Televsion Stations Urged to Break a Few Rules


THE expression "think outside the box" has been overused enough to become jargon. But for a few hours yesterday it was appropriate, as local television stations were urged to diversify beyond their boxes, i.e., TV sets, to remain relevant -- and profitable -- in the new digital age.

"Conventional wisdom, it's an enemy at a time like this," said Beth Comstock, president for digital media and market development at NBC Universal, part of General Electric. "In media today, I don't think there is a single rule that can't -- and frankly, probably shouldn't -- be broken.

"This isn't just about driving growth," she added. "It's about staying in business."

Her call to action came at the annual marketing conference sponsored by the Television Bureau of Advertising, an organization that promotes broadcast TV as a medium. For the fifth year in a row, the conference was held during the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, reflecting the status of automakers atop the list of America's largest marketers.

For the first time, the conference was devoted to a single topic: the importance of the "multiplatform" -- that is, offering content and advertising not only on local broadcast stations but also online, on cellphones and other wireless devices, through video on demand and on video iPods.

The sole topic was intended to underscore that "advertisers and their agencies are increasingly asking for -- make that demanding -- a multiplatform strategy from all their media partners," said Christopher Rohrs, president of the bureau, in a speech he gave to almost 1,200 attendees to begin the conference.

To address that, Mr. Rohrs said, the bureau has selected a dozen members to serve on a committee devoted to multiple-media platforms, which plans to hold its first meeting today. The committee members include executives from ABC, CBS, Gannett Broadcasting, Meredith Broadcasting, NBC, the New York Times Company Broadcast Media Group and Pappas Telecasting.

There are two principal reasons that TV stations are seeking to broaden their horizons. One is "consumers will increasingly choose what they want to see, when they want to see it, on whatever device they want to see it," said Alan Frank, president and chief executive at the Post-Newsweek Stations division of the Washington Post Company.

The other reason was offered by David Rehr, president and chief executive at the National Association of Broadcasters: "Every new stream of programming is potentially a new source of revenue. Most distribution channels will create more value for our content."

Those prospects were the subject of a panel discussion led by Gordon Borrell, president and chief executive at Borrell Associates, a consulting company specializing in the local online advertising market.

Mr. Borrell discussed a new report from his company showing that local television stations more than doubled their Internet ad revenue last year compared with 2004, to $283 million from $119 million. And, he predicted, the figure would climb to $410 million by the end of 2006.

But ad revenue last year for Web sites operated by local newspapers totaled $2 billion, according to the report, or more than nine times what the Web sites of the local TV stations took in.

Local television "has the power to significantly drive traffic to the Internet" by cross-promoting with the contents of station broadcasts, Mr. Borrell said, "yet it hasn't in many cases."

"You have a tremendous opportunity in front of you," he added. "All media are in flux, and flux is a great time to institute change."

As an example, Mr. Borrell cited the Web site operated by WRAL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C., that is owned by the Capitol Broadcasting Company. The ad revenue for the site

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exceeds the ad revenue for
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the Web site operated by the leading local newspaper, The News and Observer, published by the McClatchy Company.

When it comes to capitalizing on additional methods of delivering content and ads, Mr. Borrell said, "we are where television was in the late 1950's."

That outlook was echoed by the announcement yesterday of the final figures for Internet ad revenue last year, released by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The results set a record at $12.5 billion, up 30.2 percent from $9.6 billion in 2004.

"We must be like Google, in a constant beta state," said Christine M. Di Stadio, senior vice president for marketing and new media at the New York Times Broadcast Media Group. Her reference was to the myriad test products and services offered on the Google Web site.

Local stations ought to offer opportunities for social networking on their Web sites, Ms. Di Stadio suggested, to compete with popular services like MySpace; streaming video, to compete with Web sites like YouTube; and mobile marketing.

As an example, Ms. Di Stadio described a "mobile physician finder" she is developing, listing doctors and their telephone numbers. Cellphone users will be able to "click on the phone number and dial, using click-to-call technology," she said.

"Guys, we needed all these screens to come along to make us exciting and vibrant again," Ms. Di Stadio said, laughing.

Brian Wheelis, vice president and group media director on the giant AT&T account at GSD&M in Austin, Tex., part of the Omnicom Group, cautioned the attendees against worrying that they will be competing against themselves.

"If you think about the Web as cannibalizing, you've already given up and you're not ready for it," Mr. Wheelis said. He praised the Web site of KXAN, the NBC affiliate in Austin, owned by LIN TV, which offers blogs, podcasts, streaming video and other new media at

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Another member of Mr. Borrell's panel, David Buonfiglio, advised local TV stations to take part in the nascent trend known as user-generated or consumer-created content, which is meant to build emotional connections between customers and brands.

Mr. Buonfiglio, vice president for local sales at Internet Broadcasting Systems, cited a contest sponsored by the Web site of WPTZ, an NBC affiliate owned by Hearst-Argyle Television that broadcasts to Burlington, Vt., and Plattsburgh, N.Y. The contest on the site

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"invited viewers to write the next commercial" for a local car dealer, Mr. Buonfiglio said, and drew twice as many entries as had been forecast.

Mr. Buonfiglio also offered some advice in a humorous vein. "You really should go out and tell agencies what you can do," he said. "Get a capabilities presentation. If you don't have capabilities, get some of them first."

Correction: April 25, 2006

The Advertising column in Business Day on Friday, about efforts by local television stations to expand into new media like the Internet, omitted the source of a comparison of advertising revenue for, the Web site of staton WRAL in Raleigh, N.C., and the Web site for The News & Observer. The information came from the trade publication Mediaweek -- not from Gordon Borrell, who spoke at the conference about the traffic for the two sites but not about their revenue.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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