PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Second report in a series on how
local stations can use their Web sites to generate new content
By Jeff Gralnick
||Imagine that you're starting from
scratch. You're going to build an interactive Web site that
will help your viewers touch you back, by using all the tools
at your disposal. Where can you look for a model?
Start by checking the group of sites coordinated
by the NBC owned stations. They have come up with a common design
that provides instant visual branding. Whether you are in Washington,
New York, Miami
or Los Angeles,
when you visit a site you know you are "home with NBC" by look and
feel. What these sites are all doing is making available to their
users many higher end interactive tools instead of just one or two
and that is something I would suggest as a necessary next step.
Employing these tools heightens a sense of community and can only
increase your page views.
What the NBC owned station sites offer is a suite
of interactive tools which they promote and integrate vigorously
in their on air product. In the aggregate they provide a much more
complete web experience. Here's a sample of what you find on these
sites all of which is adaptable and adoptable in any market in the
- User-provided images. At NBC30
in Hartford, CT, there's a request for "Hot Shots" clearly
displayed on the front page and a link to some "pick
of the litter" shots one click away on a page that keeps you
scrolling. This is handled better at the Miami site, where the
"Pic of the Day" is diplayed in a layered
archive page that is an invitation to keep on clicking. Each
photo is posted with a credit to the viewer/photographer, and
there's an e-mail link to send in your own pictures.
- User-provided content. The NBC
station sites enlist viewers as reporting eyes and ears, making
direct requests for information that can be useful to all viewers
and users and also makes for broadcast content. The current branded
effort for this station group is Pump Patrol which--you guessed
it--focuses on high gasoline prices and asks for viewer alerts
to good buys in their viewing areas. What has been created here
is a working definition of user-useful and user-friendly content.
WTVJ is making a similar effort with Traffic Busters asking
users for tips on trouble spots that the station will investigate
and then archive on its Web site.
- Feedback. NBC 30's home page also has a direct
path to make comments and blow off steam in a branded feature
which is pushed both on site and in on air news programming.
- Searchable video. All the NBC station sites
now offer video on demand and video search using FeedRoom
technology, which is also prominently displayed on all the home
pages. This is perhaps a step ahead of where many users are now,
but it's there for those who are ready. For those who aren't,
the link is an invitation into the future.
- More information. These stations offer an opportunity
for TV/Internet convergence with a :CueTV application that automatically
takes computer users to "drill-down material" on a story--news,
weather, sports or feature--being aired at that moment on one
of the station's news programs. The technology debuted last year
on WFAA-TV. While the application's future is uncertain, providing
it gives sites one more opportunity--for the moment, at least--to
stretch the possibilities of interaction.
This package of user-involvement and user-assist
tools combine to produce an on-site experience better than most
I have found. From one station's standpoint it is also working.
Ross Vinocur, NBC30's interactive manager, says "it is driving traffic
and we are seeing positive gains because of it." Beyond that, Vincocur
and his management chose not to comment, which is unfortunate. Their
unwillingness to share findings and experiences is a loss.
Other station Web sites have a few additional interactive
tools. Several Internet Broadcasting System sites offer a chat forum
on local and national issues. KCBS-TV, for example, calls its forum
"People's Poll." Like many other stations, including the
NBC group, KCBS offers free e-mail updates but the range here is
impressive, from breaking news every hour (choose them all, or specify
the hours) to a surf report, market updates and even a power crisis
If there is a flaw in the NBC sites, and there is,
it the mishandling of the simple but critically important function
of "Contact Us." NBC's Web designers shouldn't feel too bad, however,
because their problem is one that is epidemic on Web sites across
the country. Finding and using "Contact Us" is a challenge on almost
every site I toured either because of bad design or lack of thought,
which closes doors stations need desperately to keep open. If this
functionality is hard to use, what kind of message is that sending
and what's a user to think about the rest of the site?
On most of the NBC station front pages, "Contact
Us" is buried at the lower left, a lengthy scroll away from the
top of the page. On NBC30's site, it is even worse. To find a way
to reach out and touch the station, you'd probably scroll through
the home page looking for a "Contact Us" link, but you wouldn't
find one. If you eventually figured out where it's been hidden,
under the NBC30 pulldown menu in an upper navigation bar, you might
wonder why you even tried. The contact
page offers a phone number and an extremely retro postal mail
address, a link to a generic e-mail address, along with a list of
people you really would like to ping with e-mail. Under the same
pulldown menu, "E-mail Us" gets you a form with just three
options: Sound Off, general questions or Webmaster.
What you find on this site is what you find on
hundreds of others--either nothing or just an email box into which
you can enter a message and send it off in hopes that someone at
the station will see it and read it. In 2001, that's not nearly
Suggestions for a better "Contact Us" page.
Enlisting users to supply content.
Gralnick was in broadcast news for 43 years until electing semi-retirement
in 2001. His background includes 24 years at ABCNews as executive
and executive producer. While there he oversaw development and launch
of ABCNews.com. Currently he is doing Internet and media consulting
for a number of organizations including the University of Southern
California's Integrated Media Systems Center http://imsc.usc.edu