Tribune Stations Overhaul Digital Strategy
Tribune Broadcasting has reframed its digital strategy in every sense of the word.
Literally, the company has adopted responsive design at its 13 broadcast station websites, as well as WGN Radio in Chicago.
Jason Jedlinski, VP of digital operations for Tribune Broadcasting, said the move is about throwing away the superfluities and doubling down on the core local talent and value proposition.
“That’s the real test to move into responsive design,” he said. “It’s how much can you walk away from to really be bold and purify the product and start clean.”
That cleansing meant a big purge — jettisoning what Jedlinski called “low calorie photo galleries” along with content from the Associated Press and Reuters, live scoreboards from the MLB, NFL and NCAA and right down to lottery results. “Our belief was that people found that information elsewhere,” he said. “What they came to us was for our personalities, the way we tell stories and news from their local community.”
So gone were the flight tracker widgets and the bikini pictures, which helped shed both complexity and expense in the responsive design integration. According to Steve Charlier, senior VP of local media, that meant a home page that has drastically dropped from somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 content pieces to a lean 12-15 stories.
And those stories needn’t always be text — or even complete. “What we set out to build was something that freed the stations from the shackles of articles,” Jedlinski said. That could mean posting a quick video or iPhone photo en route to a breaking scene “and let that build itself into a timeline that shares the story in real time as you’re gathering it,” he said.
The pared down, intensely local home page has had its cost advantages, too, Jedlinski said. Having eliminated third party vendor costs for purchased content, mobile websites and apps, the company said it actually saved money on the responsive design transition.
“We found that we were paying for a lot of the internal and third-party vendor services that were ‘expected’ to be included in a traditional TV news website, yet they brought us no real return on investment on the revenue side as well as on the user experience side of the house,” Charlier said. “Over the process of a year, we walked away from nearly a dozen products, services and contracts.”
The company did would not release exact figures on either its expenditures to make the responsive design transition nor its savings in severing ties with third parties. Charlier said it found additional savings because the WordPress platform requires less back-end management and production resources.
In turn, some of that was also reinvested in local content, he said, with some stations shifting jobs from digital back-end producers and coders to more content gatherers.
“The goal was to take the savings, effort and energy put into regurgitating that same content that everybody else has and focus it back into the local content that distinguishes our sites and stations,” Charlier said. “We could then turn the sales focus to branded content versus just a straight CPM play.”
Jedlinski said that sales refocus opens up a range of possibilities. “What can we do with advertorial, integrated content and sponsorships that are really tightly wound to what people know us for in our communities?” he said.
Salespeople have been embracing the shift, he added. They’re also working with a new ad map that scales to a desktop, tablet and mobile view, and clients can now be assured that their ads can appear on all screens in the same “run of device” ad buy. Ads are still served by DoubleClick, Tribune’s ad vendor with the previous CMS.
“That actually helped them pitch their clients better,” Jedlinksi said.
On the technology back end, the shift has meant moving away from Tribune’s long-used proprietary CMS, P2P, and adopting a WordPress VIP platform. That transition began in October with two beta sites — Sacramento’s KTXL (Fox40.com) and Houston’s KIAH (newsfixnow.com). The rollout to the rest of Tribune’s stations continued in November and December, a process Jedlinski said was greatly expedited by sharing a common framework among the sites.
“That’s what allowed us to launch two or three sites a day in some cases,” he said.
The transition to responsive design has been essentially seamless for the Tribune sites, Jedlinski said. “We had one of our content managers spend a day in each newsroom flying around the country,” he said. Most newsroom staff were already posting to the new CMS within an hour’s training before their shifts began.