Wednesday, October 15, 2008

IN THIS ISSUE:

NBC’S LOCAL WEB INITIATIVE: A GOOD START, BUT
LINK TO OTHER SITES, ALREADY!
USING MYSPACE FOR FUN AND PROFIT
JOOST GETS JUICED: A LESSON IN QUALITY vs QUANTITY
AMERICAN AIRLINES: THE LATEST FORMER ADVERTISER TO BECOME A MEDIA COMPANY

NBC’S LOCAL WEB INITIATIVE: A GOOD START, BUT (Terry)
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 desintation 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 its 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.

All of us here wish NBC well.   Link>

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LINK TO OTHER SITES, ALREADY! (Steve)
One of the most difficult concepts to get our heads around is this: to keep people, we need to send them away. The Web is about links. We have written for years about the importance of linking to other sites. It’s good for the audience, it’s good for your Google ranking, it’s good Karma — and it’s good for your business.

I’d say the question about linking is easily in the top three I get asked. “I think we should link to other sites, but my ND/GM/Parent Company forbids this. What do I tell them?”

I always say the same thing: Google’s entire business model is built upon sending you somewhere else.

The Web links. What makes us think we’re special? Do we really know something every other site doesn’t? No. The superstition is built upon old TV notions of forbidding so much as a mention of the competition. (And doesn’t that always sound SO stilted? “A station across town reports…” Just say who they are, already.)

The most absurd examples of this are when Websites write stories that mention other Websites — but don’t hyperlink the name. That’s just laziness.

The bottom line is that, if we’re a great place to start, people will always come back. You want to be the starting point. Remember “The Miracle on 34th Street”: When Macy’s didn’t have it, Santa sent them to Gimbels.

In the New York Times this week, Brian Stelter (himself a product of the linked Web, having started the Website TV Newser when he was in college) writes about how the new NBC local media sites mark a change in the slow acceptance of this fact of life:

“Thou shalt not link to outside sites” — a long-held commandment of many newsrooms — is eroding. Embracing the hyperlink ethos of the Web to a degree not seen before, news organizations are becoming more comfortable linking to competitors — acting in effect like aggregators.”

Forgive me, please, for dancing in the end zone for a moment. Terry and I are familiar with the saying “act like you’ve been there before.” But it’s worth a small celebration when something so vital we’ve been preaching for so long finally goes mainstream.

Mind you, there’s still a long way to go. The Washington Post’s idea of outbound linking is to have a section, The Political Browser, set aside from the rest. No go. Why are you pushing me to a separate section? And the Times itself seems to be embracing the concept very reluctantly. The article notes that the paper is going to be offering a version of the Times home page with links to other news sites and blogs.

A version? Haven’t we learned that having separate church and state-style entities doesn’t protect the previous incarnation?

Stelter also writes that the “Times Extra” feature will be powered by Blogrunner, software the Times acquired in 2005.

The Web is linked and social. I didn’t see the Times article by reading the Times online. I saw it because Stelter is a friend of mine on Facebook, and he posted his article. Facebook works because it attracts you and it sends you elsewhere. Seems to be working OK for Facebook, doesn’t it?

Link out and others will link in.   Link>

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USING MYSPACE FOR FUN AND PROFIT (Terry)
Demos from MySpace in a top-40 marketA couple of years ago, while working for a client in a top 40 market, I did some research into the reach and rates of advertising on MySpace. The company provided me with rich information about its users in that particular market, and it’s always stuck with me.

The data in the table to the right reveals that 86% of the women and 88% of the men who used MySpace in this market were under the age of 35. In an era when local media companies struggle with an aging base of readers and viewers, you’d think this information would be significant. MySpace is a veritable gold mine of recruiting potential for traditional media, but few use it as such. Mostly, social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are overlooked when it comes to marketing, something Steve has written about many times.

I’ve always believed that advertising on MySpace (and Facebook) would be smart strategy for local media companies, because they just can’t reach these people anywhere else. Now MySpace has made it simple by creating a self-serve, cost-per-click mechanism that allows anybody to advertise on MySpace and to narrow the focus of that advertising so as to make it effective.

Rafat Ali from Paidcontent.org explains:

The social network has been using what it calls hypertargeting to allow its brand advertisers capability to micro-target users with ads. But this expanded MyAds platform will allow anyone to create an account, choose from among 1100 niche categories, upload/choose creatives and start an ad campaign, targeting the 76 million U.S. MySpace users. This is a display ad system, unlike Google’s text based ad system (at least on its own site), but like Google and others, is a CPC system. Also, like Google, it has build an analytics tool for the self-serve users…from the screenshot I saw, it does look a lot like Google Analytics.

