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40 percent of TV websites report profitability; survey finds page views, traffic climb

TV website traffic and page views are up over last year, and nearly half of all TV websites break even or are profitable.

Those are two of the findings from the latest Hofstra University-RTDNA annual station survey of newsrooms. Findings from the "2012 TV and Radio News Staffing and Profitability Survey," provide a snapshot of the general health of TV and radio news.

According to the survey, 39.7 percent of news directors reported their websites were in the black, and 8.6 percent break said they were breaking even. Only 10.3 percent reported losing money on their stations' websites, while 41.4 percent didn't know whether or not they were profitable.

In the 14 years Bob Papper, chair of the Hofstra University Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations, has conducted the survey, the 39.7 percent level is the highest ever achieved for TV website profitability, he said. Overall, the percentage of TV news directors reporting website profitability climbed 8 percent from the previous year, while those in the red declined by 5 points.

The survey also revealed that bigger newsrooms had a better chance at making a profit online, with most of the websites of Top 50 TV market stations reporting profitability, Papper found.

The survey also revealed significant growth in TV web traffic compared to the previous year. For all TV websites, page views climbed 19 percent compared to the 2011 survey, and the number of unique visitors rose 35 percent, the survey found.

The survey also found that the percentage of content exclusive to the Web on TV websites fell 3.5 percent. Overall, 25.1 percent of content on TV websites is only used online, it found. The percent of content that is user-generated also declined by one point to 8.1 percent compared to the previous year's findings.

When it came to staffing for the Web, overall stations reported 2.1 people spending all of their time working on the Web, and 1.2 people working part time, the survey found. Not surprisingly, the larger the market, the more full time people assigned to the Web. For instance, the average number of full-time people assigned to the Web in the Top 25 markets was 4.1 but only 1.2 in markets 101 and higher, the survey found. Among all TV stations, 78.3 percent reported that other staff members help with the Web, it said.

According to Papper, the survey also found no big changes in the role news directors have with their stations' websites, but "a subtle shift" may be going on. The survey found 21.5 percent of news directors report being "in charge overall" of their stations' websites; 70.5 percent say they are "in charge of news content only," while 3 percent say they have "no management role" with the website and 5 percent describe their role as "other."

The former two categories declined slightly compared to the previous year, while the latter two grew a bit. "It could just be the vagaries of survey research from one year to the next, but since some stations are separating the news responsibilities, we may just be seeing the beginning of a trend," Papper wrote in his report on the findings.