Four former Florida TV news pros are launching a Web site, THELAW.TV, that will partner with TV stations to showcase local lawyers offering advice videos. Each attorney pays for inclusion plus a maintenance fee. The stations get a large library of highly-promotable sticky content for their sites in exchange for a revenue-sharing deal for the ads they sell.
Of all the miseries caused by TV station downsizing, the worst may be the growing ranks of unemployed TV news veterans. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of highly trained job-seekers with few buyers for their TV-specific skills.
But with no federal rescue in sight, some former broadcasters have begun to bail themselves out. Among the most creative is the team behind THELAW.TV — a new consumer Web site that promises to “help you navigate the law and life.”
The site, which officially launches next week, was created by four TV pros with strong resumes, each most recently employed by WPBF, the Hearst-owned ABC affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla.: veteran news director Joe Coscia, reporter-attorney Brian Albert, weekend anchor Corey Saban, and producer-videographer Michael Levine.
“Dramatic changes in the television news business just made it more attractive to apply our skills and contacts to creating our own new media venture” says Coscia, who heads marketing for THELAW.TV and who credits Albert with the idea. “Brian actually developed the Web site and oversaw the legal content. Michael handled the video production and Corey and I guide the business development.”
Inspired by the success of WebMD.com, the text-based medical advice site, the partners established a very different format for THELAW.TV. Nearly all the legal tips are delivered by local attorneys in short videos.
“Lawyers write in legalese. They’re trained to qualify their statements, which makes it hard for a lay person to follow,” says Albert, a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Miami School of Law. “But when lawyers speak, they’re more likely to phrase things in ways people can understand.”
Moreover, surveys reveal that when clients actually hear an attorney speak, they are 70 percent more likely to hire that person — a statistic that came up repeatedly in conversations with law firms and attorney marketing groups. The partners were thrilled to discover that no other Web site had yet seized on the idea of showcasing attorneys via video.
Even better, quite a few Florida lawyers proved eager to pay for the privilege, which is the Web site’s initial method of making money. Each attorney pays a base fee of $5,000, which covers video production costs plus one year of category exclusivity on THELAW.TV.
Specific categories reflect the legal specialties that tend to define a modern law practice. Personal injury, for example, is broken down into 12 sub-topics including motorcycle accidents and nursing home abuse.
“The lawyers are all interested in local exclusivity to ensure that their investment will generate significant traffic,” Albert says. In addition to the base fee, lawyers pay “a few hundred dollars a month” to maintain the Web site and servers.
So far, nobody has complained about the price. In fact, they consider it a bargain. “Attorneys in West Palm Beach are paying twice that just to shoot the video for their own Web site,” Coscia says. “We give them much greater reach.”
That greater reach — and additional revenue — is provided only partly by THELAW.TV itself. Far greater exposure will come from media partnerships with TV stations and their Web sites.
“Our partners get a large library of highly-promotable sticky content for their sites in exchange for a revenue-sharing deal for the ads they sell,” Coscia says. And the stations are getting it “at a time when staffs are shrinking and the amount of original content they can produce is on the decline.”
The first media partnership will debut, naturally enough, in West Palm Beach, and will be announced to coincide with next week’s site launch. “Our plan is expand into Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers and the remaining Florida markets in September, then into other states during mid-fourth quarter,” Coscia says.
In most markets, THELAW.TV will first partner with a TV station then jointly recruit local attorneys. In some markets, the partners may include a radio station or newspaper. “We are now actively pursuing the build-out with a marketing firm that specializes in law practices,” Coscia adds.
This ambitious timetable is driven by more than mere optimism. Law firm commercials are one of the few ad categories to hold steady, and even grow, in the down economy.
“They’ve got a good business plan,” says longtime news consultant John Kosinski of News Solutions and Research in Stamford, Conn. “They’re giving stations relevant content that offers practical solutions and speaks right to the demo bullseye that every station covets.”
Kosinski believes that many of THELAW.TV’s lawyer videos could be equally successful in attracting viewers on air as well as online. “TV newscasts often tell viewers to visit their Web site for more information,” says Kosinski. “But only a handful of stations have been successful driving Web visitors to TV. This is one time when that model actually makes sense.”
Of course, all of this presumes that viewers — and stations — find the attorneys appealing and their information reliable. Credibility is ensured by a vetting process, Coscia says. “The lawyers must practice the specific discipline of law they are speaking about on THELAW.TV and they must have no history of disciplinary action by their bar association or licensing agency.”
Attorneys must also be licensed to practice within the region served by the TV station and its Web site. Although visitors can manually search for specific attorneys and localities, visitors are automatically directed to the closest local Web site based upon geolocation data.
“We presume that viewers are not interested in attorneys who aren’t physically convenient to meet in person,” says Albert. More important, laws and court procedures vary widely from state to state, or even county to county.
Assessing personal appeal is inevitably more subjective, but here too the attorney’s substance takes precedence over surface appeal.
“They must be presentable as television experts, with a good speaking manner and a solid on-camera presence,” says Coscia, but it’s more important that they “speak well with a sense of authority and answer the questions in an easy-to-understand manner.”
The team has already coached better performances out of several attorneys in their roster.
But even if they appeal to viewers, would it be proper to use these category-exclusive attorneys as experts during the news?
“I would need to know the business relationship with the attorneys,” says Rich Pegram, general manager of Scripps’ WFTS Tampa. “The lines have to be clearly drawn. If this is sponsored, paid-for content, I don’t see this migrating into a newscast, except in a commercial pod.”
But Pegram can easily see the value to his station’s Web site. “The legal category is a robust ad category for Florida and Tampa in particular, so there’s obvious marketability and appeal. It’s a growth category when others are down.”
Arthur Greenwald is a TVNewsCheck contributing editor who writes about station innovation, media marketing and new technology. He can be reached at [email protected]