Thursday, June 5, 2008

Local Media-Global and Close to Home

Borrell Associates recently released its 2008 survey of local media. The two largest shares go to pureplays (57%) and newspapers (25%). According to Borrell’s 2007 survey newspaper had a share of 40%, “but pure-play internet companies (Google, Yahoo!,Monster et al.) are hot on their heels, with 33.2 percent.” Right on both counts! I wonder if anyone anticipated the rapidity of the shift (download both 2008 and 2007 here).

It is happening globally, in case you have any doubt. Yesterday’s MarketingCharts featured a report from the World Association of Newspapers that shows a remarkable move to digital media. As I read the chart, it also shows a large increase in the time people are spending with media overall, which should bode well for an informed population. TV’s global share of advertising dollars is pretty stable, but newspaper’s continues to decline. According to the report, though, “Despite the slowdown of global print advertising spending, print remains the second most popular advertising medium, and by far claims the lion's share of spending over digital media” (download the executive summary here). For the time being anyway.

Put those data against a recent article in the WSJ (subscription required) about the struggling “hyperlocal” site, a product of the Washington Post that focuses on a single Virginia county. I took a look at it, and have some observations.

It’s certainly focused. There’s a link to the Washington Post home page, but the content is exclusively from Loudoun county. And it’s pretty exclusively news—take a look at the main nav bar if you don’t have time to visit the site itself. All the articles in all the sections except Deals (where it doesn’t make sense) have a comment function. There are very few comments; that shows on the individual articles and on their “Most Commented” tab on the home page.

I took a look at the blogs page, because that seems the obvious place for a lot of interaction. There are many personal blogs about the local community linked here, but they don’t seem terribly active either.

The site seems to be doing all the right things—except maybe one. There are ads and listings but no ability to make comments about specific businesses or venues. For instance, on the Museums and Historic Sites you can submit a comment on that page, but I can’t find a way to submit a comment or to rate my visit to Mount Vernon, one of the sites listed. That seems to be one of the more popular activities on other local sites, and I can see why a newspaper site might not want to take a chance on offending advertisers. I also can’t find an opportunity to upload photos of my visit to Mount Vernon, and that’s another popular activity on local sites.

So not only is this site perhaps too focused on a specific local area, I’d suggest it’s too focused on news and not enough on user interaction. My sentiments only, but it’s an interesting hypothesis. For whatever reason, this doesn’t seem to be the business model as print newspapers work to expand their digital franchise.

Any other examples of local sites, successful or otherwise, and insights about the reasons?

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