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Online Trends

Online Trends

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

The cable brands are a major force online, but their performance over the air does not translate into the same position on the Web. MSNBC, No. 3 in cable television news, is the leader online, followed by CNN (an average of 29.2 million visitors per month at MSNBC, according to Nielsen net ratings, and 29.1 million for CNN). Both are among the top four brands in news on the Internet (along with Yahoo and AOL). Fox is a good many spots behind (No 15, at eight million visitors monthly).

Their popularity may owe something to the nature of how people use the Web for news. Cable is best known for immediacy, and now so is the Web. It is possible that the people who once tuned into cable on television are now seeking the same brands online. That may be leading to smaller audiences on cable television for breaking news.

The traditional broadcast networks have not been able to translate their brands quite as effectively, although they too are important Web destinations. (NBC’s Web site, however, is MSNBC.com, a brand shared with its cable network but produced on the campus of Microsoft in Washington state. It has a collaborative but more limited connection to either the cable channel or network news division.) ABCNews.com is the No. 8 news Web site, with an average 10.6 million unique visitors each month in 2007, according to Nielsen Online. And CBSNews.com is No. 11 at 9.2 million.

In 2007, in varying degrees, all three networks continued to build on earlier digital strategies, including aggressive video campaigns, unique online newscasts, and expanding anchor and reporter blogs.

But their fortunes may be heading in different directions. CBS, whose site looked so promising with the hiring of CBS MarketWatch founder Larry Kramer and was among the most accomplished sites in design two or three years ago, has appeared to back away from the net some in the last year. The network cut back on its online staff by 30% late in 2007. Kramer has been replaced and other leaders are leaving too.

For all the network sites, 2007 was a year of creating partnerships perhaps more than building the sites internally. ABCNews.com formed a partnership with Facebook, MSNBC.com joined with the New York Times and National Journal, and CBSNews.com teamed up with Digg.

Local television news was late to the Internet, but the evidence suggests that the industry continued to try to catch up. For the second year in a row, news directors in 2006 (the latest year for which there is data) noted that nearly all stations have Web sites. In the last quarter of 2006, 97% of them had their own Web sites and virtually all of these (98%) include local news. They also continue to add staff. According to the latest survey, stations had, on average, four newsroom staffers dedicated to their station Web sites, with two working full time.

Financially, however, these sites are still marginal. About a quarter of stations reported in 2006 that their sites are making money (23%), but according to the market research firm Borrell Associates, television stations generate only 1.5% to 3.5% of their revenues from Web operations.

Local stations also made headway in moving to another video platform – cell phones. The Open Mobile Video Coalition was formed with a mandate to bring over-the-air broadcast programming to mobile phones and other handheld devices, and included more than 700 local stations and nearly every major station group in the U.S.

Newspapers have become places of more innovation online, even adopting many of the traits of new media, from blogging to citizen content. And some of newspapers have become major players in traffic. The top newspaper Web site, NYTimes.com, ranks No. 5 overall among news sites (14.7 million visitors a month), followed by the combined sites of Tribune and Gannett. USA Today is the No. 2-ranked individual paper (and 10th over all among news sites at 9.6 million monthly visitors) followed by the WashingtonPost.com (No. 14 over all with 8.6 million visitors).

Magazines, particularly newsweeklies, continued their push online in 2007. Time, Newsweek, The Economist, the New Yorker and The Atlantic all redesigned or punched up their sites. Newsweek formally ended its seven-year distribution agreement with MSNBC to become a stand-alone Web site, and The Week launched its new site, applying its weekly aggregation model to the daily news cycle. And some of the sites are still toying with paid content. While Newsweek and The Atlantic went for free access, The Week put its most current issues behind a pay wall.

But the newsweekly sector has a long way to go financially. While business and consumer brand names filled Ad Age’s 2006 list of top 25 digital sites in overall digital revenue, only one newsmagazine, Newsweek, made the list – tying for last with only 5% as a percentage of the magazine’s net revenue.

The story in ethnic media online continues to be more checkered.

Those large media with scale and mass audience, as in English language versions, have had more success, but even here this is still an emerging platform, not a particularly robust one. Internet revenues are growing for Univision, accounting for $11.6 million through the first nine months of 2007, an increase of 26% from 2006. But that is a small fraction of the company’s overall revenue of $529 million for that same period.

ImpreMedia, which owns the leading Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión in Los Angeles and El Diario-La Prensa in New York, announced the creation of ImpreMedia Digital, led by its new CEO, Arturo Duran, who previously oversaw interactive and business integration at CanWest. The division plans to develop Web sites at the company’s 23 publications and acquire new digital media properties.

The charges, subsequent trial and protest marches in the Jena Six case in Louisiana underscored the opportunities for the Black Press, particularly online. Black newspapers orchestrated campaigns that drew in readers and created an opening for papers not only to reach out to younger readers with electronic messaging, but also to spotlight stories under-reported in the mainstream media.

Some promise is seen in the digital habits of the nation’s growing Asian-American communities – marketing studies put the number of Asians online at 11 million in 2007, and that is projected to grow to 14 million in four years.1

In the new arena of citizen media, the most well-known form of Web 2.0 activity, blogging, appeared to be growing as quickly as ever in 2007, but the evidence suggests that most Americans are not turning to blogs for news.

The technology of Web 2.0 has not only set new standards for community interaction among people online, so-called “netizens,” but it is also promising to challenge the definition of journalism as citizens take on the job themselves.

How far has it gone? A new study released in this report finds that most of the citizen Web sites and blogs exercise similar gatekeeper control over their sites as conventional media. Outsiders are not allowed generally to post original content, beyond commenting on the material from the site itself.

More momentum appears to exist in citizen agenda setting than reporting, at user-news sites like Digg, which allow visitors to choose and share what they define as news.


Footnotes

1. eMarketer, using historical data from the International Telecommunication Union as a baseline: http://www.emarketer.com/Reports/ All/Emarketer_2000413.aspx?src=report_head_info_sitesearch