Station Web sites exploit weather appeal

May 13, 2002  •  Post A Comment

KCBD-TV in Lubbock, Texas, reaches more than one-third of its market with its Web site. That’s an astounding figure for a TV station site when most such sites are hoping to achieve 10 percent market penetration, according to Magid Media Futures.
The KCBD Web site registers 55,000 unique visitors each month from a market population of 144,000 viewers 18 and older. The secret? Updates five times each day, a home page designed like a table of contents-and weather, weather, weather.
In 2001, KCBD closed about $500,000 worth of advertising deals for its site, which has been making money since 1999, said Brent McClure, marketing and operations manager for the station, which is owned by Liberty Corp.
Weather is the biggest driver to the Web site. In March, Web users logged on to the site directly through the weather page 87,000 times. That compares with 100,000 times the home page was the conduit through which users arrived at the site, Mr. McClure said. KCBD’s weather page offers Doppler radar, the weather forecast and personalized weather.
Birthday clubs and coupons
KCBD is organized as a portal site, like Yahoo! “We use the home page as a table of contents. People are more accustomed to going to one page and getting an offering there,” Mr. McClure said. Another key is to place as much information as possible “above the fold,” so viewers don’t have to scroll far to find what they want, he said.
In March, KCBD received the best Web site award for a small-market TV station in Texas from the Texas Associated Press. Lloyd Gottschalk, a photographer with the Fox News Channel who was one of the award judges, said he judged the sites primarily on their home pages. “I didn’t want to see advertisements, stuff on the anchors or polls. I wanted to see news and weather,” he said. Highlighting news and weather makes sense, since 56 percent of Internet users go online regularly for weather, said Maryann Schulze, executive director of Magid Media Futures in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
A TV station Web site doesn’t have to be an add-on, an afterthought or a drain on cash flow. When done right, it can be a destination as well as a profit center for a station. A site has to excel on a number of fronts to achieve the kind of market penetration KCBD has enjoyed, Ms. Schulze said. When she works with a site, the goal is to guide it to at least 10 percent market penetration each month. That figure is a solid enough base from which to sell advertising. Magid Media Futures client Liberty Corp. has 15 station Web sites, which average between 15 percent and 18 percent market penetration each month with an aggressive strategy of advertising, relevant local content and weather.
Personalized weather forecasts have been reaching at least 6 percent of the designated market area in Liberty’s markets since they became available a year ago, said Ron Loewen, VP of strategic development for Liberty. In addition, the sites don’t just sell buttons and banners, he said. They sell “convergence advertising,” which includes such offerings as sponsorship of the morning show’s “Birthday Club” on WAVE-TV in Louisville, Ky., he said. Dairy Queen is the sponsor. Viewers who join the club receive an e-mail card as well as a coupon for a free Dairy Queen item on their birthday.
Fresh content daily
Many TV station sites are achieving only 2 percent to 3 percent penetration each month, Ms. Schulze said. To improve, a site needs fresh content regularly and effective on-air promotion giving viewers concrete reasons to visit the site. Information that keeps viewers coming back to the site could include a checklist to accompany a TV story about quality of care for the elderly, contact numbers connected with certain pieces, or streaming video of multipart series online once they have aired in completion.
Weather forecasts, Doppler radar and top stories should be on the main page, Ms. Schulze said. “More than anything, the individual should be able to quickly get a sense of what’s going on in that market, even if it’s a few sentences. People who go to station Web sites are usually going for news,” she said.
Promos and tune-ins
A Web site should also include promos for the next newscast to continually drive traffic back and forth between the two mediums, she said. However, a recent Magid Media Futures analysis showed that only 11 percent of TV stations in the top 120 markets include such “topical tune-in messages.”
“It doesn’t make sense not to use it at all. The market to go after is people already loyal to your newscast and to continue to give them reasons to tune in,” she said.
WFAA-TV in Dallas, which won the Texas AP award for best large-market Web site, posts its Web address on the corner of the screen throughout its newscasts and includes tune-in messages on its Web site to drive traffic back and forth, said Oscar Martinez, who oversees the Web site, which was produced by Belo Interactive. In late April, the Web site launched a daily e-mail newsletter with top stories, video and weather information.
Some stations don’t subscribe to the notion that news drives Web site usage. Since Tribune also owns a newspaper in many of its large TV markets, its local station Web sites highlight the station’s programming and usually just one main news story. Many users in those markets are going to the newspapers’ sites for news, said Mike Silver, VP of strategy and business development for Tribune Interactive.
Tribune’s WGN-TV in Chicago links visitors to sister company ChicagoTribune.com for hard news, though the site does include the station’s enterprise stories and features, said Carol Fowler, news director at the station.
News requires a hefty upkeep, Mr. Silver said.
That’s why Tribune’s station sites are more likely to contain images of upcoming shows, such as a photo of “Dawson’s Creek” on Tribune’s 16 WB stations’ sites.
Tribune Interactive is a network of 40 Web sites, including TV station sites and newspaper sites. About 70 percent of the revenue comes from classified ads, Mr. Silver said.
“Our sites more than others are focused on our TV programming. We don’t want to make them news destinations in and of themselves. They are there to support the stations,” he said.