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The Ticket to Web Heaven? Use Your Call Letters

WTOC11_LOGOA lot of the fun started seeping out of local television when call letters were foolishly replaced with cookie-cutter network/channel number IDs like ABC7 and NBC5.  For a person who plays a pretty mean game of call letter trivia (wanna know what WIS, WGN, WSB, WTOC and WFTS stand for?  I’m your guy), the perfectly idiotic march away from decades of history that all those call letters represented was depressing indeed.

Now I’ve confessed to my own local television nostalgia, and just the other night over drinks, I bemoaned the loss of the Sears Tower name for that tall building in Chicago.  I hated it when South Florida’s proud Joe Robbie Stadium became the decidedly lame Pro Player Stadium, and, well, you get the idea.

So here’s my message to local television stations trying to dig a deep trench around their turf on the web:  don’t get clever and for Heaven’s sake forget about your network affiliation.

Go old school.  Use your call letters.

As I’ve reported here, lots of companies think there’s money to be made by owning the dominant online news site in any given market.  NBC–being NBC–bought up “NBC(YourTownNameHere)” domains from Presque Isle to San Diego.  But guess what sites do the best in terms of grabbing people’s attention and, more importantly, holding on to it?

WRAL:  Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

WRAL: Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

Sites with call letters and obvious connections to years of covering news in any given town.  Sites like WRAL.com in Raleigh. What affiliate is WRAL? Who cares. Here’s what’s important:  the station’s website dominates all others in Raleigh in terms of minutes spent reading news and, perhaps, checking out those web ads:  the average total minutes spent on wral.com, according to research by Internet Broadcasting was 156 minutes.

By comparison, the minutes spent figure for ABC O&O WPVI in Philadelphia, which uses the domain 6abc.com, was a mere 5.5 minutes.

The numbers don’t hold true for every market–in some places, like Sacramento, kcra.com has a low total minutes figure of 3.4–but by and large, the call letters that have juice seem to translate from television to the internet.

As Arul Sandaram at Internet Broadcasting told me, “While this is clearly just one data point, and much work still needs to be done in getting stations to fully embrace their future as cross platform content/distribution companies, I am hoping you see this data as we do: as a spot of promise for the local TV industry.”

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

It tells me one thing.  Embrace what got you this far, and don’t throw it away.  If you have nearly half a century of equity in an identity, why not use it? WFAA in Dallas does, and they have one of the highest “time spent” figures in the study at 30.7 minutes.

Salt Lake’s KSL has a similarly strong number at 61.8. Both stations, in case you weren’t sure, use their calls as their web ID.  It’s not the magic bullet, but I think it’s a logical step, especially if you’re in a market where the online competition is a newspaper with 100 years of equity in its name.

WFMY:  Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

WFMY: Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

So WFMY in Greensboro, North Carolina?  Here’s my free advice to you.

You went on the air in 1949 as WFMY (trivia challenge: what do the calls mean?). The guys over at WBTV went on the air the same year.  There’s a lot of history there.  And the paper in town, the News and Record (www.news-record.com), has roots to 1890.  So if somebody who lives in Greensboro wants to know what’s up in town, what makes you think they’ll sit down at the computer keyboard and have the impulse to type in www.digtriad.com?

C’mon, people.  If we intend to survive as local news operations, we’ve got to think.

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Fading Fortunes for Local TV News: It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid

As if local tv newsers don’t have enough to worry about these days, here comes research from Ketchum Public Relations that shows local TV news has slipped significantly from its perch as the top information source for most Americans. According to Ketchum, there’s a “steady erosion of mass media authority,” with local TV news consumption falling from 74% to 63% in 2008. That’s an 11 percent drop, exactly the same percentage that blogs were UP… from 13% to 24%.

This isn’t about car dealers and retailers rolling back their ad spending. This is about viewers getting their information elsewhere. And that’s a big deal when pondering the viability of the medium in the future. Steve Smith at minonline.comketchum_logo_web puts it this way: “Professional content continues to have authority and a role in people’s media lives, but it has to be ready to speak and position itself as a part of a larger conversation. Social syndication tools, journalist blogs and email remain powerful tools for publishers. But just as appointment television is becoming a relic of last century’s mass media model, all forms of content will need to move into evolving usage paths.”

UPDATE:  Looking for an idea on how to bring your news to consumers who might not be sitting in front of the tube at 6 anymore?  Check out this idea:  WRAL/Raleigh’s iPhone app.  Read up on Outside the News Box.

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