Friday, February 1

Embracing A Brave New Media World

Broadcasters' Renewed Emphasis on Web Sites Beginning to Pay Off

By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/14/2008

Prior to joining station KTVZ in Bend, Ore., Barney Lerten's only TV experience was the media club in high school. Still, Lerten plays a critical role in the station's growth strategy these days. As digital content director, he's grown page views on from around 500,000 in March to 1 million in November, making it the most trafficked site in News-Press & Gazette's broadcasting group. The station added a cleaner layout, richer video, more breaking news and clips from CNN and others.

And while hot news was once held for the evening's newscast, KTVZ now sends it straight to the Web. “Every reporter knows to get the script to us to put it on the Web,” Lerten said. “They realize [on-air and online] are feeding off each other instead of cannibalizing each other.”

With seven stations in markets like Bend and Palm Desert, Calif., News-Press & Gazette isn't a broadcast powerhouse, yet it offers a window into why broadcasters of all sizes are scrambling to grow online revenue -- and seeking staffers like Lerten.

Indeed, the face of local stations is changing dramatically, and the newsroom of 2008 is looking less and less like the newsroom of five years ago, or even one year ago. For one, it's getting smaller, as corporate cost-cutting and technological developments, such as automation software and the paperless-advertising platform known as ePort, mean fewer bodies are needed to make the station run. According to a study from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Ball State University, stations in top-25 markets had an “average total staff” of 60.5 people in 2007, down from 72.4 in 2006.

To find ample resources for the Web, some managers are converting broadcast positions to Web ones. When a sports reporter gave notice at WMTV Madison, Wis., the position was turned into a Web producer. LIN TV, meanwhile, cited a 50% increase in online staff in 2007 as head count stayed flat.

Still, managers everywhere are pushing employees to add digital duties to a pretty full job description. “We've added news without adding head count,” said Duffy Dyer, vice president and general manager at WTTG Washington, D.C. “We're asking staff to think about more than they're used to thinking about.”

Never before has the time been better for stations to grab Web revenue. According to Borrell Associates' 2008 Outlook: Local Online Advertising, $8.5 billion was spent on local online advertising in 2007, and that is projected to jump to $12.6 billion this year -- much of it from the presidential candidates, who increasingly find the Web an effective medium for delivering their message to a savvy demographic. Looking further ahead, WorldNow president and CEO Gary Gannaway said online political spending will likely surpass on-air as soon as the 2012 election.

But a large chunk of Web revenue remains stuck on the table for stations. Borrell reported that Internet “pure plays” like Google grabbed 43.7% of that $8.5 billion. Newspapers tallied 33.4%, while broadcast TV took just 9.3%. According to Internet Broadcasting president and CEO David Lebow, 21% of media consumption occurs online, while only 7% of media dollars are spent there. “TV has been its own worst enemy,” said Steve Safran, senior VP of Media 2.0 at consultancy AR&D. “If it can change and play by Web rules, there's multiples more money to be made.”

Growing the digital side of the business at News-Press wasn't simply a matter of repurposing news content online or encouraging the weatherman to blog about the merits of hot cocoa on a snowy day. It was nothing less than “changing the culture,” said digital-news director Mike Stutz -- making the Web part of every staffer's workday and bringing in people to concentrate solely on online. “I'm an old newspaper and TV guy, so this is a change for me,” Stutz admitted. “But we see where the business is heading, and we worked hard to position ourselves for the future.”

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