The problem is that most broadcasters still see the Web as primarily a promotional opportunity. And while stations know the importance of building an online business, generating spot revenue is primary and, frankly, easier.A common misunderstanding among broadcasters is thinking that the online customer is the same as the broadcast customer. It’s simply not the case. Yet stations treat them the same.
Despite having to compete in a 500-channel universe, local broadcasters still hold a unique advantage over their local online media competitors. They have plenty of content — news, station promotions, contest and, of course, weather and traffic — and they can use their broadcasts to drive viewers to their sites.
But most stations are squandering their advantage by operating unremarkable sites that don’t engage the visitor or build community.
The problem is that most broadcasters still see the Web as primarily a promotional opportunity, a place to sell viewers on their over-the-air entertainment, news, talent, helicopter and ever-popular weather radar. With few exceptions, they have simply ported over the same promotional strategies they use on radio and print to the Web.
What they don’t understand is that the Web isn’t about them. It’s about the end user.
A common misunderstanding among broadcasters is thinking that the online customer is the same as the broadcast customer. It’s simply not the case. Watching TV is passive and surfing the Web is active. The viewer’s expectations and state of mind are different when they use the Internet. What people want from the Web is utility as in “what’s useful to me.” The interaction between the customer and the medium could not be more different. Yet stations treat them the same.
Nonetheless, broadcasters may still be able to prevail online by taking advantage of another of their inherent advantages.
What distinguishes broadcasters from their many competitors is their connection with the local community. They enjoy a relationship with viewers that cable channels simply don’t have and they can leverage that relationship to become online community builders.
It turns out that moms are big. Gannett created a Web site for moms on their Indianapolis Star Web site, www.Indymoms.com, that has gained huge popularity. It’s a place where moms network, share photos, stories and information. Because of its considerable success, Gannett has taken the idea to its other newspaper properties. The United States Navy started an online community for Navy moms that provides networking and support to families of servicemen and women.
For the last several years, the discussions at media confabs and in trade publications have been about being “hyper-local.” Citizen journalism and user-generated content have been frequently hailed as the future, but few companies have taken concrete steps to make it happen.
A notable exception is the Chicago Tribune, which two years ago launched micro Web sites for eight towns on the outer fringes of its market under the umbrella of Triblocal.com. The micro sites provided a place for people in those towns to post stories, pictures and community events with a user-friendly interface. Triblocal is now closing in on 90 town sites.
All metrics for Triblocal.com are positive. Readership, traffic and revenue are all up. A local advertiser can buy ads on selected town sites, avoiding waste circulation and using a credit card. It is a win-win situation, and, as it grows, people in Chicagoland will be more connected with the Chicago Tribune because their interests are better served.
Given their power to drive traffic to their Web sites, it would seem the Triblocal.com model would be a natural for TV stations to embrace. It presents a huge opportunity, especially for the first station that steps up to stake the position as the premier provider of local news in their market, on air and online. The stations that jump in later will have a tougher and more costly battle for market position.
The broadcast television business has never been as challenged as it is today. It’s hunkered down, cutting back and working to maximize inventory. While stations know the importance of building an online business, generating spot revenue is primary and, frankly, easier.
Viewers are interested in their communities, and local TV stations — more than any media — have the power to provide a destination for them on the Web. In doing so, they will aggregate a valuable audience to market and capture relevant user-contributed content for their local newscasts. As evidenced by Triblocal.com, the financial rewards will follow.
Chris Westerkamp is director of sales for Creative Circle Advertising Solutions, which provides Web sites and other service for media companies. He is a former TV station general manager with years at ABC, CBS and McGraw-Hill.