TV Station Sites on the World Wide Web -
Television Station Sites
World Wide Web
by Ray Niekamp
College of Communications
The Pennsylvania State University
9 Carnegie Building
University Park, PA 16802
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Paper submitted to the Radio-Television Journalism Division,
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications
Television Station Sites
on the World Wide Web
This study used content analysis to examine the World Wide Web
sites created by television stations. Of 123 stations, 82 percent had e-mail
mechanisms for viewers to contact the station, 77 had links to program
information, and 74 percent had links to information about the station's local
news operations. Stations are just beginning to offer content on their sites
to supplement their on-air newscasts, with text versions of news stories the
most commonly featured.
Television Station Sites
on the World Wide Web
The World Wide Web became a major force in computer mediated
communications in 1995, and its growth continues into 1996. American broadcast
television stations are jumping on the bandwagon, and putting their own home
pages on the Web at a rapid pace. From an estimated eighty television station
Web pages in September, 1995 (The Internet..., 1995), the number had already
increased to about 175 by the end of the year (Murrie, 1995), and are likely to
be much higher in mid-1996. This rate of growth appears to be consistent with
that charted for the World Wide Web in general (Hoffman, Novak and Chatterjee,
Such growth would seem to have an obvious impetus. Seers into
the electronic future predict that home computers connected to a network will
supersede television as an American pastime (Negroponte, 1995). Meanwhile,
television stations are generating more content than they can use, even with the
increase in the amount of news programming at most stations. The World Wide Web
may be one place where that surplus of content may be put to use. In fact, the
digital world is not bound by time or space, since stories can be kept on a Web
page indefinitely, and news organizations suddenly find they have a "bottomless"
news hole (Hume, 1995).
Besides offering a benefit to stations, Web-based news offers a
benefit to consumers as well: interactivity. Interactivity will allow news
viewers the opportunity to be in greater control over the material they want to
see. That control can be exercised simply by selecting links between certain
types of news stories (Hume, 1995). Additional links might also take the viewer
from the station's page to related information, perhaps dealing with politics or
But to date, there have been no systematic surveys of these Web
pages, and whether television stations are adapting to the new possibilities of
the digital age. This paper attempts to remedy that condition, and its
importance lies in its description of early television content on the Web. The
paper content analyzes a large sample of the available television station Web
sites, to describe how these sites are being used and draw conclusions about how
they may eventually augment a station's news coverage.
The growth in the use of the World Wide Web by television
stations has been chronicled episodically, especially by Broadcasting and Cable
magazine. The broadcast networks' Web sites appeared to get attention first
(Berniker, 1995, Feb. 3), but when local stations started setting up their own
home pages in larger numbers, that was duly noted (Jessell, 1995; Berniker,
1995, Mar. 13), as was the tendency of station groups to develop Web sites for
their stations (Eggerton, 1995).
Linn (1995a) described typical findings at television station
Web sites. He generalized that a station's "home page" provided some
information about the station, the station's news anchors, and the station's
programming. These efforts seem to be aimed at establishing the station's
presence within the new medium of the Internet, and are also consistent with
anecdotal findings elsewhere (Magid, 1995). Stations also view the Web pages as
a useful promotional tool (The Internet..., 1995; Jessell, 1995; Eggerton,
1995). But there are indications that some stations may be using their Web
pages for more than just promotional purposes. Some stations see the Web as a
way to provide information that could not fit into local newscasts (Berniker,
1995, Mar. 13). For instance, Boston's WCVB used its Web page to provide
information on a serious snowstorm:
"The Blizzard of '96" not only produced
winning ratings for WCVB which easily led the Boston market in
viewers, but also produced mega-hits for WCVB's Web Site "5
Online." WCVB logged more than 1 MILLION hits for the week.
Managing Editor Neil Ungerleider says a mix of on-air promotion
strong content has made "Storm Tracking" on the WCVB Web Site a
must for many viewers away from the television or for those who
want to use radar images and satellite maps to make their own
predictions ("The Blizzard...", 1996).
