Stations Turn Focus to Web

Apr 19, 2009  •  Post A Comment

On the eve of the annual National Association of Broadcasters’ convention in Las Vegas this week, television stations are facing perhaps the most challenging time ever in their business.
Their budgets are shrinking, their audiences are getting smaller and their advertising dollars are diminishing. Some won’t even be around in a few years due to economic pressure and potential changes in network-affiliate relations. To survive and thrive, local broadcasters are more dependent than ever on creating viable Web businesses.
Local media research firm Borrell Associates said TV stations generated $1 billion in ad revenue on their Web sites last year. That number should rise to $1.3 billion this year, representing a 26% jump.
TelevisionWeek asked broadband video, local media and TV station experts what broadcasters are doing—or should be doing—to adapt to online video, both editorially and financially. Here’s what they said:
Michael Burgess, general manager, KOB-TV, Albuquerque, N.M.
“We post a ton of stories online now. We’ve already started to change ourselves from being a ‘television broadcaster’ to a ‘content provider.’ We have to start thinking that way. I don’t think, by any means, we are there yet. We have to start thinking as, ‘OK, we’ve got the story, where are we going to put it? We’ll put it on television, we’ll put it on the Web, we’ll put it on mobile video. All of those things are going to be a component. Now, quite frankly, we haven’t figured out how to make any [substantial] money on the online part of it.”
Lisa Howfield, general manager, KVBC-TV, Las Vegas
“We’ve got to start breaking stories to our Web site, as opposed to the old philosophy of, ‘Well, if we break it on the Web site, what’s the incentive to come to the newscast?’ We have to start changing our thinking. Getting that [news] distributed out to new platforms is obviously more important than ever. How to do that effectively with the necessary equipment is financially a challenge with television stations trying to stay afloat right now,” Ms. Howfield said. “It’s a great time to expand with these types of opportunities. It’s just a tough time to do it.”
Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio Television News Directors Association
“They need to think more about how they are interacting with their communities,” Ms. Cochran said. “The Web is very different from television, where the audience is passive and receives information. This is an opportunity to have a dialogue you are putting together with the community. This is a chance to help them inform each other. Connect with things that might be outside of the standard news agenda and think of your Web site as an opportunity to bring your community together.”
Gordon Borrell, president of local media research firm Borrell Associates
“Local broadcasters should realize that it’s not about HD-quality video and move away from the idea of needing to produce high-cost online video and charging a lot to advertisers,” Mr. Borrell said. “The vast majority of videos being watched on the Internet are shot with camcorders, and the public is perfectly fine with that. Realize that the most interesting video that they can provide comes from people, not from professional reporters or cameramen. It’s not about you—it’s about them. More and more locally shot video will generate a helluva lot of page views that can be sold—probably more so than a clipped version of the 6 o’clock news with some 10-second pre-roll in front of it.”
Arthur Greenwald, TV producer
“Most stations have already learned to shorten and index their video news features and stories accordingly, but some let stories run past two or three minutes, which is excessive,” Mr. Greenwald said. “TV stations have to learn that video is not always the best medium. Many stations are now Twittering updates (usually way too many with too much repetition), which include links to the text of the story online, also offering a chance to click and view the video if the user so chooses. With today’s staff and budget cuts, I do not recommend trying to be the earliest adopter of new technology. It would be crazy, for instance, for a station to develop its own iPhone App when they can license that technology, ready to use, from Raleigh’s WRAL-TV newsoverwireless.com.”
Tom Petner, editor of “ShopTalk” at TVspy.com
“The new world of online video has to be driven by video elements that are fused together into the stories. Video needs to be more element-driven and part of the story’s context,” Mr. Petner said. “That allows users to pick and choose parts of the online story and video that they want to watch. The other interesting contradiction that seems to be in play these days for many broadcasters is the notion of video quality. We all love to deliver standout, quality video pieces, but I think the rules—what will drive users to watch more—is using video as a storytelling component. Tell me the story—show me the story—as it unfolded.”
Will Richmond, analyst with VideoNuze.com
“Local stations must first acknowledge that they’re no longer the exclusive source for either network TV programs or local information,” Mr. Richmond said. “That means stations need to fundamentally reinvent themselves by offering exclusive high-value content that is distributed beyond their traditional geographic footprint. Then they need to ensure it is discovered and monetized effectively.”
—With reporting by Andrew Krukowski


  1. We really have to be careful about some of the overly facile responses to the state of broadcast news right now. First of all, let’s not sell the audience short and dismiss their intelligence and sensitivity to quality. There is a place for “camcorder” video, but judging from YouTube’s difficulties in attracting advertisers, there are emerging indications that both audiences and advertisers have a growing sense of quality where it’s appropriate. Besides, internet video will gradually lose its novelty (yes, it is still in the novelty phase), and audience expectations could well grow, so selling yourself short today could be troublesome in a more competitive market a few years down the road. Professionalism and quality can exist together in the discovery of good stories. And today’s citizen amateur may be tomorrow’s pro freelancer once business models can evolve for that niche. In a world where more and more people work 2-3 jobs, not everybody has the time to casually shoot free news for broadcasters.
    Secondly, this is a real opportunity to think in terms of diverse models. 3-5 minute programming does have a place, as do shorter bits. Why try to insist on limited formulas when the new delivery medium is still fairly elastic? Broadcasters have a great opportunity to break free of story formats driven by deadlines, fixed time constraints and limited shelf life, so experiment and let your people stretch a bit.
    And finally, let new technologies prove themselves. I work with college students, and a sizable portion are indifferent to blogs and Twitter and are skeptical about how long those technologies will last. There is a lot of conflicting reporting about the significance of demographic information and relative media use.
    Above all, don’t panic and do what the newspapers have done to sacrifice quality and long-term vision.

  2. As a web manager for two major broadcast sites, video -on average- accounts for less than 10% of our daily traffic. It is nice to offer, but I think stations would be smarter to focus on text, photos, engagement and speed of delivery.

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