NAB ’07: Mulling Over TV Stations Role on the Web

For media “old-timers,” the annual NAB show is synonymous for where-it-all-happens. Year after year, the masses of media professionals still come, with this year’s edition attracting 108,000 people from around the world.

I went yesterday, mostly to see how TV stations were doing with their Web sites. As regular readers know, I think that TV and radio stations are a sleeping giant for search and classifieds in local online media. I even wrote about it four years ago in an op-ed in Broadcasting and Cable.

The guys at Classified Intelligence have now backed this up with some research. In a new report based on a survey of 450 TV stations, 150 radio stations and five cable MSOs and sponsored by CityXpress, CI found that TV station sites in all top 50 U.S. markets offer classifieds, as do radio sites in 47 of the top 50 markets and four out of five of the top MSO cable systems.

Which brings us back to the NAB show. In my short time at the show, I didn’t see many TV station GMs. In fact, I saw two. A friend of mine joked that most of them were probably at The Bellagio, making deals to sell their stations. While some are pulling in dollars from the Web  even reporting results in the mid-six figures  their overall business is down.

The GMs may not have been in the audience at the Web-oriented sessions. But plenty of other people were. And the speakers expressed confidence that the Web holds plenty of promise for the future of local broadcasters.

WorldNow chief Gary Gannaway, for instance, provides Web sites and a network for more than a couple of hundred TV stations. “We may not be as big (a company) as NBC,” he said. “But we have 20 million unique viewers, and every month we provide more streams than NBC, CBS and ABC combined.”

YouTube has just made a huge deal with CBS, but Gannaway said that it would probably be more productive to work with the local TV stations. “If you want a directory, who do you want to get it from: your local TV station or YouTube?” he asked.

This didn’t sit especially well with George Kliavkoff, NBC Universal’s chief digital officer. He countered that the networks can make their deals with major Web players and work with the local stations at the same time. Sure, the networks are making decidedly un-local investments on the Web. But Kliavkoff said that the local stations play a big “phase 2″ in his network’s plan. Just like today, the affiliates will be major distributors of NBCU content, and vice versa, he said.

To this, Blake Krikorian of Sling Media said he believes TV stations have a big future, but only if they recognize that their content is going to be in many formats and played at different times. “It isn’t just about geographic exclusivity anymore,” he said. “It is about better ways to connect to your viewer.”

He noted that 35 percent to 40 percent of Sling Media’s current usage is spread out on screens around the home. “You want more screens to deliver the content,” he said. “It is part of an increasingly rich, interactive platform. The last thing you want is all your content in one place.”

Gannaway said he totally agreed. “You want your content in all these places. But you also want to control your own ad inventory.”

One of the “screens” that hasn’t really been developed yet is the mobile phone. Qualcomm head Paul Jacobs wants to change that with the company’s MediaFLO service, which broadcasts eight channels of live video via UHF to Verizon handsets. The falling price of memory allows non-real-time services to be delivered and stored on the phones, he said. That will allow MediaFLO to expand its content to niche programming.

While the content will initially flow through its San Diego hub, favoring national services, local stations may be able to take hold via “local insertion stations.” Whether or not it will happen “will be dictated by the economics of setting up local insertion centers,” said Jacobs.

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