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The Paper Chase - Broadcasting & Cable

The Paper Chase

Stations play catch-up with newspapers online
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When Denise Spidle graduated from the University of Kansas last December, the broadcast-journalism major landed a job anchoring and producing the news in Naples, Fla. But she does not appear on local TV. Rather, she's on Studio 55, a half-hour Webcast produced by a newspaper. Studio55 features hyper-local news and highlights reports from the paper, the Naples Daily News.

In the Ft. Myers-Naples market, the broadcast affiliates are all located in Ft. Myers, 40 miles from Naples, and, Spidle says, they focus on that side of town. Sensing opportunity, the paper launched Studio 55, named after its address, last spring, with news exclusively targeting the Naples area. The show can be viewed online and downloaded on iTunes, and it runs twice daily on a Comcast cable channel. “People here never had their own local newscast, only the newspaper,” Spidle says. “We're filling a void.”

As interest in online video surges, newspapers are taking the fight to TV stations on the Web. Across the country, newspapers, suffering from declining readerships, are ratcheting up their online offerings, launching video pages and Webcasts. In Wilmington, Del., part of the Philadelphia market, The News Journal Webcasts daily morning and evening local news. Midsize and larger papers, including The New York Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are training reporters to shoot video and hiring videographers and “multimedia” journalists like Spidle. The Associated Press provides video clips for more than 1,100 newspapers' Websites.

Everybody's Doing It

Indeed, 39 of the top 40 daily newspapers in the U.S. use video on their sites, according to a recent study by online-clip distributor The News Market and Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Of 150 print publications surveyed, 79% are capable of producing video. “Both newspapers and TV stations need to have video to be competitive online,” says Web consultant Steve Safran, president of Safran Media Group. “The goal is to provide the best local news in a multimedia format.”

Currently, 52 million U.S. homes have high-speed broadband, which allows video viewing at a quality comparable to that of TV. Video ads are becoming increasingly popular, with national clients and local mom-and-pop shops alike buying spots online.

Broadband-ad spending totaled $12 billion in 2004 and is projected to reach $25 billion by 2009, according to Merrill Lynch. There is even a new Emmy category dedicated to online video.

Broadcasters are expected to take in some $410 million from their Websites this year, more than double the revenue of the past three years, according to research firm Borrell and Associates. But newspapers, which easily converted text and still photos into a Web product, have beaten TV stations to the punch. Last year, print media grabbed $2 billion in online-ad revenue, reports Borrell.

Stations are focused on changing that. Major station groups, including the CBS- and Fox-owned outfits, have relaunched sites with prominent video players and rich menus of on-demand clips. Several NBC-owned stations produce Web-only programs. KNTV San Francisco, for one, provides coverage of a local auto race and hockey pre-game shows.

Recent Web-traffic data from ComScore show that TV stations collectively reach a huge audience online, with an average 63.9 million unique visitors in March, according to the Tele­vision Bureau of Advertising.

That's well above the top newspaper sites: The New York Times (7.8 million) and USA Today (7.64 million). However, the survey does not aggregate newspapers, which combined would likely surpass TV stations. In individual markets, newspapers are usually the No. 1 online destination.

And they plan to stay that way. Last December, the interactive division of The Virginia Pilot launched HamptonRoads.tv, a portal with local video and AP clips on national and international news. To differentiate itself from local TV news, the site's reporters/producers chase hyper-local stories that appeal to 18- to 34-year-olds. Recent pieces highlighted back-to-school fashions and a local rapper.

“We're focused on a younger generation that is disconnected with local media,” says Chris Kouba, the site's online-content manager.

“A Powerful Combination”

At NYTimes.com, the most trafficked newspaper site, five dedicated video journalists produce packages, and many reporters hit the streets with DV cameras. Since a video page launched in December, staffers have produced more than 700 video reports, and the site counts 4 million-5 million video streams per month.

“The Website is about delivering journalism in the best medium we can,” says NYTimes.com General Manager Vivian Schiller. “Some stories cry out for video; text and video together are a powerful combination.”

Such efforts have station executives on guard. To stand out, “we say, put more local video on the Web and figure out user-created content,” says Television Bureau of Advertising President Chris Rohrs. “These are fabulous opportunities.”

Broadcast executives believe that TV still enjoys some advantages over newspapers. News departments have more-sophisticated video equipment and a depth of experience.

“We've been doing video longer than anyone,” says Rosemary Danon, executive VP of online and new media for Pappas Telecasting. “Newspapers are learning a new skill set.”

Broadcasters need to differentiate Web video from TV news, she says. Pappas stations, for instance, all run exclusive Webcasts and post full-length interviews online. The group is launching a user-created content portal, Community Correspondent, in all of its markets and will use stories from the sites on its TV newscasts.

At the same time, newspapers continue to stake their online claim. The Naples Daily News will not disclose traffic figures on Studio 55 but says it is growing rapidly. As broadband penetration increases, the newspaper is betting that its newscast will continue to flourish.

“This isn't a bet to have immediate returns in 2006,” says executive producer Rob Curley. “This is a bet for 2009.”

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