Text-Centric Sites Getting Makeovers

Jun 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The Viacom Television Station Group is making a big move into new media.

This month, the station group began the initial implementation of a groupwide strategy to transform its stations’ Web sites into broadband and video-centric local portals, a move that will be paired in most markets with wireless alerts and mobile video content. The strategy also means the stations for the first time will attach a price tag to ads on the sites.

Meanwhile, the NBC-owned station group fired off a series of new media launches, including live streaming of its digital weather channel Weather Plus on 10 of its 14 station Web sites and has rolled out on-demand newscasts online.

As part of its broadband rollout, earlier this month Viacom launched a new video-based site for its Salt Lake City CBS station KUTV (at KUTV.com) that will serve as a blueprint for the broadband makeover of the majority of the group’s Web sites. Just last week two more stations followed suit: WCCO-TV in Minneapolis and KCNC-TV in Denver. KPIX-TV in San Francisco is slated to come onboard June 28, and the rest of the group’s stations will quickly follow.

As part of the transition, Viacom will change the advertising approach of its local stations. To date, ads on the stations’ sites have largely been sold as a value-add to an on-air buy. Now the Internet ads will have their own price tag, said Fred Reynolds, president and CEO of the Viacom stations. He expects the stations’ sales teams will target some national advertisers, such as insurance companies and packaged goods, but will also go after local ad dollars, in particular newspaper classified ads and car dealers, he said.

The new sites represent a transformation from the old text-centric ones. The video is embedded into the site, does not require a separate media player and loads within seconds of being requested. Major stories of the day as well as archived pieces will be available. Now that nearly 60 percent of Internet users connect via broadband, stations are ready to make better use of the asset they know best: video.

“We want to shift the paradigm strategy to an always-on environment so our stations can begin to produce and broadcast their content and distribute it on an on-demand basis,” said Jonathan Leess, president of the Viacom Television Stations Digital Media Group, a division that was formed last month. He’s been working with the network for a year as a consultant. His move in-house and the creation of the division serves as an official seal on Viacom’s strategy to pursue new revenue opportunities for its local stations in broadband, wireless and interactive media.

The need to mine new revenue was emphasized earlier this year at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, in which various station group and association heads highlighted the importance of local broadcasters developing other businesses to augment their core over-the-air business.

While the long-term revenue potential of such new ventures is unclear, stations are certain they need to explore opportunities as diverse as Web streaming, podcasting, VOD and amped-up Web sites.

“[Stations] have a tremendous opportunity to grow their audience outside of the traditional news telecasts,” Mr. Leess said. The stations will also roll out mobile content, such as customized traffic alerts.

Video Possibilities

NBC is beginning to embrace the video-centric possibilities broadband enables since it added the Weather Plus signal earlier this month to 10 of its station sites. “If you are sitting in your office and want to get the weather information, [we can do that],” said Steve Schwaid, senior VP of news and programming for NBC Universal Television Stations Group. “We are content-casters. Our obligation is to get our content to you, no matter what distribution means.”

Along those lines, NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in Chicago began offering abbreviated versions of the 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. news on its Web site last week. They are available on-demand. The station also offers 23 news podcasts per week. The podcasts started in May and the station has begun to sell sponsorships for them. WMAQ said it will pursue advertising opportunities for the on-demand webcasts as well.

The group’s Dallas station KXAS-TV started streaming its noon and 4 p.m. news online every weekday, while Miami’s WTVJ-TV carries its noon show online now.

NBC considers many of these ventures to be in the learning stage, but the company will likely monetize them through advertising. “We are learning what our viewers and consumers are wanting,” Mr. Schwaid said.

ABC has been active in new media for some time, particularly through its multiplatform ABC News Now service. ABC plans to add local station stories to ABC News Now that will be available on the PC and to wireless customers who have access to the live channel via MobiTV and SprintTV.

Other stations are pursuing new media too. Miami’s Sunbeam-owned Fox station WSVN-TV introduced wireless hurricane alerts earlier this month. The service is called “Cone on Your Phone,” referring to the cone of a hurricane. The system contacts viewers when a hurricane is approaching. The service is free from major carriers.

“It’s obviously for the benefit of our viewers,” said Alice Jacobs, WSVN’s VP of news and local programming. “There’s also a huge competitive nature to hurricane coverage.” More than 1,300 people signed up in the first four days.

Ms. Jacobs expects the station will explore other mobile content opportunities.