Local TV Websites Threaten Newspapers

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Newspaper executives plan to move enough readers from print to online consumption that they can stay ahead of the old model under which papers were delivered to people’s homes. If these newspapers can get people to pay for online subscriptions, the math moves even more in favor of the transition from print to online consumption. It turns out that local newspapers have a powerful competitor, which is the online versions of local TV stations.

According to a new study from the Knight Foundation, TV news sites have started to catch up with newspaper sites, and in midsized markets already have done so. Among the findings:

Of the 22 markets initially analyzed (excluding New York City and Washington, D.C. with its three national newspapers), newspaper websites came out on top in 14 of the markets, and television websites came out on top in eight.

Of the 37 smaller markets analyzed, numbers 25 to 205, television websites came out on top in 23, newspapers came out on top in 13, and radio came out first in one.

Larger markets, in theory, represent the best chance for both newspaper and TV to make money online, but the competition is deep. Most of these markets have four network affiliates — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — and at least one paper.

The larger markets probably include Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Austin, Jacksonville, San Francisco and Indianapolis. Most of these papers are owned by large newspaper chains. Philadelphia’s is owned by a nonprofit organization, and the Los Angeles and San Diego papers will soon be owned by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. In theory, papers owned by individuals or nonprofits are not under immediate pressure to show financial gains, but that is only a theory.

Local newspapers are already under growing pressure. They have been able to improve their online ad businesses as a means to offset some of the drop in revenue from print advertising and print subscriptions. They have had much less success trying to get local consumers to pay for online subscriptions. This may be because of the free online local news people can get from the web versions of local TV stations.

Local TV may be the greatest enemy online versions of local newspapers ever face.