San Francisco is the heart and soul of high technology, home to HotWired, CNET and Multimedia Gulch's thousand "next big things." Surely here, if anywhere, local media properties should understand how to leverage the Net's value.
Virtually all the local media have a Web presence, offering some combination of news, weather, traffic, sports, entertainment, classifieds, chat rooms and bulletin boards.
But I can't say I'm convinced they've found what it takes to woo an audience online.
The most popular San Francisco media site appears to be the Gate, a joint production of the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and NBC affiliate KRON-TV.
The site delivers nearly 2 million page views per week, according to in-house statistics. PixPage, the site for CBS affiliate KPIX, cited 1.6 million page views in April. The 7-month-old CitySearch 7, a joint venture between the national CitySearch network and Channel 7, ABC affiliate KGO, claimed to be at almost 1 million page views a month.
Living up to the digital elite's high expectations is a challenge, said John Coate, general manager of the Gate.
"The No. 1 demand is to be available at all times, and that whatever we promise, we have to deliver," he said.
GOOD MOVIE LISTINGS
The Gate does deliver some things well. Its entertainment listings, particularly the movies, are the city's best, in my view. That's not surprising given the site's ability to draw material from the TV station plus the two main papers, in addition to the Gate's 26 staffers.
Overall, however, the site appears jumbled, lacking a coherent identity and style.
KRON-TV, the Examiner and the Chronicle each maintain independent sites in addition to the Gate, and the tangled links among them keep various logos and layout formats flashing before the viewer.
None of the local sites seem to have sold a lot of ads yet. Mr. Coate, noting that the Gate earned $60,000 in ad revenue in April, said he hasn't figured out the perfect formula for ads yet.
"I hope we can get it working like in the magazine trade . . . where the ads are a positive part of the reading experience," he said. He doesn't expect the Gate to turn a profit until 1998 at the earliest.
CBS' KPIX has tried innovative cross-promotions for advertisers among its PixPage, TV station and radio stations. A Web site sweepstakes for Northern California Toyota Dealers, for example, was promoted heavily during the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball finals. That resulted in a dramatic spike in online sweepstakes entries during the game's half-time, said KPIX Interactive Manager Matt Timothy.
CitySearch 7 is the latest contender, having launched with much fanfare on outdoor boards and public transportion ads last October.
I found the site rather sterile--more like searching Yahoo! than experiencing a virtual community.
The impending arrival of Microsoft Corp.'s Sidewalk should worry all of San Francisco's online media. A tour of the Seattle site (seattle.sidewalk.com) blows away any entertainment guide in terms of navigation, design, volume of advertisers and just plain fun.
Bold publishers might see the Net as the future of media, but, even though I'm a Web devotee, I'm not going to cancel my subscription to the morning paper quite yet.
Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.