San Diego Newspaper Makes $3M 'TV' Play
While most newspapers continue to experiment with video on their websites, U-T San Diego went ahead and built itself a TV station.
U-T TV, a nearly $3 million investment that added 60 employees to a newsroom of 160, quietly began streaming original content in late May. The station also migrated to TV: It gained carriage on the local Cox Communications cable system in July, adding AT&T U-verse in November.
And in addition to that, the station also streams on its own URL, UTTV.com.
Presently, U-T TV produces 12 hours of content daily, much of it following a cable news model. In 2013, that amount of original content will go up to 24 hours a day.
That’s right: By next year, San Diego will have its own 24-hour TV news outlet streaming right out of the offices of its daily newspaper. What would Ron Burgundy say?
“We certainly jumped in feet first,” said Mike Hodges, president and chief operating officer of U-T San Diego.
How the paper lands from that jump investment-wise — with a thud or a running start — will likely send waves through the newspaper world as it continues struggling to find its digital place, especially on the revenue front.
U-T San Diego, which was acquired by Manchester Lynch Integrated Media LLC in December 2011 from Platinum Equity, initially considered partnering with a local TV station, Hodges said. The market already has a successful partnership on that front between Voice of San Diego, a nonprofit news site, and KNSD, the city’s NBC owned and operated affiliate.
But after looking at the possibilities, U-T San Diego concluded that “instead of partnering, we might as well just build it ourselves,” Hodges said, seeing it as a play to build audience and boost revenue through more video ads and sponsorship opportunities. He said traffic on the site’s U-T TV pages have increased by 102% from May to November.
“We saw what was happening in television and said here we are with 160 content providers in our newsroom,” Hodges said of the impetus for the station. “How can we leverage that and get into the TV space?”
J.R. Mahon, director of news and programming for U-T TV, said he had about two-and-a-half months to get the project running. That involved taking over a corner of the main newsroom and building a full production facility straight up from the studs, complete with a Studio A and small Studio B, an engineering room and six full edit bays.
“It’s a full television facility with multicamera switching ability, live ability and pre-tape ability,” Mahon, a 27-year television veteran, said. “It has a full control room with all Ross integrated products right now.”
The facility also includes four studio-configured rigs with teleprompters, and six JVC GY-HM790 ProHD cameras. Just about the only gear U-T San Diego took a pass on were news vans.
“We don’t do any microwave transmission whatsoever,” Mahon said. Instead, the paper has five LiveU backpack cameras that it deploys for field reports, “and those suckers get used every single day,” he said.
The paper’s 60 new hires include engineers, producers, production associates and eight specific “on-air” talent, although many of the paper’s regular staffers are tapped on-camera and off to provide fodder for its 12-hour cycle.
Unsurprisingly, the TV effort has brought changes in workflow, starting with new joint daily meetings. “We’ll get together every morning to talk about what stories are trending and figure out a way to get that information on television in addition to print and digital,” Hodges said.
But while the two newsrooms sit immediately next to each other, Mahon said full integration is an ongoing process. “We need to be able to build a process where people are firing up stories or content together in a fashion that marries broadcast and print,” he said. Hodges noted that for future newsroom hires, he’s looking increasingly for journalists who can move comfortably between the two worlds.
For now, U-T reporters often come on air with a short check-in on a piece that’s still in development, returning on-camera later in the day for a deeper drill down into a more reported story.
And not all of the station’s content is live. Live production takes several half-hours off during its 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. cycle for taped programming, including a sports show and an auto show.
All of this content requires a pretty high horsepower revenue engine to drive it. Hodges said U-T San Diego presently nets about 12%-13% of its overall revenue from digital. He’s a bit hazier in projecting video revenue. “As we’re modeling for next year, it could be anywhere from 4%-5%, and then we see that growing,” he said.
Monetization currently comes from video ads and specific show sponsorships, which are sold by UT-TV’s own dedicated sales staff. “We see a future where content can be sponsored,” Hodges said. “All of the content can be sliced and diced, put on to websites, shared in social media and all of that can have a sponsor with it.”