The Broadcast Equation for Success

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Clay McNeill, Internet director for NBC affiliate WAVE, Louisville, KY, sent a prime-time e-mail news alert to his database of local viewers informing them of breaking events in a controversial police shooting.

This simple effort to target WAVE's news audience with exclusive, breaking news became a turning point in how the station reported the news and how its viewers interacted with the station. Whether they received the news flash via their PCs or personal digital assistants, the audience immediately went to the site to dig deeper, and tuned to WAVE later that evening for more updates. The episode helped WAVE drive some of its highest news ratings in nearly 20 years.

The Web is providing opportunities for local broadcasters to directly deliver their news product in the same way direct marketers have been accustomed to selling sweaters. That is, target the right consumer with the right content to deliver the highest value and build an ongoing direct relationship.

To the direct marketing community this equation has been second nature. Broadcasters, however, have always worked on the opposite paradigm - deliver your message to as many as possible and hope to take a small share of a large audience. With the advent of the database targeting capabilities of the Web, broadcasters have the ability to be narrowcasters.

What's propelling this paradigm shift?

The usual drivers of change: new challengers and new revenue opportunities. A highly fragmented media market is increasingly challenging broadcasters' local news dominance. The days of television's reign as the only real-time news source are ending. Local cable news channels, national Internet portal networks like Digital Cities and CitySearch, and hybrid television/Web plays like MSNBC are garnering a growing share of eyeballs. Those eyeballs tend to be the most lucrative - young, educated and full of disposable income.

According to a survey by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Washington, more college graduates younger than 50 go on the Internet every day than regularly watch one of the nightly network news broadcasts. Forty-six percent of those younger than 30 go online for news at least once a week. Local broadcasters need to tune in because they need to be everywhere - the Web, wireless devices and television sets - to maintain their local news leadership.

According to a study by Frank N. Magi Associates, Marion, IA, local Internet news portal efforts can potentially drive $400,000 to $600,000 in incremental revenue. Local stations are well-positioned to leverage the Web to extend their brand and enhance their on-air ratings. News wrapped in a brand that exists online as well as offline is seen as more credible to consumers, according to market research firm InsightExpress LLC, Greenwich, CT.

Additionally, a recent study by DataQuest, San Jose, CA, found that 44 million Americans regularly surf the Web while watching television. This multimedia consumption provides occasions for stations to target surfers with specific on-air promotions that "spin" them to the station's site, where deeper content is located.

While there, they can be teased to return to the TV broadcast for upcoming features and other breaking content.

The net return? A perfect spiral marketing effort in which both mediums feed off and enhance the other. Traffic drives viewers. Viewers drive traffic. Both channels win.

When you underscore this emerging consumption pattern with the expansion of broadband penetration (which provides the perfect delivery channel for local television's killer app - searchable local video) you have the makings of a powerful, new targeted content distribution niche.

By leveraging the direct marketing aspects of the Web by targeting specific content to profiled users, broadcasters can turn the changing landscape of local media from a challenge into a huge opportunity.

It takes vision, creativity and a touch of classic direct marketing savvy to evolve from a local broadcast station to the leading local news and information resource.

WAVE's efforts in database marketing and targeted content production are just the beginning for the station. Broadcasting and narrowcasting will become critical aspects of what defines its local business model.

The tools and tactics traditionally associated with direct marketers, plus the broad reach of television, equal a win in the increasingly co

Mark S. Zagorski is senior vice president of marketing and development at WorldNow, New York.

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