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Posted by Mort Greenberg on February 20, 2008

TVNEWSDAY, Feb. 20, 8:32 AM ET
TV stations are demanding more of their Web sites as competition for the expected $12.6 billion local Web ad market heats up. And companies such as Internet Broadcasting, WorldNow and others find themselves scrambling to keep up with calls for more flexibility.
By Wayne Karrfalt
Companies providing Web services to TV stations are scrambling to meet the evolving demands of broadcasters as they rewrite strategies and gear up to grab bigger shares of the $12.6 billion that Borrell Associates says will be spent by advertisers on local Web sites this year.And within the tight circle of station-oriented Web service providers, none is feeling the heat more than Internet Broadcasting.Two of its top clients—the NBC station group and Cox Television—have notified IB that they need more flexibility than the IB platform currently affords and are exploring alternatives for content management and national ad sales.“The days of having a [one-size-fits-all] business partner for the Web are over,” says Brian Buchwald of NBC’s newly renamed Local Media Division. “Web strategies will develop less around these platforms and more around individual best-of-breed applications based on what providers can bring to market.”The story is the same at Cox. “We are looking at options, no doubt about it,” says Cox’s digital maven Sandhi Kozsuch.In the new mix-and-match world, he says, Cox has already turned to WorldNow for video encoding technology that facilities moving video from the newsroom to the Web.Neither NBC nor Cox is ready to say they will completely abandon IB. Indeed, says Kozsuch, after its review, Cox could decide to remain wholly or partly in the IB camp.Losing NBC or Cox would be a severe blow to IB.In addition to providing a Web platform to its client stations, IB aggregates and sells some of their ad space. And together, NBCU and Cox account for more than half of the 12 million unique visitors IB delivered in December 2007, according to ComScore.IB President David Lebow declined to be interviewed for this story.But the company makes clear it is not about to give up any clients and the traffic they contribute without a struggle.“Internet Broadcasting is in the midst of a transformation to meet the needs of the local Internet market and best serve our customers,” says IB spokesperson Ayme Yaiser in an e-mailed statement. “As such, we continuously talk to all of our broadcast customers—including Cox Television and NBC—about their digital strategies, to determine which of our products and services can best help them realize their online goals and objectives.“NBC and Cox have been, and will continue to be, valued customers,” Yaiser says.IB is not without resources. It is owned by Hearst-Argyle Television, Post-Newsweek, McGraw-Hill and CNN. But its model, which requires it to place trained Web editors in each station to directly manage content, seems to be cutting across many stations’ desire for more control and more flexibility.CBS, Fox, Nexstar and Clear Channel (via directly owned subsidiary Inergize Digital Media) have already built their own content management systems that are easy to use and that integrate into the station workflow.IB’s chief competitor WorldNow says it has been adjusting its approach to accommodate the shifting marketplace. WorldNow’s client base went from 150 stations and newspapers to 320 after it unbundled its services, according to CEO Gary Gannaway. According to ComScore, it delivered 19.1 million unique visitors and ranked eighth among news and information sites.The company is now adopting an open source platform that will speed the integration of adding third-party applications such as the white label KickApps application used to power user-generated media sites.“With open APIs [application programming interfaces], we shouldn’t try to be an expert in all things,” says Gannaway. “With the speed at which things are moving, how can one company alone possibly keep up?” Changes in stations’ Web thinking also represents an opportunity for newer entrants like Inergize Digital Media, which has added 15 station clients beyond its 44 Clear Channel properties (and is finalizing deals with two others).Inergize designed its CMS system so that it can provide a higher level of customization.“Other templates out there are too restrictive,” says Jason Gould, SVP and GM of Inergize. “Our tool set comes with a game engine, a contest engine and a fully integrated suite of interactive features. It gives stations the capability to add next-generation applications that will ultimately add stickiness to their sites,” he says.Armed with a CMS that it licenses from Clickability and what it believes is a pricing advantage, Madison, Wis.-based Broadcast Interactive Media has been able to attract 120 client stations.Price remains a central concern, particularly for small-to-midsize groups such as Granite Broadcasting, which recently transitioned from managing its sites in-house to contracting with BIM.  “We build all of our technology on Linux, Unix and Apache, which makes the cost structure much cheaper,” says BIM President Timur Yarnall. “Then we try to develop models where price is based on success so there’s less downside for the station.” BIM has also tried to stay current, offering YouNewsTV, a user-generated content application. BIM has licensed it to 40 of its local partners.  Stations’ demand for more flexibility and variety may also open up the market for individual application providers. Online IPG provider TitanTV recently launched an online video platform for stations, producing original Web programming that affiliates can stream and sell advertising in. Rosemary Danon developed the citizen journalist site Community as an employee for Pappas Telecasting. Now on her own, she has licensed the technology and is offering it to other broadcasters.The service has more than 13,000 registered users and is growing at the rate of more than 1,000 new users each month, according to Danon.“This is a real shake-up time for the industry and its critical for station to adopt first-class interactive services,” she says.While the NBC station group continues to talk to IB, individual NBC stations are seizing the initiative, developing their own secondary sites.KNTV San Francisco, for instance, last fall launched a local community portal, NBC11 Hometown.The idea is to provide a conduit to allow people to express themselves and voice concerns about their communities, says Jim Monroe, VP of creative and programming. The portal comprises scores of pages, each dedicated to different neighborhoods. Each page has a local reporter attached to it whose job it is to monitor it for possible story leads or community outreach efforts. The station is now working on building an automated credit card system to allow small businesses to buy ads on individual community pages.

“We think we need a variety of unique local content that distinguishes us from the thousands of destinations out there on the Web,” says Monroe. “Our survival hinges on figuring out how to remain relevant in our local community.”

Wayne Karrfalt is a veteran entertainment journalist who contributes to several national trade and consumer publications and writes Cynopsis: Digital, a daily newsletter/podcast for Cynopsis Media covering digital content, technology, advertising and executive moves. He can be reached at


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