TV station websites are preaching to the choir

Few knock on the door of local media websitesNine of ten visitors to local televisions station websites are already fans of the station, but only half of any given station’s “fans” visit their website. This startling piece of information comes from AR&D cross-platform media studies based on 2,200 interviews with consumers and reveals a major weakness in the operating strategies of local television companies. Online, according to AR&D senior analyst Rory Ellender, “stations are only playing to their on-air audience and not even doing a very good job of that.”

This is the fruit of trying only to be a television station online, while the marketplace is vastly bigger.

Even when we speak with actual local information seekers — those people who, in the course of a typical week, regularly keep up with and follow local news and events — only one-fourth visit local media websites daily, including newspapers.

  • Visit once per day or more (25%)
  • Visit weekly (26%)
  • Visit infrequently or never (48%)

That’s right. Nearly half of those people who identified themselves as local news and information “seekers” don’t go to local media websites. This is a serious problem with no easy solutions. Local news and information seekers get their news from the major portals, so it’s inevitable some will click through to local media sites, but they do so through side doors only.

But the bigger issue of preaching to the choir means that local media companies must find ways to reach beyond their core audiences, or we will continue to cede market share to pureplay Web companies with considerably better software and user experiences. How to do this is problematic, because media companies believe it is content that matters — the content WE produce.

Local media company information portals, for example, that are called something different but essentially function as the TV station or newspaper’s brand extension site (community.com), run into the reality that people recognize them for what they are. If we’re going to do information portals, they must aggregate all local information and be presented in addition to our own brand extension sites. Otherwise, we don’t stand a chance of recruiting users beyond our own “fans.”

But perhaps even more important is the type of news and information that local stations are putting into their online efforts.

Earle Jones, AR&D Senior Vice President of Research, told me that TV stations can be their own worst enemies when it comes to recruiting even their own viewers online. “We consistently hear,” he said, “that most people see local TV websites as just a rehash of what the station does on-air. Also, the url’s most stations use (call-letters.com) suggest something much more narrow that a community information portal.”

Take a look at these verbatim comments from the open-ended question: “Earlier you said youÂ’re a regular local TV news viewer, but you rarely or never visit local TV news station Web sites for information. Why is that? What could they do differently or better with their Web site?”

“I just feel that I get enough information from watching the news and looking at Google news or msn.com.” — Male, 25–29

“They are usually poorly designed and they make it difficult to simply find the specific news story you came to read about, they could vastly improve thier web sites by having an actual working search function.” — Male, 30–34

“Give me a reason to read to their web site. No one wants to read the stories they’ve already seen.” — Female, 25–29

“It’s the same on TV as it is on their website. Why get the same thing twice?” — Female, 35–44

“If I cant get all the info I need from the news when it is on, then thereÂ’s not any more info on their web site it is just a summary of the story you see on the news. In the past I had found their web sites not very organized enough to find the story I was looking for.” — Female, 30–34

“Because I watch it so regularly before I go to work and when I come home and I subscribe to their ‘breaking news’ that texts me local information, I don’t feel that visiting the website is necessary. The texts messages I receive from WAAA gives me all the info I need while I’m at work and I forward the messages along to my husband and friends daily so they can be made aware of what’s going on also.” — Female, 30–34

“I generally like to watch, and listen while I’m doing other things, like making supper, cleaning etc. I have gone to the website if I missed something that I want to get more information about, but frequently find it difficult to track down the story. There’s just too much information on the home page, and they may file a story in one place, and I look in a different place. The search tends to bring up too much information as well, and it becomes more tedious than it’s worth to try to find something.” — Female, 45–49

Lousy site search is a frequent complaint of those who don’t use local media sites, and this goes back to our belief that we can organize information in such a way that search is unnecessary. Search, however, is THE default mechanism that consumers use to find things. It is, after all, 2010.

Social media is beginning to show up as a source of local news and information. “Facebook shows potential,” according to Ellender. “On average, 56% of News & Information Seekers are registered on Facebook and around one-third use it daily, though that does vary considerably by market as you might expect.” He added that Twitter shows very limited reach right now. “Only 15% of Seekers are even registered on Twitter and just 5% or less use it weekly or more.”

As I stated up front, this data suggests problems for local media companies at the strategic level. Something is wrong with a digital strategy that a) plays only to its core audience and b) doesn’t do a very good job at even that. Regular readers here may be tired of hearing this, but here are three things that local media companies should consider:

  1. We need to create an online news service that is 100% Web native. At AR&D, we think that real-time “Continuous News” is the solution here, and we’re seeing verifiable results in markets where we’re doing this.
  2. We need to be able to separate our ability to make money from our ability to create content. Since everybody else in our communities is “making media,” we need to get on board that growth by creating ad networks that serve the needs of these creators, while we administer it and take a cut.
  3. We need to place strategic control of making local money in the hands of local people. Certainly, there are efficiencies that must be considered through centralization, but we cannot truly expect massive local revenue growth without local authority.

Meanwhile, if we’re going to preach to the choir through brand extension, let’s at least pay attention to what people like those quoted above are saying.

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

Comments

  1. Ron Stitt says:

    Interesting phenomenon.… Terry, second time on your blog where it shows I Facebook “Like” the post, when I didn’t actually click the Like button. As it happens, I do like this post and probably would have clicked it. Maybe it’s some new kind of psychic interface?

  2. I do not usually feed-back, though truly do love your site — so kudos for posting and also have a nice evening

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