A smaller station in Abilene, Texas, used its new site for the
Our lovely ice storm gave KTBS a good reason
to push our Web site on the Internet ahead of schedule. We used
opportunity to post (and update several times per hour during
afternoon and evening) a list of school closings, travel
and other weather-related information. It was a great chance to
introduce our viewers (and management) to the potential of the
World Wide Web as a supplemental source of information (Carden,
Many are trying to figure out how to make money in the new
medium (Linn, 1995b; Berniker, 1995, June 6; Eggerton, 1995, Apr. 3). In an
investigation of commercial possibilities on the World Wide Web, Hoffman et al.,
(1995) identified six broad classifications of Web sites: Online Storefront,
Internet Presence ( Flat Ad, Image and Information), Content (Fee-Based,
Sponsored, Searchable Database), Mall, Incentive Site, and Search Agents.
The first three types are characterized as Destination Sites,
since they are ultimately the places the user intends to visit. Online
Storefront sites offer direct sales by electronic means through the Web. The
range of products being sold include things from flowers and candy to CDs and
banking services (Hoffman et al., 1995).
Internet presence sites allow a company to establish itself on
the Web. That presence may also signal customers and competitors that the
company is ahead of the pack. Hoffman et al. break the presence site into three
types: flat ad, image, and information. Flat ads are the web equivalent of a
newspaper ad; they have no hypermedia links, that is, buttons which, when
clicked, take the Web user to a different Web page. Image sites appeal to the
user's emotions rather than rational thought. Information focuses on the
consumer values of the product, or the meaning it has to the consumer. Image
sites seem to be especially useful for products with low hard-information
content, for instance, Zima's Web page, or to cite two broadcasting-related
examples, CBS Eye on the Net and Late Night With David Letterman (Hoffman et
al., 1995). Information sites provide detailed, rational information about the
firmand/or its offering. Such sites appeal to motivated consumers who are ready
to buy, but they seem to be at least partly designed to establish a relationship
between the company and the consumer even though the consumer may not have an
immediate need for the product. Acura, Volvo, FedEx and Apple Computer are
cited as examples of information Web pages (Hoffman et al., 1995).
In Fee-Based content sites, the consumer pays to access
content. Some information and news pages already charge either an access fee or
a usage fee for summaries of information and news stories. Sponsored content
sites, on the other hand, sell advertising space on the Web page itself. In
this instance, advertising underwrites the company's cost of maintaining a Web
page, and it is analogous to selling space in a newspaper or magazine, or air
time on a television station. Searchable databases include information about
merchants or advertisers, and the company, rather than the consumer, pays for
the service. They are the opposite of fee-based content sites. Because content
sites in general have close relations to traditional media models, they may have
the potential to expand rapidly (Hoffman et al., 1995).
Hoffman et al. dub the mall, incentive, and search agent
categories of Web sites as "traffic control sites," because they are designed to
help people move around in the Web environment, and more easily find what they
want. Mall sites generally feature various online storefronts, each of which
may have different categories of goods for sale. Incentive sites offer
encouragement to a Web user to enter a particular Web site, and are connected to
commercial sites which are accessed from the incentive site. Hoffman et al.
indicate that incentive sites serve much the same function as malls. Lastly,
search agents exist to identify other Web sites by doing keyword searches of a
database that covers the Web. Search agents may be advertiser-supported, as is
Yahoo, or fee-based, such as InfoSeek (Hoffman et al., 1995).
Despite the rapid growth of the World Wide Web, it is likely
that most home computer users still fall into the "early adopter" classification
(Perse and Dunn, 1995). Their motivations for accessing the Web and viewing
television Web sites are worth considering. Perse and Dunn found that the
reasons most often cited for using computers were to pass time and out of habit.
They note that those are signs of ritualistic use of media, which focus on
gratifications offered by the medium rather than any specific content. They add
that computer connectivity seems to fill similar needs as television,
entertainment and escape.
