4 Corners TV has built a growing audience of 25-45-year-olds, but constant experimentation in its year-long existence has shown that younger viewers don’t want straight news from their online videos, even if it’s irreverent. What its Southwestern audience does like is content on pot, extreme sports and local comedy, and the site is taking another crack at news, this time with a sock puppet. See full article at NetNewsCheck.com.
By Doug Bennett
It’s hard to imagine that last year at this time we were preparing for the first episode of 4CornersTV.com, an online network sprung from the understanding that our newspapers did not attract a younger demographic. Our goal was to attract and retain a younger audience through new formats and content choices.
Initial audience reactions led us away from daily coverage of socially-focused news to more entertainment-themed content on a weekly schedule. The coverage of adventure sports, craft breweries and other topics related to the four corners area of the Southwest and specifically the Durango, Colo. area resulted in a steady growth trajectory of site visits.
Here’s just a snapshot of the data we’ve collected in our first year: over half of weekly viewers are 25-45-years-old. We’ve seen an average 3,000 videos viewed each week (or over 12,000 views a month) and growing.
Other things we’ve noticed: 75% of all visits convert into video views, 54% of our visitors each week are new and 40% of traffic comes from mobile devices.
Because this demographic is more and more likely to consume its entertainment through mobile devices, we weren’t surprised at the numbers of tablets and smart phones in the analytics. What was surprising is that desktop usage is still very popular. This seems to correlate with the highest viewing times ranging from Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when 57% of usage comes from desktop, leading us to believe this group has a habit of watching at work.
Eager to continue the steady increase in views, we reached outside our area to Farmington, New Mexico to tap into a larger audience.
Although the city of Farmington is only 45 miles away, it is demographically different and has over twice the population. To directly appeal to this audience, we featured Farmington specific episodes hosted by local talent, including a Navajo comedy team. The numbers jumped significantly, with average monthly site visits climbing from 12,000 to over 25,000 with over half in the desired age group.
Happy with the success we experienced when adding in additional geographic areas, we experimented with a strategic approach to our content to raise the number of our younger demographic visitors.
The 4CornersTV.com mission of delivering stories with an irreverent tone led us to push the boundaries with topics like cannabis, covering everything from dispensaries to edibles and more. Again, we saw a jump in interest. We also went more extreme with our adventure sports coverage showing mountain climbing, night biking and ice climbing, to name a few atypical sports popular in our area. This resulted in an all-time episode high and increased visitors in the target age group by 12 points.
During this period of testing we confirmed that straight news, even with an irreverent tone, was the least-watched programming. But we’re not ready to give up on news altogether, so we’re looking to models like “The Simpsons” to take a cynical, more off-kilter and character-driven approach to news to appeal to this important age group.
With this in mind, we’re introducing Phil N. Handy, a very talented sock puppet, to anchor our news desk. He’ll focus on slightly off-color stories using a humorous delivery, while keeping a straight face, as it were.
We’re beginning Phil’s welcome campaign through a mock press release and using social media to target groups that enjoy funny, experimental news content. This move towards more unconventional programming will be measured through audience growth numbers over the next quarter to determine if Phil’s “contract” will be renewed.
The lessons learned in our first year have brought a measure of success and given us the flexibility to try new ideas. Along the way, we realized that additional staffing was necessary to pull off the kind of programming that has worked, so we’ve added another editor and show producer along the way. Fortunately, our focus on entertainment over news has created a higher acceptance rate among advertisers, helping us to absorb the cost.
Our change is ongoing, and 4 Corners TV will constantly be experimenting and pushing the boundaries to capture this profitable younger demographic. We’re also in early stages of planning expansion into new cities with similar demographics as areas we serve today, but that’s a story for another time.