Must-See TV: Your Newspaper’s Classifieds?

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By: Steve Outing

We talk often about using multiple media platforms for distribution of news – PDAs,
mobile phones, e-book readers, Internet radio, etc. One platform that often gets left out of
the discussion is television. But TV, too, can be a platform for newspaper content.

So say the founders of Across Media
Networks, a Denver-based, 5-year-old venture that was founded by cable TV industry
veterans. They believe that there are revenue opportunities for newspapers that port their
classified advertising and other content to local cable TV channels.

At first blush, the idea of newspaper classifieds on TV seems quite unappealing. But the
coming of interactive TV (and to a lesser extent the growth in sales of personal network
recorders like Tivo and ReplayTV) could make cable television another
logical platform for newspaper advertising and even some editorial content.

TV plus Web

Across Media currently operates 115 local cable TV channels around the U.S., with a
reach of 5 million homes, along with companion Web sites for each channel. So far, the
channels mostly carry local, non-profit community announcements – which Across
Media reviews before it goes out on the TV channel and simultaneously to the companion
local Web site. (Some content providers, such as high school principals and law
enforcement officials, have “power user” status to add their messages to the channel
directly.)

Senior vice president Brad Bradberry says that as his company’s services evolve,
Across Media is just now starting to eye the newspaper business as a logical content
partner. He envisions a series of niche classified advertising TV shows, each featuring ads
from local newspapers.

For instance, imagine half-hour cable TV shows on autos, homes, employment, garage
sales, restaurant or entertainment listings, etc. A local show on cars might feature a
combination of videos from local auto dealers (or even private sellers), text ads from a
newspaper classifieds section, and enhanced classifieds featuring photos of cars for
sale.

Such shows are, of course, not interactive; viewers simply watch the information roll on-
screen and off. The TV stations’ companion Web sites carry more information and (of
course) are interactive, so there’s no doubt that TV is not the ideal medium for selling cars.
But, says Bradberry, the idea here is to target those people in a community who may not
be Internet users or even newspaper readers.

The niche TV programs can feature a variety of content, from simple text ads (no more
than about 25 words on a screen), to digital video, to “slide show” presentations. The
programs are all digital, stored on a server, and sent to cable company head
ends where the content is distributed to cable subscribers’ TVs.

Up-sell opportunity

The idea behind newspaper participation in such a scheme is that a paper’s classifieds
department would offer a TV “up-sell” – offering classifieds buyers the opportunity to
have their ads put on a niche TV program for an additional fee on top of what’s paid for
print and online publication.

Text ads from the newspaper that get carried on TV are aimed at referring viewers to
other media (the print edition or newspaper Web site) or the buyer. In an employment TV
program, for instance, succinct TV text ads refer job-hunters to longer print or Web ads,
an employer’s Web site, or an employer’s phone number.

Bradberry says the process for a newspaper in sending ads to Across Media can be a
simple matter of porting the up-sold ads. The only complication will be with ads longer
than 25 words – in which case the customer must write a shorter version of the ad
for TV use when placing the initial order with the newspaper.

A possibly larger opportunity comes in offering classified customers the opportunity to
purchase enhanced ads. Envision an ad buyer who seeks to sell a car or a house. With
TV added into the mix, the newspaper can collect fees for print publication of the ad; an
up-sell for running the ad on the paper’s Web site; an additional fee for an enhanced
online ad showing a video clip or virtual walkthrough on the Web; and a fee for a TV
version enhanced ad showing a video walkthrough of the house or slide-show photos of
the car.

While classifieds is an interesting notion for TV programs, even editorial content could be
utilized. A local TV program might be devoted to obituaries, for example, with advertising
revenues coming from funeral homes.

Show me the money

Is there any money in this? Bradberry claims that up-sell fees for a 100,000-circulation
newspaper could equal $100,000 or more in annual revenues – with a “very small”
amount of expenses involved in porting ads to the Across Media network. Revenues also
come from Across Media selling e-commerce services to local merchants. But making
money for newspapers is still conjecture at this point; the company doesn’t have examples
yet of newspaper publishers bringing in money for televised versions of their ads.

Peter Zollman, founding principal of Classified Intelligence LLC, a news,
information and consulting business that focuses on digital classifieds, says the idea of
putting newspaper content on television isn’t new – but the idea has yet to take off in
a big way. A typical model is for a newspaper to work with other companies to produce TV
programs about employment, real estate, and other niches where the newspaper is
strong.

Putting text ads on a cable channel isn’t compelling for the obvious reason that this
technique isn’t interactive. But Zollman thinks the concept might have promise once
interactive TV is rolled out – so TV customers will be able to scroll through or search
such niche-ad programming to find what they want.

While interactive TV has yet to make significant inroads in the U.S. market, there is
progress being made toward introducing services via U.S. cable companies. American
Online Time Warner (AOL) has pledged to make interactive TV a reality. And just this
week, InfoSpace agreed to integrate its interactive TV applications with Microsoft’s
television platform.

Interactive TV providers “are looking for anything that people will pay for and that
will bring them a buck,” says Zollman, so TV classifieds could show promise down the road.

Zollman says that video will shortly be a commonplace part of classified advertising on the
Web, particularly in the areas of employment, real estate, and autos. In the future, expect
video classifieds, then, to be part of the Web and TV-viewing experiences.

Will anybody be watching?

The big question about TV programs based on classified ads, of course, is will anyone
watch? Zollman says that the hard question that newspaper executives must ask
companies like Across Media is how much reach they have and the prospects of finding
an audience that’s worth the effort. “I’m all for newspapers finding additional channels for
distribution of classified ads,” he says, “but only where it makes sense, where value can
be delivered to the advertisers, and where money can be made from it.”

While niche TV programs about homes and autos look potentially promising, the strongest
sector in which to experiment would be employment, Zollman says. That’s because
employers are in the position these days of recruiting and convincing talent to work for
them.

Bradberry says that it’s surprising just how many people do watch these types of shows
– despite their low excitement quotient. In Colorado Springs, Colo., Across Media
has Channel 6 on the Aldephi cable line-up, where considerable viewing comes from
people clicking through the channels and watching the community listings and news
content for a while, he says.

Across Media currently has partnered with several cable companies as part of its initial
strategy, but is now ready to move with newspapers, Bradberry says. The company has
between 150 and 200 employees, with all but the sales force based in Denver. It is
privately funded from revenues and private investors, and the company has decided not to
seek venture capital funding at this time.

Other recent columns

In case you missed recent Stop The Presses!, here are links to the last few
columns:
o What’s Wrong With Today’s News Web Sites, Wednesday, Jan. 17
o What You Can Charge for on the Internet, Wednesday, Jan. 10
o Online News Advice for 2001, Wednesday, Dec. 27
o Archive of columns


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Got a tip? Let me know about it If you have a newsworthy item
about the online news/interactive news media business, please send me a
note.



This column is written by Steve
Outing for Editor & Publisher Online. Tips, letters and feedback
can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com


Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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