WCWJ Jacksonville VP/General Manager Marc Hefner figured he'd see a traffic bump when the station rebranded its Website in the spring, though maybe not quite the spike that materialized. Following its acquisition by Nexstar, WCWJ swapped its MyCW17.com URL for YourJax.com—scrapping the CW outlet's traditional branding for an entirely new Web moniker.
Users in DMA No. 47 have responded to the new URL, along with fresh content like celebrity-focused weekly Webisodes and interactive weather radar for the market. Hefner says that page views are up a whopping 150% from May to September, clicks on banner ads are up 44% and the revenue increase has been “significant.”
“It's been fun to see it grow,” he says, “and it's been fun to see the revenue outgrow the page views.”
Ever since stations took their first steps onto the Web, local broadcasters have been faced with the dilemma of simply moving the station branding, such as call letters or a channel position, to the Web, or creating a unique brand as the URL. As station chiefs speak frequently about not using the Web to regurgitate on-air content, many are similarly trying to avoid repurposing the station's branding in their domain names.
“By using your call letters, you're automatically limiting yourself to those who follow your newscasts,” says Steve Safran, Senior VP of Media 2.0 at Audience Research & Development. “Why not open it up, make it more inclusive and pull in a whole new audience online?”
Nexstar, for one, has uniquely branded “community portals” as a cornerstone of its digital strategy. Relaunching station sites with URLs like PAHomepage.com and Rochesterhomepage.com, the group has posted 12 consecutive quarters of revenue growth online, reported Chairman/President/CEO Perry Sook in a quarterly conference call Nov. 11. Station branding is hardly visible on the station sites, which are viewed as standalone businesses.
“Our online strategy has been to build community portals that are only associated with our local television stations by the fact that the TV station promotes it as a separate business,” Sook said during the call.
NBC Local Media has tapped a similar strategy for the Websites representing its 10 owned NBC stations. Relaunched with the Locals Only branding in November 2008, the sites—with URLs such as NBCNew-York.com and NBCChicago.com—feature lifestyle content and a hipster attitude, with minimal resemblance to the hard-news sites they supplanted.
Promoting the new sites on its various platforms, NBC reported that unique visitors jumped from 6 million in November 2008 to 12 million in October 2009, and page views from 29 million to 113 million. Instead of trying to push newscast viewers to the station site, NBC Local Media set out to reach a different and broader audience.
“We did a lot of work before we launched to focus on who the target audience should be, and what they're looking for,” says Brian Buchwald, executive VP of NBC Local Integrated Media. The so-called “social capitalists” the sites aim to reach are urbanites with a taste for nightlife and culture—not exactly the traditional news viewer the sites sought previously.
Yet for many stations, the call letters that have been branded into the community's consciousness over the decades are too valuable not to use online—especially if it's a breaking-news site that's closely aligned with its on-air sibling. The bulk of the Meredith stations employ either the calls or station branding in their URLs.
The same goes for the LIN stations, though a host of local LIN microsites, focused on categories like entertainment and politics, feature original branding. “The best way to get people to go to the sites is to take the brand they already know,” says Robb Richter, LIN's senior VP of new media. “We don't want users to have to go to Google to find us.”
Moreover, Websites with branding that's consistent with the station help promote the on-air product more than a uniquely branded site. While the NBC local sites' numbers have skyrocketed, they are not designed to drive viewers to the NBC owned stations, which have suffered significant viewership declines for a variety of reasons.
Some believe scrapping the traditional branding online can hamper ratings. “Your Web success can come at the sake of the mother ship,” warns WorldNow President/CEO Gary Gannaway.
Hefner, however, says the YourJax rebrand has had only upside. The Nexstar bosses have drilled the standalone mantra into his head: “You could shut down either the station or the site,” he says, “and still have business going on the other one.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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