ABC O&O New Sites Push Video, Mobile
The new websites ABC Owned Television Stations have up and running are designed to keep pace as the media industry — and users’ news consumption habits — change.
“This will take us into the future,” says Carla Carpenter, ABC Owned Television Stations’ SVP of digital media, who oversaw the effort. “It allows us to grow.”
The previous sites’ non-responsive design, coupled with consumers’ growing use of mobile devices, necessitated the rebuild, which took about 18 months to complete, she says.
People who tried to access the earlier sites through mobile devices — about 60% of users — had bum luck, as the content appeared small and squished together. At the same time, Web ads often didn’t work on tablets and smartphones, she says.
“We had the realization that our local news needed to follow consumers anywhere,” Carpenter says. “Now [our station sites] will look good on your desktop, will look good online and will look good on tablets and phones. It fits the platform that you’re using.”
So far, consumers are responding.
According to Omniture statistics provided by ABC, the websites as a whole had 83% more pageviews in July 2014 than it did the year before. The number of unique visitors grew 71% in that same period of time.
The new websites operate using a CMS built in-house, an endeavor that took about 18 months. Carpenter says there were benefits to creating the websites within the company. First, she was able to tap the abilities of Disney engineers, who designed a CMS that is 30% to 40% more efficient than the old one.
Not only did it take less time (building responsive design sites usually take two years, she says) but also saved ABC the “many hundreds of thousands of dollars” it would have cost to have someone else do the job. “Because we did the job ourselves the investment was miniscule,” she says.
ABC will benefit moving forward, as it is easier to expand and alter a homegrown platform than one created by outsiders, Carpenter says.
“We build almost everything ourselves,” she says. “Whatever you build is yours. It’s your own code, you know it inside and out and you can add features to it more seamlessly.”
The new sites are more focused on video content than the old sites, Carpenter says. That allows stations to do things like promote stories using video thumbnails versus text headlines. “Videos are the centerpiece of our business in television news so it is now also the centerpiece online,” she says.
Original features propel the sites beyond being simply “new and improved,” Carpenter says. “Map My News,” for example, enables users to pinpoint news in specific neighborhoods by clicking on tags on an interactive map.
That’s part of the group’s effort to personalize the sites by adding other features users can customize in the near future. “We figure every month there will be some change,” Carpenter says, adding that some will be behind-the-scenes changes that make the sites easier to use.
In addition, stations have decision-making power over content, she says. Each of the eight websites operates under the same model, but local teams are able to devote more space to a big local story than is usually done, for example. So on any given day, for instance, WLS Chicago’s website may have a different news mix than the ones operated by KGO San Francisco or WDTV Raleigh, N.C.
Carpenters credits the sites’ growth in popularity to a range of factors, including the fact that site designers purposely did not make the kind of dramatic changes that can repel users.
“We tried to keep it in a format that would be familiar to our news consumers because that’s who we serve,” Carpenter says.
But no doubt, she says, that the bulk of user increase boils down to one thing.
“People are comfortable using the sites on mobile,” she says. “And that was the purpose.”