CBS has launched a new iPad app offering access to content from its local TV, radio and online properties in 24 major markets nationwide, including the top 10. The free “YourDay” app also features content from CBS-owned sites such as Chow.com, CNet and CBSSports.com.
Ezra Kucharz, president, local digital media at CBS, unveiled the iPad app at a conference as the latest example of the media giant’s efforts to ramp up local digital initiatives.
During the last two years under Kucharz, CBS has revamped local media sites, extended content across online and mobile platforms and pushed to integrate digital sales specialists with traditional TV and radio sales teams within its 30 markets.
Citing comScore data, Kucharz said that from 2010 to 2011, monthly average unique visitors on local CBS Sites are up 43%, total listening hours for streams are up 20%, and total listing hours per session is up 18%. He also noted that as of last month, the number of monthly mobile visitors (including via tablets) has more than doubled since October 2010.
CBS local properties across TV, radio, online and mobile reach a total audience of 83 million a week, said Kucharz. He attributed that total to the company’s focus on “quadcasting” or streaming content across all four outlets.
On the financial side, local digital revenue has increased 40% from 2010 to 2011, and 20% excluding expenses, said Kucharz, without disclosing actual dollar figures during his presentation. He also noted that margins have increased 2,000%.
One of the key strategies has been to consolidate separate Web properties in a given market into one local online hub. In New York, for example, different sites for WCBS-TV (Channel 2), WFAN, 1010 WINS and WCBS 880 were combined into one property — CBSNewYork.com — leading to traffic gains beyond the total of the combined audiences for the four properties. Kucharz said CBS has now replicated that approach in 25 markets.
The changes have been heavily guided by user data, with new or updated sites launched when only 80% or 90% complete to begin gathering information about usage immediately. “We pour gasoline on the fire of things that are working and shut down things that aren’t,” said Kucharz, who added that CBS’ digital overhaul has not involved a big technology investment.
But the company has beefed up digital sales efforts. Kucharz didn’t specify how many of CBS Local’s 1,700 ad sales people focused on digital, but said it has adopted a hybrid approach to sales. “We have a number of over-the-air sellers who are really good at selling digital, so they sell both,” he said. Others continue to sell mainly traditional TV and radio spots, while still others focus mainly on digital sales.
Using that integrated model, digital ad revenue increased 50% last year, while local commerce (directories, local offers, e-commerce) went up 200%, said Kucharz.
Another key internal change Kucharz highlighted was removing local authority over digital operations. “We have the digital teams leading the activities, with the news and program directors involved, but the program and news directors don’t call the direct shots on sites, because the sites aren’t just about news anymore — they are about different types of content,” he said.
That includes non-news offerings like local daily deals and music streaming from CBS’ 130 radio stations. In that vein, the company last month launched its Audio Roadshow app, which encourages people to tune into Mike Francesa’s show on WFAN and allows users to offer instant feedback on segments and submit their own 10-second audio clips.
Kucharz said the initial response has been strong, with listeners submitting an average of 150 audio files per show and the average segment poll drawing 2,000 votes. More locally focused digital properties like the new YourDay and Audio Roadshow apps will be rolled out in the coming months, he added.
In a forecast presented earlier at the conference Wednesday, Borrell predicted that local online ad revenue will grow 21.1% from $16.4 billion in 2011 to $19.9 billion this year. Over the next four years, that total will grow at an annual average rate of 11.2% to $27.9 billion in 2016.
Pure-play Internet companies accounted for the largest chunk of local online ad dollars last year, with 46.2%, followed by newspapers (24.7%), directories (12%) broadcast (12%), radio (1.8%), and cable/satellite (1%).
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