Digital City Leads in Media Partnerships

By: Steve Outing

As online city guide ventures like CitySearch, Digital City and Microsoft's Sidewalk continue to ramp up, local media in cities targeted by these companies continue to grapple with a dilemma: Do we partner with these people, or treat them solely as competitors.

The three big players in the online city guide field all seek out media partners to help them adequately cover the metro areas they are targeting. And they are finding more partners, thanks to an increasing willingness to offer more attractive deals to publishers than they did last year. Let's take a look at the media partnerships announced to date for the "big three" online city guide companies:


Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill, North Carolina -- The Independent (weekly arts and entertainment publication); WTVD-TV.
San Francisco -- KGGO-TV.
Austin, Texas -- KTBC-TV; KVC-TV; Clear Channel Radio (three FM stations and one AM station).
Salt Lake City, Utah -- KUTV-TV.
New York City -- Time Out New York (weekly arts/entertainment magazine).
Australia -- John Fairfax Holdings (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age/Melbourne).

Digital City

Atlanta -- Creative Loafing; Marietta Daily Journal; WGNX-TV, Channel 46; Atlanta Theater Weekly; WKLS-FM 96 Rock radio.
Boston -- Boston Phoenix; Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.; WLVI-TV, Channel 56; New England Cable News; New England Sports Network; WFNX-FM radio.
Chicago -- Chicago Tribune; WGN-TV/radio; AM-1000 radio.
Dallas -- Plano Star Courier/Harte Hanks Community Newspapers; Denton Publishing/Denton Record-Chronicle; KYNG-FM country radio; KTVT-TV, Channel 11.
Denver -- KYGO radio; Jefferson Sentinel; Westword; KWGN-TV, Channel 2.
Fort Lauderdale -- Sun Sentinel.
Hampton Roads, Virginia -- Daily Press.
Los Angeles -- LA Daily News, LA Weekly; KCRW; XTRA Sports 690 radio.
Minneapolis -- Star Tribune.
Orlando, Florida -- Orlando Sentinel.
Philadelphia -- Philadelphia Weekly; Philadelphia Magazine; KYW-AM News radio.
Phoenix -- Arizona Republic.
San Diego -- City Sports Magazine; KGTV, Channel 10; San Diego magazine; XTRA Sports 690 radio.
San Francisco -- Bay City News Inc.; Bay TV; Sports Channel.
Tampa, Florida -- Weekly Planet.
Washington, D.C. -- Generation Next; News Channel 8; WHFS radio; Washingtonian magazine.

Microsoft Sidewalk

Seattle -- Seattle Weekly/Eastside Week (alternative news/entertainment weeklies); Foghorn Press (guidebook publishers); Sasquatch Books (city/regional guidebook publishers).
New York -- Village Voice (weekly newspaper to provide entertainment listings, but no Voice branding on New York Sidewalk site).
Minneapolis -- City Pages (alternative news/entertainment weekly).

In addition to these announced media partnerships, each of these companies reports that negotiations are ongoing with other potential partners, some of which they expect to unveil soon. Media companies also have a financial interest in them. The Tribune Co. has a 20% stake in Digital City Inc., and CitySearch has received financial backing from Torstar Corp. (publisher of the Toronto Star), Simmons New Media and Comcast.

Sweetened deals

Digital City currently is the most aggressive of the three companies at courting media partners, as its long list of partners above demonstrates. Last month it announced an "affiliate program" that treats media partners in the same way that local television stations are affiliates of the broadcast networks. This is meant to address one of the biggest concerns of publishers thinking about allying with the online city guides: the loss of top priority for the publisher's brand.

One new media director at a large U.S. newspaper (who asked to remain unidentified) says he spent some time with Digital City representatives at the recent E&P Interactive Newspapers conference in Houston, and came away feeling that DCI was much more accommodating to his needs than when he met with them last year. For now, he's not considering an alliance due to priorities within his own company, but expressed open-mindedness about considering a partnership with DCI should they approach him with a specific, lucrative deal.

Deals are being cut that allow a media outlet to be part of a local Digital City, yet provide limited content that can drive traffic to the publisher's own Web site, where more complete offerings are available.

At Sidewalk, the emphasis remains on building the service, with media partnerships taking a back seat temporarily, according to Sidewalk group manager Dave Chase. Negotiations are ongoing with numerous potential partners, but announcements are likely to come slowly through this year and beyond.

Chase says that while there's some commonality about the deals that Sidewalk will do with media partners, there's quite a bit of flexibility. In the deal with the Seattle alternative papers, they will provide content to Seattle Sidewalk that will be branded with the papers' names. On the other hand, New York Sidewalk has done a deal with the Village Voice, where the Voice provides New York entertainment listings yet the Voice brand name will not appear on the site. For the Voice, the deal is a source of income and technology from Microsoft, which helps the Voice's independent online efforts while not sharing its brand name with a competitor. Microsoft's willingness to craft such a deal is a new development, says Chase.

Proceeding cautiously

Despite the increasing number of deals between the city guides and local media, many publishers remain skeptical and cautious about alliances. Several newspaper new media directors not yet affiliated with any city guide company who were contacted for this column expressed a willingness to consider alliances, yet had concerns about entering a business arrangement with these companies. Becoming a subsidiary brand on another's city guide site is one concern, but for those with small new media staffs, there's fear that providing content to a third party will distract attention and resources from building out their own online ventures to full potential.

It's interesting to note that among the existing city guide media partners are a good number of TV and radio stations. Some observers of the online city guide industry believe these to be primarily promotional deals, since the guides won't get a lot of content from these partnerships but will gain much needed on-air advertising for the sites. Companies like CitySearch, which to date has announced mostly TV station partnerships, will need to get more newspaper publishers on board.

Everyone in the fledgling online city guide business seems to acknowledge the importance of acquiring media partners. Commented CitySearch CEO Charles Conn recently, "It would be arrogant to assume that we could do it all on our own. Our partners bring deep competence in many types of local information, such as news, sports and weather, and have long-standing relationships in the community."


Previous day's column| Next day's column | Archive of columns
This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here