Another quote of the day

One can only conclude it’s going to be a very, very challenging ’09.” Petry’s Val Napolitano on how 2008 isn’t setting any records for TV sales.

Quote of the day

…between superficial, hyped news content and the commercial/promo glut, is it any wonder viewers are abandoning local TV news?” Dick Kurlander in an TV Newsday letter to the editor.

Borrell: Local sales people fighting against robots

headed for the tarpitsGordon Borrell and his team are out with a new report about the dim future for Yellow Pages directories, and it contains some remarkable and telling information about who is selling the Web locally. The evidence reveals a situation for print Yellow Pages publishers that is “eerily similar” to what newspapers faced when they began losing classifieds revenue to the Web.

But this report, more than any I’ve seen from the company, absolutely nails the reality that is online sales at the local level, so it’s actually about much more than just Yellow Pages or directory sales. In terms of feet-on-the-street, the local newspaper and the local directory companies dominate, accounting for 84% of the overall online sales force at the local level.

newspapers and directors account for 84% of the local online sales force

While these people are competing against each other, the bigger picture is actually quite different:

This army of local online reps is fighting against robots — the fully automated online ad selling machines that have been deployed with considerable success by companies that have no local sales reps. These systems are pulling billions of dollars out of local ad budgets without anyone actually talking to the advertisers. Their sophisticated user interfaces are designed to give advertisers — small and large — the ability to design, purchase, place and monitor their online ad campaigns without the expense of personal help. Google is the preeminent but by no means only example of this approach. The interesting questions here are how many more SMEs are left that are willing to take on that level of daily ad management, and whether face-to-face selling can pry many early adopters out of the robots’ clutches.

In an email this (Wednesday) morning, Gordon Borrell told me that beating these robots is a safe bet.

When it comes to local ad sales, feet on the street will kick robots’ tin asses every time. That’s because every small advertiser has a nagging case of Wannamaker-ism — that is, he believes that half of his advertising works and half of it doesn’t, and he can’t tell which is which. Enter the friendly local salesperson, whose son plays soccer with the businessman’s son, or whom he sees at the Kiwanis Club meetings or at church. Those midnight credit-card transactions on Google buying up keywords like “Albuquerque plumber” or “Used cars in Duluth” will fall victim to the same feeling — that half of those Google words don’t actually work. Local advertising is sold on trust, and it takes people to cultivate that trust.

He added that yellow pages publishers are ideally suited to take back some of the money going to robots.

The yellow pages publishers have made some good strategic moves on the Internet in the past several years, including acquisitions and cross-training of its sales force. But the secret weapon that they really have is all those front-line salespeople who know how to sell to the millions upon millions of small businesses. It’s an efficient, compelling, low-priced sale pitch — as opposed to a heavily prepared, glossy, high-priced pitch that the newspaper and TV salespeople are trained to make. We think a lot of the higher-level ad spending from major advertisers has already fallen to the net, so the next big thing is the smaller local advertiser. Reaching them is going to be difficult unless a sales staff is prepared — from sales psychology to compensation structure — to sell a lot of $1,500-a-year contracts.

I’ve been part of two attempts by local TV stations to get into the directory business. Both fell short of expectations, entirely because the media companies weren’t able to put together a sufficient sales force to make the dynamics work. And attempts by such companies to automate the sales process — to create their own robots — have all failed. I still believe in the model, but I think the database from which the directory draws needs to be beyond a simple search for addresses and telephone numbers.

I also recommend to clients that they look at the local yellow pages sales force when hiring online sales people, because they are the most logical pool from which to draw. A little money from a lot of sources adds up, but it’s hard to see that when you’re only accustomed to staring at big numbers. The local yellow pages sales force doesn’t suffer from this blindness.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

Nothing “local” about the Yahoo! Consortium

What’s good for Yahoo isn’t necessarily good for the newspaper consortium, and so I read with interest the press release from Yahoo touting the milestone of driving “100 million visits to consortium member web sites.” This milestone, while seemingly significant, is a net positive only in the sense that Yahoo can move pure eyeballs to the newspaper sites, but the point of local media is to garner LOCAL eyeballs.

IBS has had a distribution arrangement with Yahoo for years for local news created by its partners, and Yahoo has similarly been able to deliver visits from outside the markets these stations serve. The GM of one large market station — an IBS client — once told me that during a month when there was a major news event in his market, 70% of the traffic to his site came from outside the market. “I can’t sell that to local advertisers,” he said.

So while this consortium of newspapers and Yahoo pat each other on the back, I simply ask, “What’s the strategy here?” Inevitably, it’s an archaic pageview strategy that suits the network and Yahoo in terms of national and perhaps regional sales, but it’s a net liability for any of the members’ local media efforts. I’d be a fool to turn away national ad dollars, but my concern here is the extent to which this lulls the staff into thinking they’re actually doing anything. Moreover, the inventory crunch is significant, and one that demands more, more, more in terms of page views.

