Looking For Lessons In Hyperlocal Hoopla

By Chris Kouba
NetNewsCheck.com, février 23, 2010 9:38 AM EST

Over at TVNewsCheck.com, Harry Jessell has written a column about Hyperlocal’s $12 billion opportunity for TV stations. The column has a lot great points, and indeed, there’s a great opportunity for TV stations to gain some ground with online publishing.

To be sure, there’s big business in helping small- and medium-sized businesses – $12 billion if you count what Yellow Pages earn, and we’ve seen other recent estimates of $50 billion a year. Consumers spend a lot of money close to home, with a lot of local companies who want better and cheaper ways to connect with local consumers. And there’s a ton of Internet innovation creating new ways to do exactly that.

So sure, there’s a huge advertising shift happening in every TV station’s backyard.

And sure, it’s an opportunity for TV stations to pursue.

But it’s going to be a crowded race. Digital marketing for local SMBs is a primary focus not only for Yellow Page companies, but also for Google, Facebook, Yelp, Angie’s List and more Internet pure-plays than you can count. Newspapers and TV stations have been trying to crack the space with local search and on-line yellow pages for more than 10 years, along with a myriad of blogging and citizen journalism efforts. National media brands like ESPN, NPR and the New York Times are rolling out local efforts, as are Internet brands like MSN’s Everyblock, AOL’s Patch network and freelance-style Examiner.com.

In time this column is being written, the New York Times announced a college partnership to manage another hyperlocal site in New York City, and Google started testing $25 “sponsored links” to pair up with local search results.

It’s as if last decade’s digital cry of “there is no local” has been replaced with “all Internet is local.”

That’s why we’re starting NetNewsCheck.com. Media is being transformed in large part by new online innovators, and traditional media players are finding many of their distinct differences offline erased in the digital world. Local Online Media is emerging a new industry, full of players around the corner and across the country – but many think of themselves as part of some other industry first. It’s rare to find coverage and commentary about all of the players in one place, and we hope to fill that gap.

Which brings us back to the neighborhoods around Seattle, where Fisher Communications’ TV station signed up 1,000 small-business advertisers in 6 months after launching dozens of neighborhood news sites. That’s what’s fueling excitement among TV stations – and it should. In most markets (though not all), stations have been slower to innovate online than newspapers and yellow pages. Seeing some success, particularly with a vendor that raises hopes for replicating in other markets, is bound to raise cheers.

It also raises an interesting point about one of local TV’s advantages online. Like Internet pureplays, TV sees local SMBs as new territory. Thousands of local SMBs have never been TV customers, so there’s no fear of cannibalization or of trading analog dollars for digital dimes (at least for those clients). It’s all new revenue, supported by what’s presumably a lower-cost content than the on-air news. For TV, this is playing offense, not defense. (The flip side is inexperience in serving lots of smaller clients, which would be a strength for yellow pages and newspapers.)

Some other interesting points about Fisher’s hyperlocal solution:

  • They seem to be avoiding the trap of developing hyperlocal content with targeted advertising in tandem.
  • They were willing to gain speed by outsourcing – even outsourcing sales itself. (Fisher is an investor in its hyperlocal vendor, DataSphere, which may have alleviated any worries there).
  • As best I can tell, this still about display advertising, not optimizing direct consumer contact through search, directories or social-media optimization.

That last point is a big issue that TV and newspapers have in common: Do they want to remain content-driven ad businesses, or do they want to offer a full suite of marketing solutions? That’s what yellow pages are doing, acting as a marketing agency in selling a bundle of multimedia directory, SEO and social-messaging services. There’s no question that there’s new revenue to pursue there, but it’s a different business from traditional content-driven media. And it’s one that can be run from around the corner or across the country.

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