YouTube Road Show Seeks Out Stations

Viral video giant is interested in local TV; broadcasters are receptive

Traditional media is getting a visit from a sexy new-media type these days. YouTube is in the middle of what it’s calling a “road show” to pop in on some leading stations around the country—and better help those local TV folk work YouTube’s bottomless vault of Web videos into their content mix. Between Olivia Ma, the site’s West Coast-based news manager, and Kevin Allocca, its East Coast-based trends manager, YouTube has visited some 30 stations nationwide, including ABC’s owned outlets; the company also preached its viral video gospel to station group leaders at the recent National Association of Broadcasters gathering in Las Vegas.

YouTube’s foray into local TV started at KGO San Francisco last summer, where it worked with the station on a local citizen-reporting initiative called uReport, before working with other stations in the ABC-owned group. (ABC opted not to comment on its YouTube strategy.) The road show will continue around the country for the foreseeable future, with YouTube’s managers targeting stations that have solid news operations and savvy Web outfits. “We’re starting a conversation with local broadcasters,” says Ma. “News is inherently local, and a lot of YouTube content is super-hyperlocal.”

Stations have been increasingly trying to harness the ever-evolving, and growing, power of social media—whether it’s promoting their content (and talent) on Facebook, Twitter or other new-media options. Last week, Fox Television Stations promoted Jose Rios, KTTV Los Angeles VP of news, to a new corporate post with duties that include “identifying social media opportunities.” Cox, Raycom and Scripps recently announced a daily syndicated program called RightThisMinute that the three broadcasters say will “incorporate the Internet, mobile and social media, citizen journalists and new ways of storytelling to broaden the appeal of traditional television news and information.”

The relationship between TV stations and YouTube, which Google acquired for $1.65 billion in 2006, goes back several years. In June 2007, Hearst Television (then Hearst-Argyle) announced a distribution deal with YouTube to have dedicated YouTube channels for the various Hearstowned stations. “We always look for platforms that make sense for our videos to be consumed globally,” says Jacques Natz, Hearst TV director of digital media content. “YouTube is a piece of that, as are Yahoo and MSN.”

More recently, “Bed Intruder Song”—a bizarre mashup of news footage from WAFF Huntsville set to music via the voice-altering Auto-Tune program—was YouTube’s most-viewed video of 2010. KMBC Kansas City also ended up with a viral video when one of its news stories became the star of “Backin Up Song” on YouTube and iTunes.

Stations are eager to expand the partnership. But sifting through the glut of videos on YouTube—the company says 35 hours of video are uploaded every minute, and the rate is growing rapidly—is a full-time job. YouTube has designed a set of Web tools to help local news producers identify videos of interest in their community and catch wind of viral videos from around the world a day or so before they become ubiquitous. YouTube.com/trends helps users spot which videos are gaining the most momentum among visitors, and the Trends Dashboard could not be more user-friendly for stations; it offers popular videos grouped by Nielsen DMA.

YouTube also works with stations to launch a user-generated content platform called YouTube Direct, similar to YouNews and Hearst TV’s uLocal, that’s designed to gather more front-line news footage, such as viewers’ cellphone videos of extreme weather. YouTube is poised to debut an e-newsletter for local TV personnel to glean best practices about identifying and incorporating appropriate videos in stations’ news product. “We want to make this as easy as possible for them,” says Allocca.

Chris Kline, KNXV Phoenix executive producer of new media, has been sharing what he learned from Olivia Ma’s recent visit with his colleagues, and working some of the tips into the Scripps station’s new social mediadriven show, Now@9. That includes using the Trends Dashboard to find Phoenix-specifi c trends to feature on the show each morning.

“Olivia gave us a great perspective on how to use YouTube in our daily news gathering,” Kline says. “It was nice to put a face with such a big name as YouTube.”

There is no revenue-sharing between the stations and YouTube; the latter’s interest in local TV is in getting greater exposure for its videos, and making YouTube a bigger player in traditional television. Ma says the You- Tubers are learning as much on their travels as the station people. “It’s been a great conversation about how and when and why they use YouTube videos, and if they don’t, why not,” she says. “Television is still a very powerful medium, and stations are the voice of their community. This is for all of us to understand how to make YouTube more useful for stations.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz