1. CBS Television Stations Div.
The country's top TV-station group-as a result of the merger of CBS and Viacom-is still in the process of reorganization. Final regulatory approval came in May when the two groups of stations-16 from CBS and 19 from Viacom's Paramount station group-were officially joined, for a total of 35 TV stations located in 18 of the top 20 markets.
The executive structure was put in place just a month ago, with John Severino serving as president of the CBS Television Stations Division. Duopoly structures were worked out less then two weeks ago.
Severino believes that it will take six to nine months for the stations to complete the consolidation. As a result, the newly merged mega-group has not yet put together "a detailed Internet strategy."
However, one thing is certain, says Matt Timothy, vice president, CBS Internet Group: "Profitable businesses are extraordinarily important to Viacom. We have some advantages going in with a sales force already on the street and with content, promotion and audience. So how do we package that into a profitable business? That's what we're exploring.
"The way we look at it is, we're in a great big sandbox with lots of cool toys. Once we decide how these things fit together, then we'll move at lightning speed."
The group will be looking to become a leader in the online space locally and will provide value to users, advertisers, the stations and the company's shareholders, he notes.
Besides CBS news and sports, Viacom adds MTV Networks, which include MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon.
CBS is a content company, and the Internet is just another venue to CBS, says Vice President of Communications Dana McClintock. "We like to throw sight, sound and motion at you, whether it's TV, the Internet or a coffee cup. It doesn't matter to us. We're a company that wants to provide the best possible content for any medium."
2. FOX Television Stations Inc.
Fox's Internet focus is local: local station branding, local station personalities, local station programming. The approach, FOX says, builds on the stations' roots in local news.
The game plan of the second-largest station group, however, calls for the 22 station sites to have their own look, feel and content. The sites will form a network of portals to the "entire spectrum of FOX properties across the country," says Laura Durkin, senior vice president, news, News Digital Media, the interactive arm of FOX parent News Corp.
The project has just gotten under way. Four stations-wnyw(tv) New York, KTTV(TV) Los Angeles, WTTG(TV) Washington and KSAZ-TV Phoenix-have formed an advisory group that will work out the design, architecture, navigation and type of content that will serve as the model for the group.
Individual stations will plan and build their local offerings, which will include everything from ticketing and other services to restaurant guides, weather, traffic and news. Through agreements with third parties, the sites will offer a range of services that FOX hopes will provide a "one-stop place on the Web" for FOX viewers, says Durkin. But visitors also will have access to national news from FOX News, regional or national sports from FOX Sports and entertainment content from Fox.com.
Durkin says FOXNEWS.com will offer stations strong editorial and technical support from New York. There the infrastructure will be maintained, while the local elements-text, video, scripts, graphics-will be fed in from the stations.
FOX has a "heavy commitment" to broadband development, Durkin says, but will not disregard the fact that many users have slow connection speeds. Wireless plans are in the works as well, and local stations will be able to deliver traffic alerts and other information as well as e-mail and chat.
3. Paxson Comm. Corp.
Like the programming aired on pax tv, content on the Web sites of stations owned by Paxson Communications Corp. serve a softer content that appeals to women and families. "Online, we want to be consistent with our television brand and at the same time expand the Pax brand as a place families can come to find information that is not offensive. Yet they can be comfortable that it's quality information," says Karsten Amlie, president, Pax Internet Inc. "We call it 360-degree brand building: online, on the air and in print advertising."
But the Internet strategy of the third-largest TV group is to create local portals at each of its 67 stations. Working with NBC, which owns 32.5% of Paxson, Pax Internet plans to "play off the strength of our NBC partners" in the 11 markets with both a Paxson station and an NBC-owned station. Paxson hopes to negotiate similar deals with NBC affiliates, some of which have agreed to explore the option. In those markets, NBC stations will offer local news content and information on local events, while the Paxson sites will focus on local human-interest material and family issues and provide directory services.
All the station Web sites feature a link to Paxway, a "family-safe" ISP that links to the Internet but blocks objectionable Web sites. The newly launched Pax familyclub, which features information, helpful hints and bargains, also may be reached through the sites. Free e-mail also is offered, which Amlie says is "very popular and growing every month."
As for broadband and wireless applications, Amlie says Paxson does have plans for the former, but wireless is not yet on the company's drawing board. Viewers of Paxson stations, Amlie points out, "generally are not the first adopters of new technology." And for a "young network," Amlie says, it is more important to concentrate on building strong relationships with viewers.
4. Tribune Broadcasting Co.
In keeping with Tribune's roots in the newspaper business, many Tribune Broadcasting Co. TV-station Web sites have a heavy news presence. But visitors to the sites can also find plenty to drive them back to the stations for programming from The WB or FOX, with which all but one station in the group-ABC affiliate WGNO(TV) New Orleans-are affiliated. Tribune's mandate for its sites is this: Mirror the experience online that viewers find on the air.