However, computer owners tend to watch television and cable
less than non owners. But because computer owners are more likely to be in
higher income and education groups,those groups are less likely to watch
television to begin with (Perse and Dunn, 1995). It would therefore seem that
the creation of a station Web site could capture people who might otherwise not
view the station's programming.
Stations that create Web sites must also consider how they will
be used by the public. Hoffman and Novak (1995) suggest that it is useful to
consider the idea of "flow" here.
Flow is the extent to which consumers, working in a hypermedia
environment, feel a sense of control over their actions within that environment,
focus on the interaction, and enjoy themselves while doing it (Hoffman and
Novak, 1995). But flow can take on two aspects: Goal-directed flow and
Experiential flow. Web users engaged in Goal-directed flow activities are those
who intend to wind up at a particular Web site, while those involved in
Experiential flow are "surfing," examining a variety of sites, going where the
links will take them (Hoffman and Novak, 1995). Web site designers must be
cognizant of both kinds of flow, and design sites that will appeal to both types
of Web users. If a site's offerings are interesting and compelling enough, an
Experiential user who stumbles across the site may become a Goal-directed user
in the future, who purposely accesses the page to seek specific information.
This study has two main goals: to describe what uses television
stations most commonly make of their World Wide Web pages, and how their Web
pages are used to supplement the information provided on a station's newscasts.
Such a description could serve as a starting point for further research on the
World Wide Web as it is put to greater use by broadcasting stations. There are
several research questions to be addressed:
1. What features are found most often on station web sites?
2. Do stations make use of the web to supplement their news
2a. What kinds of information are provided to supplement news
3. Are stations using the web to generate revenue?
4. Does the station's network affiliation indicate how likely
it is to have a site on the World Wide Web?
5. Does the station's market size indicate how likely it is to
have a site on the World Wide Web?
The unit of analysis for this study was individual television
station sites on the Web. Because the number of television sites is growing so
rapidly, a sample was taken rather than attempting to study the entire
population. The online Yahoo directory was the first to provide a guide to
sites on the Web, and it catalogs commercial television stations in the Eastern
U.S. and Western U.S. While Yahoo does not list every station's page, it does
include a large number. An arbitrary decision was made to study those
television station Web sites cataloged in Yahoo as of February 14, 1996. At
that time, 139 stations were listed in the Yahoo directory. An examination of
those sites turned up two cable-only stations, which were dropped from the
study, which aims to examine only over-the-air television stations. Other sites
were dropped when their URLs (Universal Resource Locators, or Web addresses)
could not be found using the Netscape 2.0 Web browser. Still other stations had
temporarily closed down their sites while redesigning them for what presumably
will be a more elaborate presentation. The resulting n was 123. Two coders,
both Ph.D. students in Mass Communications, were used in the study.
There is no set of standards for Web site design, although
plenty of suggestions for the design of effective sites are available (see, for
example, online help provided within Netscape). Each station seems to design
its pages according to information it thinks is important to convey to Web
users. A random examination of approximately a dozen television station Web
sites prior to the start of the study provided guidance as to the types of
information most frequently found within Web sites. Four broad levels of
categories were established: Home Page, News Page, Personality Bios, and
Each Web site in the study was accessed via Netscape 2.0, and a
checklist was used to account for the presence of various items on the site. At
the home page level, the coders looked for the presence of information about
programming, weather, sports, news, community events or information, and a
feedback mechanism, usually in the form of e-mail back to the station. Coders
also noted other types of information displayed on the home page.
If, and only if, a station's home page contained a link to its
local news page, coders then examined the "news page" of each station's Web
site. Since news is the most important local programming effort and creates the
public image of most television stations, it was assumed most stations would
have a separate page for news programming. On the news page, coders looked for
a link to the news unit of the network affiliated with the station. Coders also
checked for actual news content, in the form of news stories in text, still
pictures, audio, or moving video. Coders were asked to differentiate between
current news information and archived news information, that is, information
from stories covered more than two days before the day of the study.
