RTDNA Research: What stations are doing online

March 27, 2017 01:30

By Bob Papper, Professor Emeritus - Hofstra University
This is the first of nine installments for this year in a series of reports developed from RTDNA's annual survey of newsrooms across the United States. Topics in the series will be released every two weeks, including what's new online, social media and mobile strategies, television and radio budgets and profits, stations doing news, news director profiles, and our most popular areas of research; broadcast newsroom staffing, women and minorities in newsrooms, and newsroom salaries. Reports are added here as they are released.

The stations online survey highlights:
  • The most important new things stations are doing online
  • Must-haves and optionals for station websites
  • Exclusive web content and user-generated content
What's the most important new thing the station is doing online?
This may be the best year yet for answers to what’s new online.  In TV, there were more than 200 answers, and quite a few were far more detailed than in past years. 
More than three-quarters (77.6%) of TV news directors said they were doing something new and important online this past year; 22.4% said they were doing nothing new.  The smallest markets and the smallest newsrooms were least likely to be innovating.  Fox affiliates and stations in the West led the charge.
As in the past, content remains king, with nearly two-thirds of the responses relating, in some fashion, to content.  Lots of news directors just noted Facebook Live, and as I’ll detail in our upcoming article on social media, this was the year everyone who didn’t dive into Facebook Live the year before joined in the party.
The bigger point is that what was new online was more content:
  • More live events
  • More newscasts made available
  • A big jump in content designed specifically for the web and for mobile
  • Series on heroin and homelessness – just for the web or web first
  • iMovies just for the web rather than re-packaged video from newscasts
  • New websites for millennials… rebuilding websites for younger appeal… for local sports
  • Special digital only newscasts, interview programs, newscasts for another market
  • New, better and just more web content
  • Experimenting with 360 degree photos and videos
  • Long form digital (only) storytelling
  • Making sure the website has slideshows and video extras not included in newscasts
  • More information graphics
  • Several stations noted new podcasts, although the overall TV trend is fewer and fewer podcasts
  • More user-generated content… and more directed UGC
  • Special election and political content
  • Not just posting video stories but also text versions of the stories
“Quickly identifying big stories that will involve ongoing news coverage and creating a single page to house all of that specific content.”
“We create graphics on the homepage where the user can easily find this content.”
“When a newscast isn’t on, streaming the last newscast and/or news events.”
“Always streaming something.”
“Built a new set for web-based programming.”
After content, the next biggest category involved new strategy and design. 
  • More clickable content
  • More selective content (rather than just posting everything)
  • More sharing among corporate sister stations
  • One newsroom combined multiple station websites into one … another split apart a combined website
  • Training more news people on posting to the web
  • Enforcing posting requirements
  • Tight monitoring of online metrics
  • There were a bunch of digital hires: reporters, producers, executive producers
  • More listening to online postings and conversations
There were more directives at digital first… but also more efforts to push people to the web and, especially, to on air.
More push alerts… more apps… more contests.
Software included Videolicious, Twitter, Instagram and Tagboard.
Note that there’s a fine line between online and social media… so be sure to check out the social media article coming up in April.
In radio, the percentage saying they started something important online in 2016 rose by 8.5 to 55.5%.  More than two-thirds of non-commercial stations said they started something new, and over half of commercial stations said the same.  The bigger the staff and the larger the local group, the more likely that the station started something new online.  Market size had little to do with it, although the smallest markets were a little behind all the others.
This year, more than a 120 radio news directors and general managers explained what they did.  The challenge, of course, is to convert this year’s amorphous answers into a succinct summary.
  • The top answer, at 31.4%, related to streaming.  Half said streaming, including 24 hour streaming, streaming events, newscasts and video; half referenced Facebook Live… which included events, more coverage, news teases and special broadcasts
  • At 18.2% came more and better.  More and better posting, digital, targeting, news, audio
  • Tied for third, at 9.9%… website redesign to make it better, easier to use, more attractive, etc.
  • That tied with software other than Facebook.  That included Twitter, Instagram, Hootsuite, YouTube, SoundCloud and NPR One.  Note that only Twitter and Instagram were mentioned by more than one person
  • At 9.1%, by itself, Facebook.  More news posted to it, more active with it, better postings, added fan pages
  • At 7.4%, more video
  • At 4.1%, introducing or adding a station app
  • A three-way tie at 3.3% included streaming sports games (football, basketball and baseball were all mentioned)… introducing a first or new podcast… and finding a way to monetize online
Then it was just single or double responses.  Except for the group that said it didn’t know.
Who has web sites? 2017

For the sixth year in a row, I didn't find a single TV station (that runs local news) that doesn't have a website.

