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NBC to Establish Local Portals

TV Stations Will Change Websites to Compete With Citysearch, Newspapers

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a noticeable break with tradition, NBC Universal said its local stations' websites would no longer serve as an "adjunct" to the TV stations with which they were affiliated, and would instead be redesigned as local portals. The move spotlights the battle that media companies are now waging for local ad revenue.

According to a prepared statement from NBC Local Media, the new sites will still offer information from local TV stations, but will expand upon it by using sources including print, online publications and bloggers to go after a community "that wants to know more about their local cities -- whether they live in them or not." The NBC Universal unit is comprised of ten NBC-owned-and-operated TV stations that reach 27% of U.S. households.

As a result, the websites will no longer include station call letters, but focus instead on particular cities. New York's WNBC, for example, currently wnbc.com, will become nbcnewyork.com. Likewise, WVIT in Hartford, Conn., currently located at nbc30.com, will become nbcconnecticut.com.

In years past, abandoning station identification would have sparked wide-eyed stares of disbelief. The practice has long been seen as key in promoting local media. Online, however, media outlets are often secondary to the information they provide. A consumer seeking information on how to buy tickets at Madison Square Garden or a Chicago eatery will gladly look at the first link that Google or Yahoo provide in a regular search. NBC's maneuver reflects the realization that holding on to legacy practices can be a detriment as technology reshapes the way in which consumers find out about news and entertainment.

Direct competition
The move would also put NBC's local stations in more direct competition with websites operated by newspapers or even properties such as Citysearch, which offers information on entertainment, dining and other "to do" things in various metropolitan areas.

"Our goal was to create a new type of user experience that's less an extension of our TV stations and more of an online destination for the latest local news, information and entertainment," John Wallace, president-NBC Local Media, said in a statement.

The updated sites will be rolled out in four phases, starting with Chicago the afternoon of Oct. 13. In many cases, the sites will link to outside content, including audience contributions.

Late last month, TNS Media Intelligence said spot TV advertising, or advertising on local TV stations, had declined 4.4% in the first six months of 2008. Spot TV advertising fell 10.2% to about $15.6 billion in 2007, TNS reported earlier this year. Meanwhile, internet display advertising rose 15.9% to about $11.3 billion in the same year.

Media buyers have noted that troubles in the auto industry are crimping the flow of ad dollars from car dealerships, often some of the biggest ad clients of individual TV stations. Local stations often benefit in years that contain presidential elections and the Olympics, but 2009 will have neither, perhaps leading to difficult year-over-year comparisons with financial performance.
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