Coders checked each station's entire Web site to determine if
it featured any advertising presence, defined as mention of or link to companies
or services which use the site for advertising purposes. In other words, was
the site sponsored? The response was either yes or no, and no effort was made
in this study to determine the complexity or type of Web site advertising.
Finally, coders checked to see if information about station
on-air personalities was featured anywhere on the site. Such information could
usually be expected to take the form of biographical sketches of personalities,
especially news anchors. Again, coders simply indicated if the information was
present or not. Intercoder reliability was 94 percent.
Research Question 1. Because one of the goals of this study
was simply to see what kind of information is available at television Web sites,
much of the findings are descriptive. Research question 1 is answered by a list
of percentages of stations putting certain information on their sites. At the
home page level, the feedback mechanism, or e-mail to the station, is the most
frequently found type of information, with links to program schedules second,
and links to the station's local news department following in third place.
Links to information by type Percent of stations
Program schedules 77.2
Local news 74.8
Community information 42.3
Station information 26.1
Kids features 18.7
Featured Web links 17.0
Link to network 13.8
Sales dept. 12.2
Station job listings 8.9
Engineering dept. 8.9
Online marketplace 8.9
Television stations do furnish information about their on-air
personalities, but perhaps not to the extent that Linn (1995) suggested.
Biographical sketches of personalities could be found at any level of a
station's Web site, not necessarily accessible directly from either the home
page or the news page. This result contributes to answering Research Question
Type of information Number of stns. Percent of stns.
On-air personality info 76 61.8
Research Questions 2 and 2a. At the news page level,
percentages are used to indicate the extent to which certain news material
appears on a Web site. It appears stations are starting to provide original
content on their Web sites, at least in the form of news stories in text
version. The results for Research Question 2, therefore, show that stations
do use the Web to supplement their on-air news programming, and the following
list of types of information provided answers Research Question 2a.
Type of news information Number of stns. Percent of stns.
Current news - text 42 34.1
Current news - still pictures 9 7.3
Current news - audio 2 1.6
Current news - video 0 0
Archive news - text 27 22.0
Archive news - still pictures 3 2.4
Archive news - audio 0 0
Archive news - video 1 0.8
Research Question 3. Television stations do not seem to be
using their Web sites as revenue generators. One site featured an advertiser at
the top of its home page. When the ad is clicked, the Web user is taken to
another of the sponsor's advertisements, this one created specifically for use
on the Web. Most other Web sites simply list advertisers by name, which can be
clicked for more informationDusually from the advertiser's own home page.
Advertising presence Number of stns. Percent of stns.
Yes 11 8.9
No 112 91.1
Research Question 4. Stations affiliated with the "Big Three"
networks are most likely to have a World Wide Web site. Very few stations not
affiliated with networks, or affiliated with the fifth and sixth networks, UPN
and WB, have sites.
Affiliation Number of stns. Percent of stns.
None 2 1.6
ABC 29 23.5
CBS 35 28.4
NBC 31 25.2
Fox 18 14.6
UPN 5 4.1
WB 3 2.4
Chi-square tests were run to compare the type of news
information on the site (those types referred to in the results for Research
Question 2 and 2a) and the station's network affiliation to see if network
affiliation could predict whether a station was more likely to use the Web.
However, these tests showed no significant relationships, except in one case: a
station's network affiliation and whether it offered current news text materials
on its site,
X2 (6, N=123) = 14.2, p < .05. ABC and CBS affiliates offered
current news in text form more often than stations affiliated with NBC, Fox,
UPN, or the WB networks, or with no network affiliation.
Current news text by network affiliation
[--- Pict Graphic Goes Here ---]
Research Question 5. It does appear that market size can
affect the likelihood of a station having its own Web page. Medium market
stations, market size 26-100, have substantially more Web pages than either
large or small market stations.
Market size category Stns. with Web pages Percent of stns.
