NBC Local’s new portals a good start, but…

Media companies are famous for copying, and I fully expect that the announcement by NBC this week that they are shifting from “adjunct” station websites to community information portals will soon become the la mode du jour of the whole industry. There are broad assumptions made in the strategy, however, and while I find much to like about NBC’s version, these kinds of sites require resources that I’m not sure most broadcast companies can afford. And since I’ve heard this concept presented from many corners, I think it’s important that we all take a step back and analyze the details.

The network’s press release notes they are targeting “true city insiders,” which are described as “highly social, digitally savvy, and extremely interested in staying on top of the latest local news and information.” If that sounds like it came from a focus group, it probably did. The release gives a psychographic title to the target audience — “Social Capitalists” — and Brian Buchwald, Senior Vice President of NBC Local Integrated Media added that they’re “less about a specific demo and more about a state of mind. They’re passionate, like to stay ahead of the curve and influence others in their peer groups. We’re confident these new sites will deliver what they’re looking for as we experiment and learn together.”

No longer an adjunct to its local television station, the new sites will feature content from a wide variety of sources — including print, online publications, bloggers, individuals and NBC’s local television stations — to provide a new destination for local consumers who are looking to stay ahead of the curve and get plugged in to all their city has to offer.

John Wallace, president of NBC Local Media, said the goal was to create a new type of user experience, one that’s “less an extension of our TV stations and more of an online destination for the latest local news, information, and entertainment. These sites are about putting consumers first and giving them the content they’re looking for from the best available sources.”

Chicago was first up for NBC. WMAQ-TV’s portal is now nbcchicago.com, and it’s a pretty cool site. Most of the content comes from WMAQ, but there are headlines with links from other media outlets. The site carries an air of pop culture, and its design is clean and contemporary. I like what they’ve done and think NBC Local Media should be congratulated for moving into an application that is driven by consumer wants and needs and not their own.

home page of new nbc chicago site

That said, however, I’m not convinced this is as transformative as its supporters think, and here are six reasons why.

  1. Online “destinations” simply aren’t where the Web is leading us these days, and it hasn’t been that way for a very long time. This term comes from the days of browsing, but those days have been displaced twice — by searching and by subscribing. The only destintation that matters anymore is what the user increasingly chooses or describes as his or her own, and I don’t see a lot of elements in this that fit into that paradigm. There’s a nice embeddable widget on the RSS page, but it is so buried as to be invisible to the average user.

  2. A walled garden is a walled garden, regardless of what it’s called or who it targets. If the only ad infrastructure you have is within walls, then your ability to significantly grow revenue is limited to those walls. nbcchicago.com may be a slick new version of a local information portal, but we fool ourselves if we think that any portal can compete with a revenue strategy that explores the open field of the local web altogether.

  3. WMAQ-TV is a television station, and television stations can make money with brand-extension websites. The latest Borrell research shows that video advertising is exploding online, and what better place to put such advertising than on a local television station’s website. Is the gamble of disassociating its web strategy entirely from its television station really smart for NBC Local, especially in a day and age when it doesn’t cost any more to run two sites than it does one?

  4. The successful local information portals are all run by newspapers so far, and newspapers are, by default, information portals for communities. A newspapers inbox gets everything, simply because it’s the newspaper. Newspapers also have much larger information-gathering staffs than television stations enjoy, so it’s easier for a newspaper to exploit this model than a local television station. At a time of shrinking resources, it won’t be easy for most stations to maintain the kind of consistent quality that will make these things work.

  5. There is no barrier to entry that would keep competitors from doing the same thing. Next, we’ll have chicagocbs.com, abcwindycity.com, foxchicago.com, and a host of others. In other words, the paradigm for running a local television website will be to rename it and focus on certain types of content, aggregating whatever they can to make the case that one is better than the other. The problem is that broadcasters think their competition is across-the-street, but it’s a different animal online.

  6. The internet pureplay companies that currently get nearly six of every ten local online ad dollars aren’t threatened in any way by this strategy, and that should concern all of us. Unless and until we correctly view the marketplace as the Local Web and strategically exploit business opportunities therein, we’re always going to be just content providers in a world that doesn’t reward content providers the same way the old world did. Google, Yahoo, CitySearch, Yelp, Local Reach and a legion of other pureplays could care less about NBC’s new strategy, and they are the only competitors that really matter for us online.

And, as always, I look to the reaction of the tech media to such “major” announcements from the mainstream media world. While AdAge, for example, called the move a “noticeable break with tradition,” JR Raphael of The Inquistr said it was “far from new,” noting that the concepts employed in the NBC strategy (like linking out to other sources of news) have been in practice for many years by non-traditional forms of media.

Still, NBC should be congratulated for this bold move, for it’s far better in this environment to try something than to sit back and wait for others to invent what needs to be done. In that sense, NBC is showing leadership, something that’s sorely lacking in our industry today. Embracing the world of link journalism alone is enough to get my stamp of approval, although I think there is much more that broadcasters can and should be doing.

(Wayne Friedman has issues with the strategy as well.)

Originally posted in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter.


  1. no question they are years behind many online users.

    the flipside is they are now 3 full days ahead of the rest of their ‘old’ competition.

  2. Hey TDC — which local news sites are up to speed with users?

  3. wendy,

    i’m not the one to ask that question because i have always felt that local news sites run by tv and newspapers never have and still don’t want their online efforts to succeed. they’d much rather this fad fade.



  1. […] Terry Heaton has a good write-up analyzing the new NBC owned-and-operated sites, of which the first, NBCChicago.com, launched a few days ago. […]

  2. […] Terry Heaton has a good write-up analyzing the new NBC owned-and-operated sites, of which the first, NBCChicago.com, launched a few days ago. […]

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