News Goes ‘Over the Top’ With Digital Platforms

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – News consumers increasingly get their information beyond the traditional newscast, with digital representing a growing part of local news operations. 

In addition to traditional news broadcasts, the stations are using social media platforms to broaden their engagement with viewers. News operations both use “Over the Top” – or OTT – streaming platforms that can be accessed by using Roku and Amazon Fire Stick to distribute content as well.

“What continues to make it fun and exciting for me is developing ways to put content on different platforms and find the right fit,” says Mona Alexander, news director at WFMJ. Stories can’t always be told in the 60- to 90-minute slots available on the scheduled broadcasts. But now there are other avenues available to provide that content.

“Digital is not slowing down,” says David Coy, general manager for television stations WKBN, WYTV and WYFX, which are owned by Nexstar Media Group.

A good 20% or more of news operations’ resources are dedicated to digital. Roughly 15% of station revenue brought in by news is from the digital operation, Coy says.

The station group’s news operation already had plans for digital-only content but advanced them by a couple of months with the announcement that The Vindicator would cease operations Aug. 31, 2019.

“We see the metrics on our website. We know that content is working with our audience,” says Mitch Davis, news director for WKBN, WYTV and WYFX.

Monthly page views routinely exceed 15 million at WKBN.com, and they hit 20 million during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Coy says. Many of the visits are for the online obituaries at MyValleyTributes.com.

“It’s right up there with our news, weather and sports traffic,” he continues. “My Valley Jobs Today has been very strong for us,” he adds.

WFMJ, which also publishes digital-only content on its website, is “really big into the social media,” including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Alexander says.

“I love Twitter,” she says. Instagram is about “getting our brand out to a younger audience” to let them know that WFMJ is there when they want to start consuming news.

In addition to using Facebook as a promotional tool, WFMJ occasionally hosts the “6:40 Special” following the 6 p.m. newscast. It also distributes content via a podcast on its website.

“Facebook works for us because we do a lot of [livestreams] on Facebook and people just love that,” Alexander says. Other operations are reluctant to go live on Facebook, believing that it takes away from their main page. She counters that Facebook has a built-in audience that is already there and ready to engage.    

Determining the appropriate platform for specific content depends largely on the level of engagement expected.

“If we think people are going to have a lot of questions about [the topic], we’re going to do a 6:40 Special so they can weigh in on Facebook,” she says. “If we think that they won’t have a lot of questions but there’s a lot of information to get out there, then we will probably do it as a podcast.”  

Alexander will go on Facebook after the fact and see that an event has gotten 10,000 to 12,000 page views, with about 24,000 being the record.

“We have a pretty strong social media presence. But we view social media more as a promotional vehicle rather than an actual news vehicle. It gives us an opportunity to tell people what we’re doing and then invite them to come see us,” Nexstar’s Coy says. “It’s kind of like a headline: ‘Here’s what’s going on. For all the information, come see us at WKBN.com, WYTV.com or our weather app.’ We prefer to engage. That’s what it is, social. It’s  not a news network. It’s a social network.”

Davis says the philosophy at WKBN, WYTV and WYFX echoes his own long held view to not give away content on social media. It provides the opportunity to interact with the audience, get story tips and showcase how the stations are serving the community.

“I look at social media as the Canfield Fair 365 days a year,” he says. “Facebook is a chance to tell viewers, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re working on. If you want to know more, here’s where the story is posted.’ ”