Saturday, October 08, 2005

When TV Stations Go Dub Dub Dud

Herbert McLuhan once said, “The medium is the message.” He didn’t add that the message is sometimes mediocre, but he might have.

McLuhan (better known as “Marshall”) died in Toronto, Dec. 31, 1980, long after the first four nodes on the ARPANET were set up in 1968, but well before dub dub dub unleashed the Niagara of packets and bytes on and through the Information Superhighway. It would be instructive to resurrect this media maven to entertain his Internet insight, but perhaps we can extrapolate from the elegant epigrams he left behind:

    “With telephone and TV it is not so much the message as the sender that is 
sent.

    “People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”

    “Today the business of business is becoming the constant invention of new business.”

    “All advertising advertises advertising.”

    “When a thing is current, it creates currency.”

    “Men on frontiers, whether of time or space, abandon their previous identities. Neighborhood gives identity. Frontiers snatch it away.”

And, perhaps most insightful . . .

    “Mud sometimes gives the illusion of depth.”

. . . which is to say: Any Bay area TV/Cable entity that doesn’t carefully cultivate an identity on the Internet is missing an opportunity to leverage a medium that could exponentially expand its reach – as well as its bottom line.

. . . but then, McLuhan was Canadian (aye?) so can we really believe all that heady stuff he spewed? (Remember, this was a fella who once said: “I may be wrong, but I’m never in doubt.”)

Oh, well, pass the cold case of Labatt Blue longnecks, click on the McKenzie brothers’ “Great White North” DVD, and let’s see what our video cousins do when they try to transfer their talents to the dub-dub-dub – scored, as it were, on a substantially subjective scale of One to Five “Dubs.”

Bay News 9
BN9 boasts a content-rich site, well-branded with its video companion. Navigation is straightforward, fonts consistent. Color, graphics and design enhance rather than distract from its mission. County-by-county news breakdown a plus. Overall, a solid, competent effort. Criticism? Just a tad elementary at times.
Four Dubs

WEDU-TV
Attractive, professional, clean. Background color changes as primary navigation buttons are clicked, which at first is startling, but does reinforce transition. Strong programming content, but lack of an attempt to create a sense of community is a missed opportunity, which should be a priority for a station that relies heavily on fund-raising.
Two Dubs

WFLA-TV
A good effort considering station must share online real estate with TBO.Com and The Tampa Tribune. Some visitors will no doubt like the resulting trinity; TBM feels it artificially limits FLA’s online options. Still, sufficient branding with the station to be a plus, that and mega-multiple content trails will keep most news junkies happy.
Three Dubs

WFTS-TV
Perhaps the strongest online effort for a television station in the Bay area. Clean, crisp, design. Content rich. Good mix. Lots of links, yet doesn’t seem cluttered. Excellent use of color and graphics. Only question: How do you know its WFTS from the home page? Oops.
Four and a half Dubs

WTOG-TV
Comes off strictly as a “promo” site — which is OK if all you want to do is tell people about what programs are on your station. TBM understands that 44 bills itself as “Tampa Bay’s #1 Entertainment Station,” but the lack of a human touch undermines 44’s ability to create “Chatter” and promote community.
One and a half Dubs

WTSP-TV
Overall good effort, though tweaks could kick it up a notch. Graphics a bit heavy-handed. Advertising navigation on right overpowers site, giving the impression of schizophrenic design. Bold headline links coupled with heavy reverse bars “shout” too much. Something should "whisper." Still, a content-rich, nicely branded site.
Three and a half Dubs

WTTA-TV
Weakest online effort of any station in the Bay area. Where to start? Best thing on the site is the Chick-fil-A ad. Who to blame? (Sinclair Broadcasting?) Hard to say. Should give it a “Dud” instead of a “Dub.” Can’t believe somebody at station doesn’t have time to dress this thing up a bit or a byte. No theme. No design. No personality.
Half a Dub

WTVT-TV
A wonderfully content-rich site that is hampered by a clunky navigational interface and a design approach that is so . . . so . . . frustratingly 1999! TVT, which has a rich history of branding (remember “Big 13”), missed Salty Sol's boat here. Note to Mr. 13: Sell a few more ads, hire a “Big”-time Web designer and set the standard for the Bay area – yeah, that’s the ticket.
Two and a half Dubs

WUSF-TV
Much as EDU, this is “Attractive, professional, clean,” as well as, “Strong programming content, but lack of an attempt to create a sense of community is a missed opportunity . . .” Not to sound like a broken record (a metaphor baby bloggers will miss) but creating community is on option online. A Web site is not a monologue but an invitation to a dialogue.
Two Dubs

IN SUMMARY, the Internet is like a shower: billions of bits and bytes blasting from everywhere and anywhere in real time and asynchronously. TV/Cable entities – already sending their senders into viewer’s homes – should be advertising their online business identities at every turn. In turn, those dub dub dubs should be deeply branded, content-rich and user-friendly – as well as current, always current. Plus, in addition to cross-advertising their Cable/TV counterparts, the dub dub dubs should be creating and cultivating a sense of community, a nurturing neighborhood on the new frontier.

Clear as mud? It was never in doubt.

4 Comments:

Blogger yourlive said...

I must disagree with your raves over WTVT's web site. Please note, there are no video links, just boring multi-paragraph stories.
For years, TBO.COM has lead the pack with the best internet information. The site is pushed regularly by News Channel 8, as an important part of the trio of information sources that included The Tampa Tribune.

Saturday, October 08, 2005 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Just to put things in perspective, TBM scored FLA higher in “Dubs” than TVT. On a personal note, the Media General online trio is TBM's day-in and day-out favorite, for a variety of reasons, despite its tri-plex configuration. Still, will stand by the comment "TBM feels it (the tri-plex configuration) artificially limits FLA’s online options."

Sunday, October 09, 2005 12:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you gave some of the lowest marks to the "public TV" stations. Guess they're not as public as they seem.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 2:40:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

TBM is a big Public TV watcher and fan, but as noted, "A Web site is not a monologue but an invitation to a dialogue." EDU and USF seem to be using their Web sites primarily as online brochures to promote their programming, but they (perhaps more than the "for-profit" entities) would benefit from fostering a communal dialogue, a tactic that would seem to fit into their overall strategy of being "Public." Fostering communication may seem a scary idea — and way "outside the box" thinking for a governmental-oriented entity — which is exactly why it should be done. (See TBM's "Putting the ‘Journal’ Back Into Journalism" for an example of how Public TV can set a benchmark for quality programming — if they are willing to take the risk.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 6:57:00 AM  

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