WMAQ-TV Site Goes Video-Centric

Jul 31, 2006  •  Post A Comment

When NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in Chicago brought local cable talk show “Nude Hippo” to its Web site last month, the TV station took a big step into the online future-because online is in many ways the future of TV stations.

As they are increasingly squeezed from all directions, many local broadcasters are looking at the Internet as the closest thing they have to a sure thing.

WMAQ has been particularly aggressive pursuing online opportunities in the past seven months, shoring up its Web site with daily exclusive webcasts, podcasts, video blogs and the imported “Nude Hippo.” Web dollars are growing at the station and are expected to double this year over 2005.

“When we first got started in the later ’90s the Web site was really a reflection of our news organization, and now we believe it cannot be,” said Larry Wert, general manager of WMAQ. “It needs to become its own hybrid community.”

Some of the more captivating content online is material that wouldn’t find a home on-air. For instance, a recent online video of a two-faced kitten was one of the top five videos in July, with more than 2,500 views on the station’s Web site, NBC5.com, which is produced and managed in partnership with Internet Broadcasting.

“That wouldn’t necessarily be the kind of thing that would be the lead on our newscast or even make the cut,” said Frank Whittaker, VP of news for the station.

Also, the site has featured a “baby blog” from Marion Brooks, an anchor who recently gave birth. Her reports have garnered more than 50,000 page views in two months.

Page views have risen since WMAQ retooled with its new video-centric Web strategy. For the second quarter, the site reported 28.5 million page views, up from 25 million in the first quarter.

The site has also found success in its video streaming. WMAQ streamed coverage of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s guilty verdict on corruption charges in April to the tune of 12,000 views; live footage of an immigration march in May clocked in at 40,000 views.

Podcasts are rising in usage too. The station offers 24 podcasts per week that generated 46,000 total downloads in June, up from 28,000 in May. Some of the podcasts are ad-supported.

These new ventures are all designed to be ad-supported, but not all have attracted advertisers yet. For instance, the station is seeking a sponsor for its fitness team- a group of fitness instructors who provide tips online and on-air.

However, Mr. Wert emphasized that the Web is the fastest-growing opportunity for the station, even though it’s a small pool. He estimates the pure Web ad-dollars market in Chicago at about $15 million, compared with $1 billion for TV. However, over time the amount of Web money will grow significantly, he said.

Web-only advertisers include Resnick Automotive Group, Baird & Warner, Feldco, Neumann Homes, Chicago Home Fitness and Illinois EPA/Partners for Clean Air. Advertisers who are advertising across the Web and on-air are TCF Bank, Explore Minnesota, Country Companies, Breast Cancer 3-Day and RE/Max.

TCF Bank, for instance, sponsors the time and temperature on-air and also online. On the Web site, the station has added an online survey to the time and temperature where users indicate their awareness of the bank and other information to help the bank generate feedback for its marketing.