The latest attempt to make hyperlocal a sustainable reality came today with Allbritton Communications’ launch of TBD.com, a hyper metro site for the Washington DC area. Allbritton, which has sunk “under $5 million” into the project to date, hopes it will grab hold of the DC audience in the same way that its Politico has done with political types – simultaneously via the Web and TV, where it takes over the slot formerly held by Allbritton’s former News Channel 8.
I’ll say right off the bat that I like it a lot. Although I had the opportunity to visit the newsroom with other members of the BIA/Kelsey team about six weeks ago, I got my first glance at the site today. My takeaway? It’s fun, useful and totally up to date with social and mobile media.
Most importantly, it seems like something I’d probably read (and watch) everyday if I still lived in DC. It just seems natural and un-self conscious – completely opposite DC’s staid (and untrue) image as a stuffed shirt of a city; and other hyper metro sites that I won’t name here, but make NPR seem wild and crazy.
The site integrates, a little, with Allbritton’s WJLA TV, and it is co-located with the WJLA newsroom. You’ll see the WJLA programming schedule and its landmark weather reporters Doug Hill and Bob Ryan headline the weather page, for instance.
But it has a totally separate identity, helped by a dozen writers lead by former Washington City Paper Editor Erik Wemple. As Wemple notes in a public letter: “One of them writes nothing but lists. One is all over pedestrian life. One holds politicians throughout the region accountable. Three carry a year-round obsession with the Redskins. Three are covering some of the fastest-developing communities in the region. Three are the final authority on all things arts and entertainment.”
The entire site will eventually ramp up soon to about 50, including the TBD News team carried over from News Channel 8, and six community reach-out staffers.The site also seamlessly integrates with 129 DC area bloggers and picks up news from all the DC sites, including The Washington Post and also from WJLA competitors such as WTOP-AM. And much of its substantial neighborhood news comes via a news filter that sorts by zip code.
It has also taken some unique approaches that only time will tell will pan out, such as TBD TV, the “companion” channel that takes over from News Channel 8, the 24/7 news channel that had been featured on cable and dish services throughout the metro area. It features programs that sometimes borrow WJLA personalities (i.e. The Arch Campbell Show,) but also has begun to produce some of its own unique offerings (i.e. Capital Golf Weekly).
The site was initially slated to launch at the end of August. It is obviously up early – the testing URL leaked and they decided to roll with it. Consequently, the mobile apps (i.e. “All over the iPhone, All over the Android and All Over the Mobile Web) aren’t ready yet, although they’re being promoted; and there is a lot of content that you’d expect to see that isn’t there (i.e. high school sports) and exurban content. It is possible that they’re leaving the tough (and expensive stuff ) for the thinning Post to cover
But we know there are plans to do other things that will be totally innovative if they pull them off, such as having local bloggers for the site featured on the local news when there is a hot breaking story (i.e. the fighting among 70 teens at L’Enfant Plaza Metro station the other night).
The advertising strategies also aren’t fully unveiled, and the site will obviously focus on building up an audience first. Currently, you’ll just see some run of site ads such as Belfort Furniture and contextual tile ads, such as The Washington Ballet under arts, and McCrea Heating and Air Condition under weather.
Will this site ultimately be self sustaining? That’s the big question. It is expected to lose up to two million dollars a year as it gets going. But if the site maintains its promising start, the local dollars should theoretically follow. Another question is whether the TV companion will take off.
In the course of writing this post, I was chatting about the site’s debut with hyperlocal pioneer Rob Curley, who ran The Post’s ambitious hyperlocal strategy two years ago before moving on to Greenspun Communications’ Las Vegas Sun. Curley was very enthusiastic about the site’s design. The amazing thing is that they probably showed that sites are more likely to win with a TV station as a partner than a newspaper, he said. That’s food for thought.