Large market 35 28.5
Medium market 59 47.9
Small market 28 22.8
Chi-square tests were also run to compare the type of news
information on the site and the station's market size category, large, medium,
or small, to see if market size could be a predictor of Web involvement. No
significant difference was found in any of those tests. The answer to Research
Question 5, then, is that medium market stations are more likely to have Web
pages than stations in large or small markets, but there appears to be no
relation between market size and what types of news information are found on a
It is apparent from these findings that the use of the World
Wide Web by television stations is still in its nascent stage. But the number
of stations with Web sites cataloged in Yahoo had already increased to 164 by
the end of March, 1996 (Yahoo, 1996). Although the number of stations
supplementing their newscasts with news information on their Web sites is still
small, it also appears to be growing. Therefore, the value of this study may be
that it takes a snapshot of what television news in a new medium looked like in
the early days of its development.
That stations are still trying to figure out what to do with
their Web sites is evident by the types of links offered at the home page level.
E-mail from the viewer to the station, personality bios, and information about
favorite entertainment programs and newscasts may have light informational
value. Flashy graphic design may attract eyes, but if television stations want
to keep Web users returning to their sites, they must provide material those
users can use. Usable material will likely be in the form of supplemental news
coverage and information.
Stations seem to be getting the idea that content will be one
of their Web site staples in the future. Those that are providing content now
seem to be gingerly getting their toes wet in the digital pool, by dumping
digitized text onto their Web pages. Such stories sometimes take the form of
relatively short headline treatments, but a few stations simply put their
complete newscast scripts on their news page, complete with the arcane technical
instructions. One station offered viewers a link to help on reading a
television script. Stations offering still pictures on their Web sites usually
did so in conjunction with text materials, the still serving the same purpose as
a newspaper photograph. Only one station was found that offers downloadable
video versions of previously-aired stories.
These approaches may work for the time being. But content in
this new medium will go beyond just text. Audio, video, and graphics can all be
offered. If stations lack the technical facilities to make those types of
information available, there are other options, such as providing links to
information sources related to the story at hand, information sources not
connected with the station. News departments must then work to assemble deeper
information that can answer questions raised by the stories covered in their
Stations' use of the Web is clearly a decision made at the
station level, with little apparent involvement of the station's network,
although there was an early move to group station Web pages together on
commercial online services (Berniker, 1995, June 6). The Big Three networks
still are generally affiliated with local stations that have the most active
news departments and the largest revenues. Therefore, it is no surprise that
those stations are more likely to be on the Web. The autonomy from the networks
that stations heralded with the onset of satellite news gathering would seem to
be increasing as they independently create Web sites that reflect their own
visions of their mission.
It might be expected that large market stations would have had
more Web pages available than medium or small market stations. However, there
are only 25 large markets, compared to 75 medium and 110 small markets. Still,
large market stations have larger news staffs and greater resources available to
create a site. The time and personnel involved in maintaining a Web site
certainly play a role in determining whether a station will create one or not.
Even those stations that have created sites must wrestle with the demands of
keeping them updated with new material. One large market station's current news
text included bylines for the staffer who wrote the story. But a news
department at a medium market station reported:
In the 60th market we can't dedicate a
staffer to rewrite news for the Web. We are automating our
to take text from our newsroom computer system which is quite
and tricky to interface with. Mark Chamberlin (personal e-mail
correspondence, March 25, 1996).
Although no significance was shown in the relationships between
market size and type of news information offered on the Web site, it is worth
noting that more medium market stations displayed either current text materials
or archive text materials than large market stations.
It is also worth noting that in a medium like the World Wide
Web, where a college student's personal home page can be as well-designed as
that of a major corporation, there is no qualitative relationship between market
size and Web page design. One of the most pleasing Web sites to navigate was
found at a small market station on the East Coast, while a large market station
in the Southwest offered nothing more than a picture of its news anchors.
Future research on television station Web sites should examine
supplementary news materials, and whether stations are using the sites to
provide more explanatory and background information on news stories. Research
could also investigate whether sites are viewed by the stations as image and
marketing venues, or content venues.
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