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Newspaper video news stories emerge as competitive force on the Web

Internet video is proving to be a double-edged sword for local stations. On the one hand, it offers TV stations a way to appeal to new audiences and, reach existing viewers when they’re away from home. On the other, it opens the door to new forms of competition from old rivals: local newspapers.

A study of newspaper Web sites released in July from The Bivings Group revealed that 92 percent of the top 100 U.S. newspaper Web sites now offer video — up from 61 percent the year before. The study also found that 39 of those newspapers are originating their own video content for distribution on their sites.

Johnathon Howard, director, Broadcast and Media Publishing for Avid Technology, has a unique perspective on this battle. With clients in both markets, Howard has a ringside seat to this unfolding competitive struggle.

IPTV Update: Could you describe the competitive effect on television news of newspapers beginning to put video on their Web sites?

Johnathon Howard: One of the reasons I got very interested in this topic is we were doing our quarterly business review, and a strange thing started coming up. We are actually selling a lot of gear into newspapers and other publications. You can actually attribute that to Gannett, Hearst-Argyle and Tribune — the folks that own both TV stations and newspapers. But there actually are a lot of newspapers in particular that are buying Avid gear and using the Web as their TV station essentially.

IPTV Update: For a few years, there’s been talk of convergence, but with mixed reviews. Yet you are seeing it?

Johnathon Howard: Gannett has been our partner for a long time. I know it is training each one of its newspapers as quickly as it possibly can, and putting a video camera and a laptop editor in front of them and really changing the way they do stories.

You’re going to have more competition out there. If you look at the nature of how each one of the different disciplines, meaning newspapers and TV stations, do a story, it's a very different type of storytelling. If you think about how you compete on TV, you can do a lot more news. So you are cramming a lot more news into an hour or half hour, and you try to do more and more.

Or, you add more newscasts, but a lot of times you don’t hire a lot more people, so you really can’t get the coverage you need to fill up each of those newscasts with unique content.

One of the biggest things I’ve seen — and that I find frustrating — is that we hear broadcasters saying, “For more information, go to our web site at www.whatever,” and when you go to that Web site, it has the exact same content you saw on TV. It's not unique content.

The interesting thing about newspapers is instead of going out to get the story like we do with TV, it's an interesting phenomenon that is happening. The way that most newspaper reporters will get a story is to let the story unfold for them.

As they're doing it, that really allows them to let whatever the subject matter is tell the story rather than them standing up and giving a point of view, or a biased context to that story. So it really lets you as a viewer of the newspaper site determine what the real story is.

IPTV Update: So, there is a visible difference in the way both media use video to tell a news story.

Johnathon Howard: If you look at the typical story done from a newspaper discipline on the Web, there's very rarely a voice track. There's very rarely a stand up of any sort. It's actually the story, and it sort of tells itself. It's also much more relaxed; it’s not shoving it down your throat. The average story is probably a minute or minute and a half. It’s very pleasant.

If you really look at what TV stations are trying to do in order to compete, they're trying to do more news with the same amount of people. However, if you look at the ratio between newspaper reporters and TV reporters, it could be as many as 20 to one.

That means if you put a video camera and an editor in the hands of every one of those folks, you're going to get an awesome amount of content, and it's all going to be very unique.

The only portal they have to publish that material unless they’re affiliated with a TV station is the Web site. So, if you look at what the big benefits are for a TV station as far as competing and brand loyalty, what’s that brand loyalty? It's the anchors. It’s the people you’ve seen for many years. Newspapers have that sort of hyper local sense as well just by the brand name.

So, if you like the Boston Globe, you’ll go to the Boston Globe. If you like your little town’s paper, chances are you're going to take it down to the hyper local calendar. What’s happening in Atkinson, NH, over the next month?

So, if you really think about it, they are bringing the newspaper experience to the Web, which is very interesting. If you look at a newspaper, you go to your favorite section. You take your own time; you browse through things. You don't read the things you don’t want to read. It’s a leisurely skip-through-and-get-all-the-information-you-want experience.

Unfortunately with TV, if you rely on your TV broadcast, that's a very structured thing. You have about 30 seconds to tell your story. You have to go through and parse out what you think the viewers want to see. So, it's not a very freestyle type of viewing.

IPTV Update: Given these differences in approach, how do you think TV news can compete most effectively on the Web?

Johnathon Howard: I think broadcasters really need to start paying attention to their Web content. It really can't be this reuse of what was on air. If you are successfully driving people from your news broadcast to your Web content, it needs to be something unique.

Generally, when you go out and shoot footage for a story, you might have a 30-minute tape that's chocked full of great footage. You probably used about 15 or 20 seconds of it during that 30-second story.

So, there's a lot of content there that you're already paying someone to generate. What you need are tools that really enable you to use that content when it’s new and fresh and not as an afterthought.

That's really the gist of what really hit me. You know, TV stations have really pioneered a workflow that works great for them. There's another discipline that's actually adopting that, and if stations are not careful, newspapers are going to start providing much more content — and quite frankly better content and unique content — than traditional broadcasters are.

IPTV Update: As you noted, there is a workforce disparity between TV and newspapers. Can technology offer a solution to level the playing field a bit?

Johnathon Howard: That’s the beautiful thing about technology. Since everything is basically file-based now, that means that you can get access to content as soon as it exists. I don't have to worry about this linear process where I can’t start my job until you're done with that tape, for example.

If you digitize it, I can start using that in the Web department the same as the guys doing the breaking news. That's really what’s been missing I think. During the budgeting cycle, during the planning cycle for broadcasters, the Web is this necessary evil of the moment.

We really have to start understanding that the Web is no longer a necessary evil; it's going to be part of survival going forward for traditional broadcasters. The technology has gotten to the point where competitors can start coming from every angle; everyone is fighting for the eyeballs that the TV stations previously owned.

IPTV Update: Newspapers have the same access to those same workflows and digital files advantages, so with those things being equal, won’t television stations be a tough spot?

Johnathon Howard: The important thing to keep in mind is that television newsrooms need to get out in front of this right now. They have the talent pool that knows how to crank out a lot of content. They also already have the infrastructure in place.

If you plan for it and put the right tools in place right now, there’s still time.

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