information and horoscopes.
“What’s interesting about it in L.A.-and it kind of shocked me-is the tons of calls from consumers requesting all sorts of information,” said Tom Hansen, KCAL’s director of marketing and new business development. More than 1 million viewers used the “Call KCAL” line since it launched a year ago.
Even though Wolfe will conduct its sales seminar at the end of July, KCAL’s sales staff has already signed three advertisers in legal, fitness and roofing categories, totaling $100,000 in new business, Mr. Hansen said.
“The roofing guy would be a guy that never would think of using television, but now we have an affordable, entry-level program for him,” Mr. Hansen said. KCAL will air 30-second promos to tell viewers about “Ask the Pros.”
CBS affiliate KWTV, Oklahoma City, will launch the program in the fall, with seminars to be held at the end of this month. KWTV General Sales Manager Rob Krier said advertiser response so far has been good, with at least 200 local businesses scheduled to attend the seminar. If those businesses choose to sign up after the seminar, they will get exclusivity in its ad category on the “Ask the Pros” page.
“You’ve got to look at new ways to develop new revenue, and this is a natural way to do it. It makes sense-it makes sense for the advertisers, it makes sense for us,” Mr. Krier said. “You can only have one partner in a market, and the first person to jump on it will reap the benefits, we hope. From everything we’ve seen, they’ve done very, very well.”
Two CBS-owned stations have signed up to partner in the program-KUTV, Salt Lake City and KDKA-TV, Pittsburgh. KUTV will launch the program July 16. When the station held the sales seminar, 254 potential nontraditional advertisers showed up. On the first day alone, the station made $200,000 in new revenue. New advertisers include a laser eye surgery facility, a dental surgeon, a bank, a furniture dealer and a Japanese restaurant.
“I’ve been at this station for 16 years and I’ve never seen anything like it, particularly in the 36th market,” said KUTV Local Sales Manager Keefe Pulley. “Obviously, we’re looking for nontraditional revenue streams, especially with advertisers cutting spending. Every station gets hit with [companies such as Wolfe Media] every spring-there is a dog and pony show; they all want a single exclusive partner. We went with `Ask the Pros’ because we felt they had the most potential,” Mr. Pulley said.
“It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars that we closed in two days, and more is coming,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of categories are service type of businesses rather than retail. I’ve never seen such interest generated in such a short time and the revenue that it’s generated.”