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25 July 2011

Meredith Joins Raycom Hub Club

Station group is licensing online content on WorldNow platform

Michael Malone, Broadcasting & Cable

While the trend of stations sharing on-air footage has been going on for a few years, the content-sharing craze took a new turn when Raycom Media and Meredith Local Media brokered their recent online content pact. On July 1, Meredith was officially signed up to access the Raycom News Network's Raycom's digital content hub based out of corporate headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.

The deal sees Meredith pay an annual fee for access to primarily national news content from the Raycom hub for its 10 station Websites, which relaunched on the WorldNow platform July 1. The arrangement gives Meredith access to a 24/7 content operation, meaning a more robust mix of stories on its sites. "It's a unique relationship. I don't know if another's like it in the country," says Tom Cox, VP of digital sales at Meredith. "It provides coverage to our digital news desks on weekends and after hours, the kind of content that a station might not have the time and resources to put together."

Like so many ideas, the Raycom- Meredith partnership was hatched in an Irish pub. Cox and Pat LaPlatney, VP of digital media at Raycom, were having dinner at the Fitzpatrick Hotel's Wheeltapper Pub in New York, following a Borrell Associates conference in March. Meredith was doing its diligence in finding a Web services provider, and LaPlatney mentioned the Raycom News Network as a potential feature for joining with WorldNow.

"The conversation proceeded very quickly from there," says Cox, who adds that Raycom's hub was a factor in selecting WorldNow. (Steve Schwaid, then Meredith's VP of digital content and WGCL news director, was instrumental to the partnership too before jumping to WTXF Philadelphia.)

The "Raycom News Network Digital Hub," as it's officially called, launched in January and currently features about 15 staffers, including director Timothy Donley and Charles Gray, Raycom director of new media content. Raycom stations kick in money to fund the hub, and in turn get online news content at their disposal (including recent features on the Atlantis space shuttle launch and landing), same as the Meredith stations now do.

The hub content is primarily regional or national, which seems to run counter to the station trend toward hyperlocal coverage. But Susana Schuler, Raycom VP of news, says providing the broader content frees up stations to focus on stories in their own backyards. "The whole purpose is to give the stations the man-hours to get more local in nature," she says.

The fight to supply Web services to local media outlets is a hot one between the likes of WorldNow, Broadcast Interactive Media and Inergize Digital, among others. Raycom is a partner in WorldNow, with President/ CEO Paul McTear and LaPlatney sitting on the firm's board. Meredith had previously been a client of WorldNow's before splitting for Internet Broadcasting in 2005; similar to Raycom's hub, IB has staffers producing national content for station partners.

Meredith relaunched its 10 station sites, including those representing KPHO Phoenix and KPTV Portland (Ore.), with WorldNow throughout the month of June. In mid-July, WorldNow announced that Meredith had access to Raycom News Network for "continuous 24/7 national news coverage." The News Network "leverages a hub to produce original content for both groups' sites from its strong pool of TV station Websites," read the statement.

Executives at both Raycom and Meredith say the two parties are a logical fit, with stations that are often in the same state, such as Meredith's WGCL and Raycom's WTOC Savannah and WTVM Columbus, Ga., but not competing in the same market. "It's a really good match between the two groups," says Cox.

Raycom is something of a model group when it comes to sharing content among its stations. Primarily clustered in the southeastern U.S., the group uses BitCentral's Oasis system to share stories of regional and, at times, national interest, such as the tornadoes that tore through the south and southeast earlier this year. Schuler and McTear were in Los Angeles last week overseeing the production of America Now, a group-wide program that features newsy content produced by stations throughout the Raycom system. The show relaunches as a daily program Sept. 12.

Schuler is bullish on the future of the Raycom News Network. She says Raycom has received inquiries from other station groups, both inside and outside the WorldNow Web fold, about partnering with Raycom News Network. She adds that Raycom is also considering expanding the content arrangement to include on-air material with Meredith and subsequent partners. "Right now it's strictly digital, but that might change," Schuler says. "We're open to exploring it."