Lagging Online, TV Stations Get Moving

[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, AUTHOR: Brooks Barnes [email protected] and Emily Steel]
Local TV stations are launching a blitz of Internet initiatives as they race to catch up online. Once considered a license to print money, TV stations have suffered body blows from the Web. Lucrative 11 p.m. newscasts are sinking in the ratings as more viewers go to the Internet for cable channels to get weather and sports information. Viewers no longer have to tune in to catch shows such as ABC's "Lost" because networks are making programming available all over the Web. And key TV advertisers such as auto manufacturers are moving cash toward online campaigns. While newspapers have had success building heavily trafficked Web sites, "people still don't automatically think to visit a TV-station Web site," says Brent Magid, chief executive officer of media consultancy Frank Magid Associates Inc. "Stations need to do something online to get noticed." Complacency and greed are two reasons station operators have fallen so far behind, say media analysts and consultants. The majority of local stations enjoyed 40% profit margins as recently as the mid 1990s (compared with 25% to 30% today) because they had little competition. Many didn't see a need to invest in their Web operations as a result, says Magid. Some were leery of moving too quickly online after getting burned when the dot-com bubble burst. Others resisted building up their Web sites for fear of giving viewers a reason to switch off the TV set.
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