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Trial By Fire: Station Web Site Coverage Comes of Age

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The fires that ravaged Southern California last week were one of the first major local news stories to demonstrate there’s widespread consumer interest in watching local news online.
Most of the local broadcasters in Los Angeles and San Diego augmented their expanded on-air coverage with beefed-up Web coverage that included live streaming video of their newscasts as well as ancillary local video feeds. The spikes in traffic underscore the shift in news consumption patterns: Viewers clearly are interested in watching news video on their computers.
For instance, NBC-owned KNBC-TV in Los Angeles ran three separate live streams online and generated about 135,000 views on its Web site on Tuesday, Oct. 23, an exponential increase from the usual 8,000 a day. Total page views for the site jumped to close to 4 million on Oct. 22, an eightfold increase from the norm, said Craig Robinson, executive VP of operations and digital strategy for the station.
“We have access to all this information and now we have the technology to offer it to our users,” he said.
CBS-owned stations KCAL-TV and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles also saw big jumps in traffic. KCAL airs all news during prime time, so clearly local viewers are in the habit of tuning to it when the networks are airing entertainment programming. Total page views for the KCBS site—which the KCAL site feeds into—from Sunday evening through Wednesday afternoon hit 5 million, a 600 percent rise from the prior week. Meanwhile, the site served up 1.2 million video streams, a 1,400 percent increase from the same period the prior week.
In fact, nearly every CBS station in the network-owned group generated increases in video views, ranging from 72 percent to more than 600 percent, in the early days of the fires.
KCBS actually broke the story online on Sunday morning. “We weren’t on TV then, and with the Web site we can go directly on,” said Jason Ball, senior executive producer for news at KCBS and KCAL. The stations streamed the video feed from their helicopter online and then broadcast a second feed on the site when the anchors arrived at the station, he said. The Web coverage also included interactive maps, viewer photos and additional information on the fires.
“The Web staff has been working 24/7. There are now hundreds of on-demand clips from the fires,” said Lane Beauchamp, managing editor for the CBS Television Stations digital media group.
McGraw Hill-owned ABC affiliate KGTV in San Diego also augmented its extended on-air coverage with live Web streaming. “We do try to stream breaking news whenever we are in sustained breaking-news coverage,” said Gary Brown, news director for the station. He declined to provide Web streaming figures, but did say traffic rose on Tuesday to 3 million page views, above the average daily traffic of less than 1 million.
Internet streaming is not the only new-media extension on which stations relied. NBC-owned KNSD-TV in San Diego introduced cell phone text alerts for the first time during coverage of the fires. By Wednesday, more than 10,500 viewers had signed up for the alerts, said Phyllis Schwartz, executive VP for news, promotion and original content for the NBC TV station group and acting general manager for KNSD.
KNSD also streamed live coverage, generating more than 325,000 views on Monday, compared to a few thousand on an average day. The station also logged as high as 7 million page views on Tuesday, up from the norm of about 250,000. “It is the biggest test so far for Internet steaming,” she said.
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