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Using the Internet to Drive Viewership

Sep 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge, La., formerly the top station in the market and now No. 2 to WAFB-TV, believes its newly launched Web site can help return it to dominance.
The Manship Media-owned ABC affiliate has high hopes for 2theadvocate.com, the Web site it shares with sister publication and local newspaper The Advocate, contending that it can drive the separate brands of the TV station and the newspaper. Starting early next month, the Web site will introduce the first of its large-scale convergence projects linking the site, the station and the paper.
Convergence is not new to the local television business, as a number of TV stations around the country share online and on-air resources with print partners. But WBRZ-TV’s experiment is noteworthy because of the weight and expectations it is placing on the potential of the shared site to drive TV ratings.
“I want to be No. 1 again and the Web site is a big part of your image,” said Hunter Manship, media convergence manager for 2theadvocate.com. “I feel if we have a site that’s a one-stop shop … hopefully people will go there before the competition.”
The goal is to maximize the broadband platform with multimedia presentations, streaming video, slide shows, audio feeds and, of course, text. Mr. Manship also wants reporters at both outlets to use the Web site to break news rather than wait for the broadcast or the next day’s paper.
The process has encountered some growing pains. Convergence entails a cultural shift at both media outlets, said Freda Yarbrough, the new media director at the newspaper, who is guiding the editorial content of the site. “As a reporter in TV you will have more visual images than text. With TV reporters, you have to work very hard to get the text out of TV folks because they are accustomed to short [writing],” she said.
In addition, the paper and the station aren’t located in the same building, presenting geographical hurdles. The Web staff is small and Mr. Manship is in the process of hiring a Web producer.
Early next month the Web site will debut its first fully convergent project, coverage of photographer C.C. Lockwood’s houseboat tour documenting coastal erosion of Louisiana’s wetlands. The site will include a regular Internet journal from Mr. Lockwood as well as links, polls and photos. The TV station and the newspaper will contribute reports for the Web.
If successful, the coverage could be the model for convergence on 2theadvocate.com going forward, said Ms. Yarbrough. “We don’t want to do [convergence] after the fact, but work on it from the get-go,” she said.
The key to making convergence work is to focus on building brands, said Bill Bauman, general manager for Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC station WESH-TV in Orlando, Fla. The station partnered with the Orlando Sentinel newspaper to launch local weather site Orlandoweather.com last summer. The site now registers about 1.2 million page views per month.
The joint Web site is one way to build on the station’s successful weather franchise anchored by longtime meteorologist Dave Marsh, who now provides forecasts for the newspaper’s weather page. Readership for the page has grown 11 percent since Mr. Marsh’s contributions were added, said Frank Carter, multimedia marketing and partnerships manager for the paper. That increased readership in turn drives readers back to the TV station, Mr. Bauman said.
In Dallas, Belo owns The Dallas Morning News and ABC affiliate WFAA-TV. Each has its own Web site-dallasnews.com and wfaa.com-but they share resources, including traffic and weather coverage. In August, wfaa.com generated 10.5 million page views and dallasnews.com counted 40 million.
Whether the page views translate into increased TV ratings is hard to tell, but the station has won the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news races for at least the past 15 years, said Dave Muscari, VP of strategic alliances for WFAA-TV. “One medium helps support another,” he said.
In addition, about 50 percent of the visitors to wfaa.com aren’t regular WFAA-TV viewers, which offers an opportunity to use the Web site to drive new viewership.