Farewell, TBD. Why do the good die young?

By now everybody knows that Albritton has fired most of the staff of TBD.com and replaced it with word that the site will be a local entertainment portal. I ceremoniously removed its RSS feed from my reader a short while ago and said a fond farewell.

I really liked TBD, especially for its edgy writing. It had a personality, and I think we need more of that online. But the site never had a chance, not really. Despite the best intentions of its owner, a news start-up, especially in a competitive market like DC, needs a substantial runway, and Albritton simply couldn’t handle the money drain. 50 is an enormous staff for a local news start-up.

Then there was this foolishness of TBD replacing the WJLA-TV branded website. That was never going to work. Online brand extension is a necessity for a television station, and referring people to TBD.com had to be problematic on the air. Moreover, since the site “featured” WJLA-TV and its content, TBD’s intrinsic value as a pure local news portal was lessened. It was the confusing website of a TV station, and this would never work.

Moreover, Poynter notes that Albritton tried to use the sales force of the TV station to sell the site, a KNOWN recipe for failure. TBD needed its own dedicated sales force, because it was, in fact, a competitor of WJLA-TV. This is textbook “innovator’s dilemma” stuff and sufficient to sink the ship all by itself.

So now everybody has lost. TBD is gone, to be replaced by a ghost of its former self. WJLA-TV has to reconstruct what was previously deemed a failure. Albritton has egg all over itself and will be less likely to trigger new ventures than before.

You’re hearing a little of the “it’s good to fail early” meme in this discussion, but I think that’s a cop out. This was doomed from the start, and TBD.com joins a growing list of local content plays birthed by traditional media companies that essentially failed because they didn’t provide a sufficient return on investment or ran into cost-cutting management.

It’s a shame, for everybody.

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