Toward that end, Tribune signed a deal last month with The FeedRoom, a broadband news site that will help 16 of Tribune's 23 stations offer video content such as personalized newscasts. Tribune TV stations also will provide news and information video to The FeedRoom, which will develop co-branded Web sites featuring the stations' news, weather, sports and traffic.
"The agreement assists us in adding broadband to our sites and also gives our video a higher national profile," says Michael Silver, vice president of strategy and development for Tribune Interactive. At the same time, Tribune Ventures, the investment arm of Tribune Co., invested an undisclosed amount in The FeedRoom.
TV- and radio-station Web sites often compete with the sites of local newspapers, which may be the largest providers of local information in markets. Tribune, with five markets where it owns both a newspaper and a TV station, plans to make the most of that situation. According to Silver, more content that is jointly produced will soon be seen on the sites of WPIX(TV) New York, KTLA(TV) Los Angeles and WGN-TV Chicago.
Tribune also wants to provide local content to emerging broadband services. In Chicago, WGN-TV contributes local information for the start page of AT & T's cable-modem service. In Denver, Tribune's KWGN-TV and theDenver Post, which Tribune does not own, produce a site for Comcast@Home.n
For NBC owned-and-operated stations, the success of an Internet strategy will hinge on the ability to offer viewers in different areas of a market content that is more specific to their neighborhoods. For example, visitors to a site will be able to type in their zip code and access local sports, town meetings and other events, says Jay Ireland, president of NBC owned-and-operated stations.
The purpose, simply, is to allow the stations to have an outlet for a larger percentage of the news that comes into the newsroom that does not often make it to air.
"We will become the local portal, not just a television station on the Web," says Ireland. "We'll become the local source of information, news and entertainment around the city or town you live in."
Streaming video is also something the NBC sites will offer. The station group recently penned a deal with The FeedRoom in which FeedRoom will enable all the NBC sites to deliver video clips of news, weather, traffic, sports and features to broadband customers. Ireland says that the station group's goal is to offer the newscasts in digestible chunks so that viewers don't have to watch an entire Web-cast of the local news to get the information they want. NBC has also tapped Open Market to redesign the Web sites to make it easier to carry out the group's objective of becoming a local portal in a given market.
Ireland sees a convergence play as well. "Eventually, we are going to have convergence of the Internet and television, and what we want to do is have a service that provides our viewers, at the click of a button, all this material that they can get from both." It's expected that part of that convergence play will be built around Digitalconvergence.com and its :CueCat technology, which will allow viewers to more easily reach Web sites of NBC advertisers. The :CueCat software will use audio cues to link viewers directly to a given site.
6. ABC Inc.
ABC's vision for its O & O Web sites focuses on low-cost content. As part of Disney, stations have access to the media giant's family of sites that are rich with news, sports and entertainment.
"One thing that has become clear about the Web is that creating content is an expensive proposition. All you have to do to see that is look at these content-driven media Web sites that are losing tons of money," says Rick Mandler, vice president and general manager of Walt Disney Internet Group Local and Broadcasting. "Our advantage is that we have great branded content already available."
The company essentially wants to replicate the TV-station model in which the network supplies programming to its stations, which produce local news and sell local advertising. In the online version, those Web sites-GO.com, Disney.com, ABC.com, ABCNEWS.com, ESPN.com, Movies.com and Mr. Showbiz, among others-form the network that supplies content to the stations, which put up local news, area guides and other local information and sell local advertising.
ABC Inc., the sixth-largest station group, is just weeks away from relaunching its redesigned Web sites for all 10 of its stations. The Walt Disney Internet Group is managing the project, but a small design shop in Seattle has been called in to assist in cosmetic changes, says Mandler. "We're keeping the graphics light and the design simple for those dialing in with a 28k modem."
With those mid-band users in mind, the station group also plans to create short-form video for its sites and is experimenting with streaming services for that purpose. The idea is to post stories from the half-hour newscast in appropriate sections on the site. Mandler says the group hopes to embed streamed advertising into those short-form pieces.
7. Chris-Craft Industries Inc.
Chris-Craft Industries, the seventh-largest TV group, believes strong local portals will make its 10 station sites dominant in their markets. To ensure this, the group's Internet plan includes distribution partnerships, content acquisition and Web-based tools that allow its stations to leverage their existing content.
Using tool sets built by Chris-Craft for content integration, its stations can offer content management, e-mail notification, coupon delivery, polling and database applications.
Essential to the company's distribution strategy is to build strength in niches that are database-driven. The initial effort involves the automotive sector: Chris-Craft has formed a partnership with Web site CarSoup, which features new- and used-car listings. Chris-Craft is able to generate revenue from such sources as car dealers and private-party sellers and has ancillary businesses also.
Chris-Craft hopes the same dynamics will generate revenue from the employment market, home sales, home repair and apartment rental, and it is currently negotiating deals in those areas.
Through a partnership signed in July with Zatso, which tailors local newscasts to individual subscribers, Chris-Craft's wwor-tv New York, ktvx(tv) Salt Lake City and kmsp-tv Minneapolis have begun offering interactive options in news content. Stations kmol-tv San Antonio, kcop(tv) Los Angeles and kptv(tv) Portland, Ore. will soon follow.
