4A's Conference

Local TV Goes Social

Better Connections With Not Just Consumers But Also Advertisers

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Local TV stations are using social media to extend their coverage and conversations with viewers. They're also working to create more integration with advertisers and device companies, according to panelists at the Socializing Local TV session during the 4A's Transformation Conference in L.A.

"We've taken the tradition of that emotional connection our viewers have with anchors and reporters and gone into the space in which they live, which is Twitter, Facebook, mobile and online, to have that connection," said Rebecca Campbell, president of ABC Owned TV Stations.

Last July, for example, KABC in Los Angeles teamed up with the user-generated traffic app Waze as part of its coverage of "Carmageddon," when a stretch of California's 405 Freeway was shut down. Now all her stations partner with Waze, she said.

Social media helped a local NBC affiliate push past the dominant station in the market during Hurricane Irene, said Valari Staab, president of NBC Owned Television Stations.

"We were watching the Facebook page, and it just lit up. ... The conversation got bigger and bigger, and more people became involved," Ms. Staab said. "The station went on-air live at 3 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. and stayed on. We slaughtered our competition on the coverage."

Local advertisers in turn can benefit from TV's social extensions. "Local broadcasters, through their social presence, can build large audiences, but it's difficult for local advertisers to cultivate audiences to news," said Dunia Shive, president-CEO of Belo Corp.

When a smoke-alarm maker teamed up with ABC stations for a fire-safety campaign, the stations encouraged their Facebook fans to "like" a page for a chance to win a car, Ms. Campbell said.

It sometimes seems as if social media could challenge traditional news providers by breaking and spreading news, but the panelists said that hasn't been a problem.

Even when Joe Paterno's ouster from Penn State leaked on Twitter, for example, the local station's coverage earned some of its highest ratings , according to Ms. Campbell. "[Consumers] want more of a story," she said. "You can't communicate that in social form, but you can in a newscast."

Local broadcasters still have plenty of opportunities ahead in digital video and mobile, the panelists agreed. Belo is teaming up with tech companies to introduce a mobile streaming product later this year in 32 U.S. markets.

"If you have the right device, you can watch live TV on your mobile device," Ms. Shive said. "We'll have to see how consumers react to that launch and how content is used, and then build digital-ad opportunities."

The convergence of social media and TV is a hot topic, one that Ad Age will explore further at The Social Engagement/Social TV Conference on May 9.

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