News Web Site Economics 101
by Graeme Newell
-The broadcast strategy of providing a broad view of the day’s news is not very effective for web news.
-Web sites built with traditional news content attract minimal advertiser interest.
-The station video library has strong potential to generate revenue.
Ask web developers to look at television station web sites and that is usually the first word out of their mouths. Banner ads zip and strobe around the screen. Long rows of tiny head shots span across the top of the page, with everyone but the custodian flashing their pearly whites. Glance over to the left side of the home page and you will often find more than 30 links with everything from lawyer referrals, to job listings, to breaking news. It is overwhelming. Click on any of these links and you’ll often find dated content and very little video, considering it is a TV site. The content is a mile wide and an inch deep.
Plain and simple, most stations just don’t have the resources to populate their sites with meaty content. Most TV station web sites are badly undermanned. One of the busiest people in the station is the webmaster. She has a constant battle just to keep the information current, let alone compelling. If we examine web site traffic numbers we can convince ourselves the numbers are good. We can site exponential growth but when you compare the numbers to other comparable sites, the totals are embarrassingly low. We know we need to be in the web game, but the majority of TV stations are playing not to lose. We’re not putting much money into them because we’re not getting much money out of them.
The problem is our mindset. We’re trying to recreate broadcasting on the web. We do the web just like we do TV – broad. There is just a little bit of everything and not enough of anything. Because of its very nature, TV news has evolved to become a headline service. Our web sites mirror our on-air broadcast. You usually leave our web sites still hungry, wishing for a little more meat on the bone.
The big problem is that the advertisers just aren’t buying our sites. If your web site is a headline service that mirrors your on-air broadcast, you are your own worst enemy when it comes to revenue generation. If both mediums contain the same type of content, they will generally attract similar audiences. The cost per thousand of TV is exponentially better than the same rate online. If that’s the case, why would an advertiser pay much more for an ad on the TV weather page when a commercial in the TV weather forecast will delivery many more people at a lower price?
The Xs and Os content of local TV news is a losing game on the web. Sites that feature insubstantial amounts of general news are attractive to no one. Basic local news, weather and sports sites have a hard time recruiting new advertisers. Most TV web site buys simply move dollars from the TV broadcast buy to the TV web buy. Little new revenue is created. If your site is squarely focused on selling to middle America demos of TV news, you’ll have some powerful competition from traditional media.
The only way we can afford to improve our web sites is if they start generating serious revenue. That means bringing in new ad dollars, and doing it quick. We must re-think what’s on our sites. We want web site content that advertisers will actually buy - niche content that delivers audiences not attainable by the broad TV demos. There are far more economical ways to reach the ubiquitous 25-54 demo. Yet this general demographic is what most web TV sites court. It is safe. Our sales staffs are accustom to selling these broad demos to the usual suspects like car dealers and grocery stores.
The power of TV web sites are their ability to generate tasty demos with incredibly niche content. When programming your web site, take the focus off a general overview of standard local news. Your web site should not be a re-hash of your news product. It should mainly be comprised of niche content. Create a few very deep niche content areas with golden demos. Start by doing an inventory of all the video in your archives. Think of all the hundreds of stories you have for hundreds of specific niche categories:
-Hundreds of things for kids to do in the summer.
-Multiple seasons of high school football game footage.
-Complete histories of local political candidates
-A thousand “back to school” tips
-Years of stories about good and bad schools in your area.
-A hundred tips on buying valentine gifts
-A decades-long record of after Thanksgiving shopping
-Scores of bad-weather driving pointers
-Big video of house fires that could be indexed neighborhood by
Just go back into your archive and digitize all the video on these stories. Then, put them on your site and provide links to other sites that deal with these specific areas. Sell the bad weather pointers site to the local tire dealer. Sell the football highlights site to the sporting goods store.
In the future, successful stations will have a hundred different broadband channels, all of them geared towards a specific demo. Give up your need to be a broadcaster. We are now nichecasters and the web gives us a whole new way to bring new audiences to our door.