Competitors Take Notice Of WCPO Insider

The prospect of a lone gunman wreaking havoc at Cincinnati’s 2015 All-Star Game. The ravaged lives of a heroin epidemic blooming across Ohio and Northern Kentucky. The last watch of a murdered small town police officer. Missed any of these stories?

If so, it’s because you were on the wrong side of the paywall at E.W. Scripps Co.-owned ABC affiliate WCPO Cincinnati. WCPO Insiders, as subscribers to the paid service are called, have access to a new depth of coverage in niche areas like business (Cincinnati is a major corporate HQ hub), government/policy as well as arts and education, brought to them by 30 new staffers and a stable of additional freelancers.

Local media competitors are trying to determine what kind of impact, if any, WCPO’s new online strategy is having on their business. They have certainly taken notice since WCPO’s hiring ramp-up began last year, according to Digital GM Dave Peterson. His primary competition has been escalating its breaking news coverage (and promos), but numerous requests for comment from representatives for WLWT (NBC) and WKRC (CBS) went unanswered.

The city’s Gannett-owned daily newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, is most directly in the crosshairs of WCPO’s text-heavy, depth-oriented new content, and its officials concede that the Insider has already made waves in the market.

The Enquirer, also behind a paywall and the market’s comScore ratings leader in monthly unique visitors, is feeling the target on its back. Carolyn Washburn, the Enquirer’s, VP and editor, admits as much.

“They’ve made it pretty clear that they intend to go head to head with us,” she said. For the first time, for instance, she said the paper is finding competition on some beats where it once operated solo. “My city hall reporter has one more person covering it than before, so she’s going to pay attention to what that person is covering and be competitive with it,” she said.

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Washburn said for the first time in years, Cincinnati is feeling more like a two-newspaper town because of that dynamic. “Though generally I’m not losing any sleep over it,” she said, feeling that the paper is still besting WCPO with more reporters breaking news and providing more depth daily.

She is, however, elevating the Enquirer’s own digital game, working for more content on breaking news, traffic and weather on its own site and producing more video sports programming and long-form documentary work, along with launching a consumer protection watchdog initiative.

Back at WCPO, however, Peterson and his team — with Scripps executives looking anxiously over their shoulders — need to evolve their way out of the experimental stage to the indispensable one if the Insider project is to survive. The quality of their content, along with developing affinity models, will make or break the effort.

“I just want to be a must-read publication,” Peterson said. “That’s how I see it, as a news source that you can’t afford to miss.”

This story originally appeared in TVNewsCheck’s Executive Outlook, a quarterly print publication devoted to the future of broadcasting. Subscribe here.


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