The well-regarded newscasts on KPNX Phoenix will, of course, remain free to viewers. The station’s Web content, however, is going in a different direction. On Sept. 10, the joint KPNX Arizona Republic website, AZCentral.com— the one market within Gannett where TV and newspaper properties share a building and website—flipped the switch on a paid content model, and the competition is making sure Phoenix residents are aware of what’s free and what costs money in the area.
Meredith’s KPHO, a CBS affiliate, rolled out uniquely direct promos spotlighting KPNX’s online paid model. Ed Munson, KPHO VP and general manager, does not apologize. “We have an opportunity we never had before,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of folks in play.”
Fed by 300 local journalists filing for both print and broadcast, AZCentral.com is a giant in DMA No. 13, averaging 5.9 million unique visitors and 75.6 million page views per month, according to Omniture. Moreover, AZCentral.com reached 30% of the market’s Internet-using adults in July—tops in Phoenix. KPHO’s CBS5AZ.com is fifth, with 6%.
Starting this week, users get 20 AZCentral.com stories per month for free. An all-digital pass costs $10 a month, while digital and newspaper delivery is $26.50.
The move is part of a larger Gannett strategy to get revenue from digital content. John Misner, COO of Republic Media (as Gannett’s joint Phoenix outfit is known) and GM at the NBC affiliate, is bullish on the model. “I like to think our content has lots of value,” Misner says. “I know the unique work our journalists do.”
Notably, management can turn off the meter for major breaking news and issues of public safety—say, a wildfire or mass shooting. “We do have to balance our role as journalists with the need to run good business models,” Misner says.
KPHO and KPNX, along with Belo’s KTVK, share a helicopter. But that alliance did not prevent KPHO from calling out KPNX in its promos. “Guess I’ll have to get my news somewhere else,” goes one, while another reminds the community that CBS5AZ.com remains free.
Munson acknowledges that the plugs are likely “a gnat buzzing around their head,” but he believes Gannett’s motives are not entirely altruistic. “I get what they’re doing,” Munson says. “But where I disconnect is that it’s not about saving journalism. This is about money.”
Misner took the tweaks in stride. “It’s not a surprise to see a competitive response,” he says. “It’s kind of fun to watch.”
Calls and emails came into the Republic Media building prior to the new model’s debut, many of which Misner handled personally. After explaining the company’s position, he says most callers seemed to understand, though subscription figures in the coming weeks will shed more light on the initiative’s success.
Arizona residents possess a unique independent streak, notes Munson, evidenced by the state’s liberal gun laws. “They don’t like being told what to do,” he says. “I wonder if Gannett has underestimated their independence.”
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