Radio still hasn't hit 100%, and this year’s percentage of 96.5 is actually down more than two points from a year ago.  Most of the stations without websites were commercial stations, and most were in smaller markets… and not in the West.

In TV, once again, every website (of stations that air local news) includes local news.  That's been true for the last seven years.  Radio numbers moved up two and a half points from last year.  Most of the laggards were one-person newsrooms.  Of course, most radio newsrooms are one person.     
Elements of local news web sites 2017

Note that both TV and radio lists of elements (above) run in order from highest percentage of stations having that web element to lowest percentage.
Television websites
This year, we can divide TV website elements into four groups (down from last year’s six). 
  • There’s the virtually everybody has it group: news video, still pictures, text and live streaming. 
  • There’s the, you really should be doing it or you’re not playing with the big boys and girls: event calendar, live newscasts, mobile-related, user generated content and live cameras. 
  • Optional extras: audio, recorded newscasts and blogs. 
  • Who cares category: streaming audio and podcasts.
Over the last year, what changed in station websites in a meaningful way?  Mobile related and live cameras went up.  Blogs went down.  Audio and steaming audio plunged, and podcasts continued their slow, steady fall.
Radio websites

There were relatively few big changes in radio websites.  The biggest were in the event calendar and podcasts – both up around 6 points.  Also up: still pictures and audio.  So was live streaming, which didn’t make the list a year ago.  Down: text, mobile and blogs.
Percentage of web content that's only on the web 2017

In TV, the percentage of web only content continues to edge up.  Two and a half points up this year after a 2 point increase last year and 3 points the year before.  Stations with 30 or more news staffers went up, while stations with fewer news people than that went down a little.  CBS and Fox affiliates are about 7 points higher than ABC and NBC affiliates.

Radio edged up a point this year after going up 5 points a year ago.  Small markets actually rose the most – almost 10 points.  Commercial stations widened their lead over non-commercial stations in this category.  The spread rose from 5 points a year ago to 8 points this time around.  Interestingly, staff not only makes no difference, it’s the reverse of what you might expect: the smaller the staff, the higher the percentage of web only material.
Percentage of web content that's user-generated  2017

This is another area I keep expecting to see growth ... which doesn't come.  The overall number in TV is up less than a point from last year.  Again.  And again (three years running).  Almost all the growth (such as it was) came in the smallest newsrooms and the smallest markets. 

Radio fell by about two and a half points. Note that the smaller the market, the higher the percentage of user generated content.  Of course, that could be interpreted a number of ways.  No other variable made much difference.    
Web traffic
TV station website traffic during the past 30 days 2017

Overall, in TV, page views were down more than 2 million compared to last year, but unique visitors went up by 70,000.  That’s exactly the opposite from a year ago.  In page views, top 25 markets and the smallest markets both went up, but all others fell.  In unique visitors, only the biggest markets and 51 to 100 went up.  Again, the bigger the newsroom, the higher the page views and unique visitors.  Kinda like getting what you pay for. 
Radio station web traffic has been reported by too few news directors and general managers for me to break down the numbers beyond an overall figure.  Still with just about one-quarter of news directors and general managers reporting, the overall, average monthly page views came in at 338,600, and average monthly unique visitors were 53,400.  Page view numbers are up 27% from a year ago, but unique visitors are down 18%. 
Note that web staffing numbers and newsroom participation in working on the web are included in the staffing article.  Web profitability, selling stuff on the web and paywalls are discussed in the business of news articles, coming up in April and May.

Bob Papper is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Hofstra University and has worked extensively in radio and TV news.  This research was supported by the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
About the Survey
The RTDNA/Hofstra University Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2016 among all 1,684 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,987 radio stations. Valid responses came from 1,409 television stations (83.7%) and 430 radio news directors and general managers representing 1,151 radio stations. Some data sets (e.g. the number of TV stations originating local news, getting it from others and women TV news directors) are based on a complete census and are not projected from a smaller sample.