Since the beginning of this, I’ve been on the record as saying the consortium benefits Yahoo far more than it does the members. Now that the first year glow of HotJobs has worn off, I wonder if others will begin seeing it the same way.

The embarrassing fuss about a webcast in Jersey

A noteworthy event in the new media world took place this week with the launch of a daily webcast by The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. Noteworthy, not because it was another webcast, but because Jeff Jarvis and Michael Rosenblum have been involved. It naturally has gotten press in both the blogosphere and elsewhere, and this has not gone over well with the people in broadcasting. We get all defensive when a newspaper tries to do television, and this tends to bring out some of the worst kinds of condescension.

The basics are these: The paper hired Rosenblum at the behest of Jarvis, who took various members of the news department through his VJ boot camp. Rosenblum is a lightning rod in the local television business — mostly among photographers — because they feel he’s trying to take their jobs away. This is all couched in deep concern for the “quality” of television news, but it’s really just fear in the guise of anger.

So when Lost Remote writer Don Day went after the webcast as being just another boring newspaper webcast, it brought out comments both helpful and hurtful. Despite the negative tone of some of the commenters, people from the paper got in on the conversation and took the criticism as constructive. Good for them.

As webcasts go, this one isn’t bad, and it’ll only get better. The evidence suggests these things don’t “work” in terms of gathering an enough audience to justify the expense, but let’s wait and see. I was pretty pumped with the efforts of the Roanoke Times, but that didn’t last. The problem, I think, isn’t the quality; it’s that the web audience for news isn’t best served by this method. I can consume the news (at work) a lot quicker myself than by having somebody read it to me. Besides, there’s that “audio in the cubicle” thing.

But the issues of whether it’s good or not and whether it will work for the Star Ledger or not are overshadowed, in my opinion, by this continuing mindset that only broadcasters can do television or do television right. This is called contempt prior to investigation. Let’s see what happens in Jersey before passing judgment.

The first comment in the Lost Remote story was from someone impersonating Michael Rosenblum. It was taken down by the site’s manager, Cory Bergman, something he rarely does. Michael is a friend of mine, so consider the source here, but I’m pretty sick of the embarrassing levels to which some of these illiterate and ignorant people will stoop to vilify a guy who’s changing the way television is being created. And those changes are making the big time, too.

Mark Glaser wrote today about a simple kicker story that made NBC Nightly News last Saturday. It was a story about a little penguin that was created for the Web by an experienced NBC producer and an associate producer. That’s right, a producer. Not a cast of union thousands. Just a producer. Romenesko hit the angle of a web story moving to Nightly News, but Glaser’s article points out something even more significant.

The penguin story began as a web package created and reported by “Nightly News” producer Clare Duffy. She and an associate producer on the show shot, wrote and edited the piece a few weeks before. As she had done in several other web stories, Duffy narrated and even appeared in a short standup.

Even more remarkable: Though Duffy has been producing for “Nightly” for years (and even appeared in on-air crosstalks when she worked in Moscow 18 years ago), she began shooting and editing only this spring, after a few weeks of on-the-job training, and in addition to her usual day job as a traditional “Nightly News” producer.

So here we have a producer (of all people) shooting, writing, editing and appearing on camera, and it made it to NBC Nightly News! Oh, the immorality of it all!

Folks, get over yourselves. In a few more years, we’ll all be doing video the same way. Those who refuse will cling to their Betacams all the way to the bottom of the tar pits.

Big news: Gannett funds Mogulus

In one of the smartest traditional media moves I’ve seen in recent years, Gannett has apparently bought into the live-streaming company Mogulus with a $10 million investment. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch is reporting the deal, and I think it’s pretty huge. Mogulus is a marvelous piece of technology that allows anyone with an air card or wireless connection to stream a live video signal to the Web. Rather than try and invent its own solution, Gannett has wisely gone after the market leader, and this portends good things for both Mogulus and Gannett.

Mogulus allows upstart video bloggers like Sarah Austin to host live video shows on a shoestring budget. But it also facilitates serious journalism. In May, for example, controversial statements made by Hillary Clinton on a Mogulus stream led to nationwide media coverage.

Gannett gets this. And i assume they’ll find ways to enable their reporters around the world to start using Mogulus to get video footage to the web as fast as possible when news breaks.

The Web has become increasingly video-centric as bandwidth has permitted it, and live is the next real challenge. YouTube is said to be working on a live solution. But Mogulus already does it well, so look for the their technology to be built into Gannett’s many traditional sites. And, perhaps more importantly, Gannett will be involved in the streaming of videos that go beyond its own traditional wants and needs, so it’s really a very smart investment for the company.