If war is inevitable, know your enemy first

Cory Bergman at Lost Remote offers an interesting post that he calls “Seattle Web Wars,” something he sees in the wake of the blogger meet-up held last Thursday night at KOMO-TV. In addition to being editor of Lost Remote and a friend, Cory is the head of all things interactive at KING-TV, a competitor of KOMO’s and the 800-pound gorilla in the market.

And so he’s issued a sort of personal challenge and suggests “let the war begin.”

Last night, Terry threw one of his hallmark blogger meetups, and he writes, “We’ve a bunch of other cool things planned with bloggers in the Seattle community, and I’m looking forward to becoming a regular fixture there.” Hmmm, Heaton moving into my backyard? I invite the challenge, and as many of you know, I launched the Seattle blog aggregator Citizen Rain several months ago. I also have a bunch more cool stuff in the pipeline.

In the comments of the post, others take up the meme.

Michael Gay, the head of interactive for Hearst-Argyle and himself a Lost Remote contributor, writes:

“I wonder how long the ad market can support that many local news websites. The good news is, that market is probably so crowded now that the cost of entry to that market is too high for a new news website to get any traction.”

“Rob” adds:

“Sounds like things are popping on the other side of the Cascade Curtain. With all the moves FishComm has been making lately (Adding Terry Heaton to the mix sounds interesting), things should definitely be interesting for KING and KIRO in the near future.”

Steve Boriss of TheFutureOfNews.com takes it a step further:

“What you are witnessing is the beginning of the convergence of all news media onto the Internet. Ultimately, these web sites/blogs will remain, and newspapers, radio broadcasts, and TV transmissions will go away. Which means that today’s newspapers and local TV affiliates will be direct competitors providing completely substitutable products, just one mouseclick away. Welcome to the future of news.”

Steve is right when he says that news is being commoditized, but let’s step back even further.

Online “web wars” between incumbent media players in various markets couldn’t make the internet pureplay companies happier, because we’ll be so preoccupied that we won’t notice their hands in our pockets. The drain of money from our markets to the coffers of outside pureplays IS the greatest challenge to local media companies today.

Television — both from a content and even a sales perspective — at one time was a zero sum game. The market consisted of people with television sets. Ratings determined who “won” and who “lost,” and this is the kind of competition those of us in the news business speak of when we talk about “beating the guy across town.” If we “win” on big stories, the thinking goes, we’ll “win” in other categories as well. Winning helps define brand and makes advertisers happy, too, because the prize for winning is ratings.

Cory uses such an illustration in his piece. His station’s website “beat” the nearest competitor by two minutes on a breaking news story. Is THAT the criteria for a successful web strategy?

Cable came, and the number of competitors increased. We rightly viewed this as market fragmentation, so our strategy never changed. Be first. Be best. Win. Beat the competition.

Throughout all of this, we operated in a world of scarcity, because there were only so many stations doing news and the medium itself was only for the incumbents. It was a closed, one-to-many network in which we operated.

But, as Cory himself says at conferences we’ve attended, “The web isn’t TV.” The web isn’t TV, and our real online competition isn’t the other traditional media companies in town. It isn’t a zero sum game here; it’s a world of abundance where you don’t need an FCC license, cable infrastructure or a printing press to “compete,” and if we think that this is just a game of carving up the market for news and advertising through the ebb and flow of some pecking order, we’re simply deluded.

It isn’t necessarily who has the loudest voice, the greatest reach, or the biggest dick chest here; it’s who has eyes to see the real competition and takes the necessary steps to position his/her company for the future.

So I’m a conscientious objector to Cory’s war, because I think it distracts us from the mission at hand. We need always to practice the principles of good journalism and do the best we possibly can in extending our television brands to every platform available. But we must also realize that we don’t own the web in the same way we “own” the spectrum that provides our scarcity and allows us to scale business through mass marketing.

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