Few are exempt from the crushing anxiety of escalating gas prices, but stations around the country are doing their part to help viewers deal with those $4-plus gallons. Real-time Web features such as KVVU Las Vegas' “Pump Patrol,” WICZ Binghamton, N.Y.'s “Pain at the Pump” and WMAR Baltimore's “Gas Crunch” highlight the cheapest gas prices around the market and offer other money-saving fuel tips.
“It does very well for us,” says WMAR New Media Director Dustin Wadsworth, whose microsite features a map of Greater Baltimore studded with dozens of gas station prices ($4.12 at a downtown BP) as well as fuel-saving tips (No. 9: Avoid long idles). “It's obviously an area people are interested in—they want to know where the cheapest gas is.”
The bulk of the stations offering real-time area gas prices get their information through a partnership with GasBuddy.com, a tiny independent company based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. Co-founder Jason Toews says he launched the site eight years ago as a public service. “I was frustrated that I'd go to any major city and there'd be a difference of 20 cents, 50 cents, 70 cents a gallon at different stations around the city,” he says. “I could've filled up for cheaper if I knew where the cheap gas was.”
GasBuddy.com's price information is almost entirely generated by citizen correspondents around the country. TV stations are increasingly tapping the service, which is free. Toews says 612 stations have joined with GasBuddy.com; about half signed up during a partnership push last summer, then 39 more came aboard in April, 92 in May, and 43 in June at presstime. GasBuddy.com is also partnered with almost 1,600 newspapers.
Station managers say their cheap-gas content is primarily a low-maintenance community service, and one that does not typically generate an avalanche of Web traffic. “We got a few thousand hits on it last week,” says Matthew Bernaldo, WBBH Fort Myers' assistant news director/Internet. “We did better with a story about an alligator in a parking lot.”
But many are seeing substantial spikes in traffic and revenue. Page views for the “Gas Tracker” feature on Fox O&O KTTV Los Angeles' Website doubled from May to June. In Kansas City, KCTV Director of Marketing/New Media Kendall Talley says the Meredith station's gas microsite, which offers the “lowest gas prices in Kansas City” ($3.75 at the QuikTrip in Belton), an interactive calculator and a host of other fuel-related features, gives viewers a specific reason to visit the Website. “The section allows us to push our on-air viewers to our site,” he says, “where they can drill down and get more information that can help them save money.”
Others are selling sponsorships to car dealers, auto repair shops and other car-related concerns. KVVU's Pump Patrol showcases a full-screen graphic of the cheapest gas station in Vegas ($3.99 at Huey's Mart, but there's a half-hour wait) on the morning and 10 p.m. news, as well as on Fox5vegas.com, which gets around 30,000 page views daily. Pump Patrol is sponsored by Southern Nevada Hyundai Dealers to the tune of around $40,000.
“It can be a tricky sell, because some people don't want to be associated with bad news,” says KVVU VP/General Manager Holly Steuart. “But it's a good piece of real estate in the broadcast.”
KRQE Albuquerque, meanwhile, also offers an interesting take on tapping viewers to report on the gas crisis. The LIN station features user-generated tips and even photos of the most outrageous petrol prices around the market. One recent addition to the Wall of Shame— $4.15 a gallon at a Diamond Shamrock station in Silver City.
“We were waiting for the first gas station to top $4 here,” says KRQE News Director Michelle Donaldson. “It was a race between Silver City and Taos, and Silver City won.”