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Bloggers Find Space at NBC

Jan 18, 2009  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to remake its station Web sites for the Web 2.0 generation, NBC Universal is contracting with prominent local bloggers to produce online reports in their markets.
The new strategy means traditional TV reports repurposed for the Web now live alongside the edgier stuff from bloggers. That may help attract a younger demographic online, especially those who don’t tune in to local news on the television set itself.
“We are not about traditional TV news,” said Brian Buchwald, NBC’s senior VP of Local Integrated Media.
The group started a revamp of its 10 station sites in October, recasting them as city sites rather than online companions for the TV stations.
As part of the change, NBC has hired a handful of local bloggers in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, with more hires to come in the rest of the 10 markets this quarter.
“When we cover a story, we might cover it with a straight news take and we will often have analysis in that more urbane, witty voice from a blogger that’s meant to tweak people and their sensibilities,” he said.
That includes New York video blogger Lori Harfenist, known as “The Resident,” who is creating content for WNBC’s new online home, NBCNewYork.com.
When she covered the 2008 New York National Boat Show for NBCNewYork.com late last month, she pushed the envelope by asking attendees if length really mattered (in a boat) and remarking that she’d always imagined boaters to be “rich jerks.” Most local TV anchors won’t make those sorts of observations, but that kind of snarkiness can win on the Web.
The early results are encouraging. Markets that relaunched their sites saw a “mid-double-digit” rise in page views and unique visitors in December that’s continuing into January so far, Mr. Buchwald said.
He declined to disclose the investment NBC has made in the site redo. However, the local station division now is managing its Web sites internally rather than relying on a third party for technology and operations. That’s reduced the cost to manage the sites by 20% to 40%, Mr. Buchwald said.
The cost savings fund the additional investment in content, he said. Also, the station group has landed new digital advertisers in the mobile phone and pharmaceutical categories in recent months and continues to sell well in automotive and travel for the local sites, Mr. Buchwald said.
Local Internet advertising should slow to 8% growth this year, down from 47% growth in 2008, according to local media research firm Borrell Associates. However, 8% growth is significant when most media is expecting an ad decline in this recessionary year.
Still, large-market TV groups face an uphill battle in executing a successful Internet strategy, said Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates.
“My biggest concern is the business model,” Mr. Borrell said of the push to make TV stations’ Web sites into town squares on the Internet. “It’s not the same mass-media model we see with TV. It’s much more scientific on the Internet and requires a niche-media approach hooked up with the most lucrative advertising opportunities.”
NBC appears to have implemented a scientific approach when it comes to hiring and firing its new crop of freelancers. The local group tracks the success of each blogger, relying on a metric it calls “power shares,” which measures unique visitors, video streams and page views for their stories.
Power shares rise when a blogger’s stories are picked up on highly trafficked sites. Earlier this month, a piece on political scandals from Wonkette writer Sarah K. Smith generated “hundreds of thousands of additional page views” on NBCNewYork.com after it was linked on Fark.com and Drudge.com, said Brad Soroca, VP of marketing for local integrated media.
In partnering with bloggers, NBC aims to tailor the voices to the specifics needs of each market, Mr. Buchwald said. “Local state politics is important in Austin. The technology scene in San Francisco is important. In New York we cover media, in Washington we cover politics,” he said.
Other bloggers for NBC’s local group include New York Post editorial writer Robert George in New York, Chicago political reporter Steve Rhodes in Chicago and sports blogger Elie Seckbach in Los Angeles.

39 Comments

  1. I challenge anyone at NBC to find what they are truly looking for on an NBC O&O website. The sites are probably getting an unusual amount of “clicks” because visitors are having to enter search items multiple times to find the info that’s important to them.
    There is no way that these sites will be attractive to younger visitors simply because of the addition of blogs. The name of the site still implies NBC, therefore, visitors will still want to see NBC content, of which there is very little.
    While the sites are graphically better than they were when IBS was doing it, it is currently very difficult to navigate and find anything worth reading or watching.

  2. I actually think the new sites look great. I don’t know what their old sites look like. But this is definitely a cut above anything else I’ve seen coming from a traditional media company.
    They should be commended for being forward thinking.

  3. Why not just outsource it all?
    Why would a blogger want to got through a filter? A filter that has degraded its brand and getting a BIG cut of YOUR work?
    This is nuts!
    “Why go to the barrel when you can go to the apple tree?”
    This is the kind of desperation I smell from newspapers and seeing this from TV Stations.
    Bloggers > NBCU
    Bloggers need to fully leverage their value.
    Otherwise, why bother with NBC? Hello, ABC, CBS, and FOX!

  4. The networks have yet to realize that you don’t have to call it “NBC”something.com to attract a market. Marketing is half of the challenge for NBC, especially to a younger generation that is not watching local news.

  5. One annoying aspect of this has been the inclusion of commentary and satire in what is portrayed as news. Often, the blogger/reporters on NBC’s websites have inserted made-up “facts” in order to make their story funnier or their satire more biting. Other times, the “reporters” advocate controversial positions in what otherwise appears to be a legitimate news story. Incorporating bloggers is fine, but make sure that their stories are not fraudulently characterized as “news” when they are really commentary or satire. I, for one, will not be returning to my local NBC website for much longer if this continues.

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