Content vs. marketing

Study stresses need for more effective ways of encouraging ad clicks
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If you think your station's online news site is ever going to prosper by selling banner ads and a little marketing spritzer, you're probably badly mistaken. Why not try a good old-fashioned, intrusive commercial instead?

Earlier this month, more than 100 local television and radio station Webmasters, online news producers, and editors gathered for the Local Broadcast Web Summit at the National Press Club in Washington. The centerpiece of the conference was a Radio and Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDF) study, Local Web News: Case Study of Nine Local Broadcast Internet News Operations, written by Michael Murrie, Pepperdine University professor of communications, whose "most important finding" wasn't about the content of those sites but about how they're marketed to the public.

He is big on the potential, as well as the necessity, for local broadcast sites to earn revenues from sources such as national advertising, sponsorships and e-commerce.

"Banner ads are expected to become less important revenue sources, while sponsorships may become more important," Murrie writes. "Other revenue sources are needed, as are more effective ways of encouraging users to click on ads. New advertising models, such as 10-second commercials at the beginning of a 50-second Web newscast," are good strategies.

Profitability is also going to take some time. According to Murrie's research, getting in the green within two years of startup is difficult for a broadcast site, absent extraordinary efforts by a phalanx of outside sales reps and extensive corporate support.

On the constructive-criticism side, Murrie wants broadcast Web sites to perform "usability research," rather than "rely on user complaints and staff judgment to evaluate usability."

And from a journalistic standpoint, Murrie places a major emphasis on the need for Web sites to "report breaking news quickly and regularly."

All this and more make sense. That's why I posted a "What do you think?" message on the Local Broadcasters On The Web discussion board, which is accessed from the Web page http://www.lostremote.com/list/index.html.

The responses I received were interesting, to say the least. "Across the board, people who should be concentrating on news content are spending a lot of energy worrying about how to create a sustainable revenue stream," wrote Dana Kester-McCabe, general manager of WBOC.com, the site for WBOC-TV Salisbury, Md. "We should be concentrating on journalism and leave sales to the sales teams."

While many other responses were of the upbeat "we need to work together" variety, one of the more vent-oriented replies was offered by Christy King, Webmaster at WCSC-TV, the CBS affiliate in Charleston, S.C.

"From my perspective, the No. 1 problem inside TV stations that directly affects the ability of Web people to do their job well, is an incredibly ironic one: lack of communication," King wrote to me.

"The station leader who makes it a priority to come up with a plan to make sure everyone who needs to know something gets that information consistently will improve TV news and Web news, dramatically-and probably become an industry guru, worth millions of dollars," she added.

She related a story to illustrate the problem:

"Last weekend, a long-term construction project ended in our city. ... As the station Webmaster (and often, news editor for the site), I didn't know a thing about it until I walked in the door Monday morning. Nobody told me about it.

"The reaction to my complaints about problems like this from our news department is, 'Well, watch the news! You'd know what we were doing!' As a Web-geek, I don't often get to watch TV news; I use the Web for news! (Not to mention, I'm often producing news for the Web during our newscasts.)"

Proposing a remedy, King suggested, "If a station leader would make it a priority to come up with a way to get information circulated efficiently, completely and consistently between the news, promotions and Web departments, our arms might know where our legs are going, and we'd be able to present a complete, planned, cohesive package to our viewers/visitors."

Murrie's study is available for $25 a copy ($10 for RTNDA members). To purchase one, contact Jamshid Mousavinezhad at 202-467-5250 or e-mail jamshidm@rtndf.org.

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