Its hypertargeting service allows advertisers to target ads based on the interest that MySpace users display on their profile pages. The new MyAds service allows targeting parameters such as age, sex, geographical location, combining it with user interest categories including specific keywords within each category. For example, within the ‘videogame’ enthusiast category, a further targeting keyword or phrase might include ‘Call of Duty 5’ if relevant to an advertiser’s campaign, the company explains.

Ad from my MySpace home pageLocal media companies need to use this tool. Let me repeat that. Local media companies NEED to use this tool. Obviously, younger people aren’t clamoring to get to our newscasts, so we need to create some other application as a landing place for the clicks, one that will introduce them to us and our offerings — a YouTube channel, perhaps, or how about our own MySpace page?

On the left is an ad that appears on my MySpace home page. My profile reveals that I’m 62 years old, so their ad software assumes I’m interested in “girls that want older men.” That may or may not be true (I’m not telling), but the point is that social networking sites can provide this level of targeting. Perhaps you’re running a special report on teenage girls; you can find them here (and you only pay for clicks). Perhaps it’s a story about recent college grads or one that would be of interest to people just turning 30.

Or perhaps you’re trying to drive young users to a new online application that you’ve just built, let’s say a high school sports site. You could run ads for the site on MySpace, raise awareness for the project, and bring users directly to your site. Is a user worth 25-cents to you? Maybe; maybe not. But it’s important to know that you have that option through MySpace.

Social networking sites are more than just places where people gather; they’re the new community square, and if you haven’t set up shop there yet, you’re missing potential opportunities.   Link>

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JOOST GETS JUICED: A LESSON IN QUALITY vs QUANTITY (Steve)
JoostJoost is back.

Well, it’s not like it went away, exactly. It just didn’t have too smooth a landing. When it launched last year, the online video service had plenty of hype (including, yes, from this writer) because of its novel approach to video delivery. Joost promised TV-quality video over the internet, via peer-to-peer technology. Indeed, it darn-near delivered on that promise.

It didn’t matter.

A big flaw with Joost was that it required a download. You needed a special bit of software to make it work. As a user, I can tell you the software was balky. One of the things we’ve learned from the Web is that people have had it with closed architecture. You can’t have a plugin or special software for every product. Even something that is as high quality as Joost simply didn’t rate a special download.

Combine that with its lack of great programming, and you had a recipe for a flailing business. It’s not like there isn’t demand for full-length online video. Hulu has proven that people will watch, if given enough choices. Joost didn’t do a good enough job in building content relationships, while Hulu came along and kicked their butts. Hulu took the lead by using Flash as its video software — meaning people didn’t need to download a separate hunk of one-trick software.

Joost is “back” now, and is a whole lot more social. It has stopped trying to be “TV on the Web.” There are social tools and communities which actually put it ahead of Hulu socially. But it won’t be hard for Hulu to add those tools. What will matter most is the content. Having social tools doesn’t help if the material isn’t worth spreading.

And that’s the big lesson I take from this. I don’t know if Joost 2.0 will save the company. But I do know it had to open up if it has any chance. It had to give up on its hope of being broadcast quality and settle for “good enough” just to compete. Joost had to embrace how we want our content, not how they wanted us to have it.   Link>

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AMERICAN AIRLINES: THE LATEST FORMER ADVERTISER TO BECOME A MEDIA COMPANY (Terry)
Below is a sample of an American Airlines new “Enhanced Boarding Pass.” Notice anything?

new American Airlines boarding pass

There are five ad placements on the document, which moves the airline into the ad-display business. Hence, the title “media company.” Why would American Airlines want to do this? To make money, of course, and what do we learn from this? That the online ad revenue pie keeps being cut into thinner and thinner slices.

If your station or newspaper is in a market served by American Airlines, you might want to ask them a question about who serves the ads for inbound flights to your city? Sounds like a business opportunity to me.

This is yet another illustration about how playing in the wild fields of the Web can be more profitable than restricting your play to any walled garden.   Link>

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LIVEBLOGGING & STREAMING TONIGHT’S DEBATE (Steve)
I’ll be working, hands on, with our client NECN tonight for the debate. We’re going to be streaming it live on NECN.com using Mogulus and I’m going to be working the liveblog using Cover It Live. We encourage our clients to use the best of the online tools, and we like to get our hands dirty as well. In our next newsletter, I’ll let you know how it went. I invite you to check it out for yourself tonight at 8 pm ET.

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Success is now the domain of people who lead. That doesn’t mean they’re in charge, it doesn’t mean they are the CEO, it merely means that for a group, even a small group, they show the way, they spread ideas, they make change. Those people are the only successful people we’ve got. Seth Godin via GapingVoid.