Last summer, David Lebow took over as president/CEO of Internet Broadcasting (IB), which manages TV stations' Web business. He's charged with growing traffic and revenue at IB's 75-plus partner stations' sites with enhanced programming, whether it's through video or interactive platforms.
IB, which is backed by Hearst-Argyle, NBC and Cox, among other major media outlets, launches its first Web application this month. Called Slantly.com, the interactive program lets users debate a statement that reflects current events, such as “Wal-Mart is a bad model of employee-sponsored health coverage.” Users also click on whether they agree with the statement, and Slantly computes the votes to measure public opinion on everything from Barack Obama to Hannah Montana. Formerly the executive VP/general manager at AOL Media Networks, Lebow spoke with B&C's Michael Malone about election spending, making friends with Google, and how stations are shifting from TV outlets to “local content providers.”
How has the role of a station Web programmer, like an IB or WorldNow, changed since you came on board eight months ago?
One group [of clients] wants the all-in-one [Web] solution, but a broad group wants modular solutions as well. Offering the TV group control and customization is probably the biggest change from the original value proposition. Also, broadcasters want to extend their revenue capability, and in order to do that they have to extend their reach. Yes, they want a lot of people visiting their site, but they also want to bring their content and advertising to a broader segment of the market. The average TV Website reaches 6%-9% of the market. They're saying, how can I reach 15%-20%? The challenge is, how do we distribute their content through search and other means? A couple of years ago, it was, get people to my site. It's still get people to my site, but it's also get my content to people wherever they are on the Web. If you do a search on Google, how does WNBC come up without you navigating to it?
When do the presidential candidates start spending online?
We've seen it in the primaries. They've been pretty decent in terms of their spending so far.
But they don't seem to put nearly the same value in the Web as they do television.
It's growing at a high percentage basis, but TV is still [tops]. While election years are a really big thing, stations are looking to what the recurring revenue streams are going to be. The election comes and goes, but what are the building blocks of a long-term revenue and consumer engagement strategy?
IB's partnership with CNN is coming up on a year. What has it meant for your news coverage?
It's added credibility to both sides. It's added localism to CNN, and in our case it's a tremendous opportunity in the same way CNN works for television stations: A local story breaks, the reporter is on CNN, and CNN's brand is national. They've generated tremendous traffic for us and our partners. It's early, too—there's a lot of other interesting stuff we can do. They're going to continue to grow their reach, and we're doing more modular products. But at the same time, we have to earn our way in. They're a world-class brand, and they're going to take the best options available to the market.
Studies show TV is getting around 10% of local online revenue. Where should that be?
That number needs to grow, it's that simple. I'd like to see the line between terms like “Internet” and “television” go away. I thought NBC did something very interesting in renaming their [station] group the NBC Local Media Division. Their point is the basic media point—we make content, we distribute content, we monetize content.
As broadcasters view themselves as being in the content business, that number should grow, because it opens up new distribution and partnerships that are expanded beyond getting people to their site. They're looking at themselves as local content providers—that's different from the traditional lines of television broadcasting.
I believe video content, which is perhaps the most important growth area on the Internet, is most in line with television's history and usage—more so than newspapers. And I think part of the growth will be from verticalization, which is a lot of the reason people go to newspaper sites: content beyond news, such as auto, travel, real estate, jobs. Those verticals are going to become increasingly important. And that is when that 10% share is going to grow.