From cute cat videos to “babes of the day,” many stations are trying whatever it takes to build website traffic. But some managers say station websites just don’t attract enough visitors on their own to grab marketers’ attention or make a difference for local clients. That’s why a growing number have turned to standalone local portals as their digital play.
In terms of content, most of the portals are driven by local news, weather and community events listings. Horizon Broadcasting recently revived the MyCentralOregon.com site for Bend, OR, incorporating lessons learned from its old site. President Keith Shipman says 91% of people went to the portal for local news, 7% wanted the weather, and 1% wanted to listen to the police scanner. There’s a growing urgency to build a more robust digital property says Shipman, who points out some automakers like Ford are requiring local dealers to allocate half of their co-op dollars to the web. “When a local dealer calls, we have to create a vehicle for us to be in play for those dollars,” Shipman says. “And they’re not the only client that’s thinking about that in today’s world.”
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Clark Broadcasting created myMotherLode.com for the Sonora, CA region. Clark president H. Randolph Holder says the portal draws a mix of on-air clients who want to extend their buy to digital, like a local hospital that sponsors the health section on the website. “Its cross-section has allowed us to provide an advertising vehicle for smaller mom and pop businesses,” Holder says.
Ten months after launching ColaDaily.com for Columbia, SC, Local Voice Media president Kirk Litton says growth has been “fantastic” as the local online portal has “taken on a life of its own.” The site, which brings together radio and digital newspapers assets for Virginia and North Carolina, broke even after six months, and now is generating some profit without the “shell game” Litton sees many radio companies playing with digital revenue. “These sites are real dollars,” he says. “Clients are buying a radio schedule along with a fully-funded digital advertising plan. It’s not bastardizing one at the expense of the other.”
There’s no dedicated sales team for MyCentralOregon — Horizon Broadcasting reps pitch the portal. “Every call they go on, we’re asking them to make a pitch for digital so we can identify what kind of budget is available from the advertiser and then hopefully be a good competitor for those digital dollars,” Shipman says.
MyMotherLode.com went live more than a decade ago and today Clark Broadcasting gets 15% of its total revenue from digital. “There are people who we sell to that we’ve never been able to get on the radio, but they’ll buy the internet,” Holder says, though he doubts the site will even bring in enough to out-bill one of his radio stations. Holder says his company doesn’t sell based on the number of clickthroughs ads receive. Instead they offer a guaranteed impression.
Armed with internal metrics and Google Analytics, Litton says his sales reps are able to give local clients more “real data” than what Nielsen’s diary-based ratings can provide. “It’s helped us get behind the ratings,” he says.
Love or hate it, bonus spots are a fact of life in radio in 2014 — much to the frustration of managers who hate to give anything away for free. But companies that have created digital standalone websites say those web properties are remarkably resistant to bonusing. “There isn’t one free ad on that site, there hasn’t been since day one,” Litton says, referring to the Columbia SC focused ColaDaily.com.
Horizon Broadcasting says MyCentralOregon.com is a “cash-only” site as well. “We have individual station website as well,” Shipman says, “and if added-value exists, it will be on those sites.” Litton says his sales reps don’t even bother selling ads for their two Columbia stations’ websites, seeing them as more of a promotional tool.
Kitton says there’s good reason the digitally native brands can resists freebies. “These sites can stand on their own, whereas a radio station’s website can’t because the larger piece of that is the actual broadcast signal,” he says.
After attempting to syndicate a portal product to other small market operators didn’t get far, Holder says he’s learned that many broadcasters are worried a robust portal will draw away on-air listeners. But he thinks that’s the wrong way to view things. “You’re also not going to cannibalize your listenership,” he says. “You exploit it to run traffic to the portal and that enables you to sell the advertising to make it a standalone asset.”
Unlike station websites, community portals and digital news sites require more time, effort and expense to get off the ground and maintain. But having sister radio stations brings lots of built-in assistance on all three counts. While Horizon Broadcasting has hired a digital media director — a rare position in Bend, OR —Shipman says his company is “cross pollinating news” from news/talk KBNW (1340, 104.5) and ABC News Radio for MyCentralOregon.com. “I don’t dedicate manpower to just the local site, but there will be a day when we have to do that in order to remain competitive,” he predicts.
Holder says Clark Broadcasting is also leveraging a radio news staff. The biggest startup expense for MyMotherLode.com was creating the evergreen content about local parks for instance. It also takes as much commitment to manage the website as another radio station, he says.
With a digital newspaper, Litton says ColaDaily.com required an even larger commitment, hiring five reporters and an editor. “We’re reporting local news, so it’s stuff people want 24/7,” he explains. Yet Litton sees a big potential upside. “Maybe someone isn’t a listener to one of our stations, but in some way we are touching them in the community that we’re in,” he says.
Holder agrees. “We can only charge for people who listen to the station,” he adds. “So I can extend our reach with a portal that has ubiquitous appeal to the entire market. It’s a win-win.”