"Our strength is in reaching the marketplace and driving interactivity. We want to create a one-to-one relationship with our viewers and generate revenue from that relationship," says Director of New Media Jason Gould.
News content is developed by the local stations, which subscribe to AP, The New York Times Syndicate, Accuweather, Thomson Investors Network and PR Newswire.
Look for Chris-Craft station content to be available using wireless technologies in several markets in the next 45 days, says Gould.
8. Gannett Broadcasting
Gannett views its stations' Web sites as a way to "transcend geography and break out of the broadcast mode of serving local markets," says Craig Dubow, executive vice president of Gannett Television. "From anyplace, anywhere, people can always log in for information that's readily available in an environment that's most useful for our customer. That's what we're after."
By pooling resources, the company can centralize information and internally develop software tools useful to its 18 station sites. The goal, Dubow says, is to "surround" local customers with convenient, relevant and personalized content that may be received via PC, phone, pager, wireless technology and set-top boxes.
To make the most of those resources, Gannett in July launched "USA Today Live," an initiative that aims to marry the newspaper and TV stations from a content perspective. For the Gannett station group, the nation's eighth-largest, co-ownedUSA Todayoffers "a vast array of news and information reporting" that can be delivered to local TV sites, says Dubow. "Segments you see on the late news will be featured in the next day'sUSA Today." But the relationship is reciprocal, and stations will channel local stories to the newspaper's Web site, USATODAY.com.
Gannett has also utilized partnerships and investments to bring content fromUSA Todayand from its TV stations to a variety of platforms.
In May, Gannett said it would invest $270 million in ZapMedia, an Atlanta-based company that plans to market a set-top box that connects TVs and stereos to its Internet site and allows viewers to store videos, music and other Web content.
In March, the company joined 11 other broadcast groups as founding partners and investors in iBlast, a digital datacasting network. The groups each committed a portion of their digital spectrum.
9. Hearst-Argyle Television
While some TV station groups are pursuing local portal strategies, Hearst-Argyle Television sees that as an old approach. A station Web site should be a destination, not "a place you go and then leave," says Tolman Geffs, CEO of Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS), speaking for the ninth-largest station group.
IBS, which partners with TV broadcasters to build local news and information Web sites that it calls Web channels, is 30% owned by Hearst-Argyle. It is in the process of relaunching Hearst-Argyle's 26 station site, having rolled out roughly half. According to Hearst-Argyle, on those new sites that have debuted, traffic has quadrupled within a month, on average.
Hearst-Argyle believes its stations can use the power of their news product and the power of promotion to create dominant local services for users-both viewers and non-viewers. Geffs says the idea is to provide a well programmed mix of information, entertainment and services that grows into a daily destination for users in the market. The sites then drive them back to the stations-a cycle of TV to Web to TV, says Geffs. By reaching a broader audience that TV does not reach, the TV brand is extended, he adds.
The approach is groupwide, but IBS also aims to make the most of each station's strengths and franchises. "By weighing each local market, the stations win the old-fashioned way-by being absolutely on top of the news," Geffs says.
Sophisticated video combined with content is a key initiative, Geffs says, and IBS is rolling out VideoBlast, which presents integrated text and graphics, on all Hearst sites. "Very rich video products help Hearst go up against the newspaper in town online," he explains. "Video by itself is like 200-proof alcohol: You have to mix it with something. People aren't going to the Internet for good video. They're going for entertainment and stories."
10. USA Broadcasting Inc.
Since most of the 13 stations owned by parent USA Networks Inc. are affiliates of the company's Home Shopping Network, only one station currently has a Web site: wami-tv Miami.
However, USA is slowly converting stations from the home-shopping format to local broadcasting outlets. Wami, which does not air home-shopping programming, was the first to convert two years ago. In the past six months, three other stations have been relaunched as local broadcasting stations: whsh-tv Boston, kstr-tv Dallas and whot-tv Atlanta. Within the next year, USA flagship whse-tv New York is scheduled to drop home shopping and air syndicated programming.
Although the Web sites for the recent relaunches are not yet up and running, plans are in the works to develop sites similar to wami's in Boston, Dallas and Atlanta. "We want these sites to be more than just companions to on-air programming. That's something any broadcast group can do. We want them to leverage the strength of businesses within USA Networks such as Citysearch, Ticketmaster and Hotel Reservations Network that add to the experience of being within a city," says Rick Feldman, COO, USA Networks.
The company owns a controlling interest in Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch Inc., which includes local resources such as ticketing and leisure services available to 3,000 ZIP codes.
Like wami.citysearch. com, the station sites will feature links to citysearch.com and ticketmaster.com that are an integral part of the company's strategy. "It is the reach of this national network-built from the ground up in 77 cities-that illustrates the potential interrelationships between the company's entertainment assets, which include the local stations, and our information-services businesses," says Adrienne Becker, vice president of corporate communications.