Winning the Mouse-Versus-Remote War

TV viewers among us had an interesting time this May sweeps. Did you see the guys in colorful executioners’ masks woo the woman posing as Monica Lewinsky’s best friend? How about the “The First Annual Miss Dog Beauty Pageant”? Or the search for America’s next top model (positioned in bikinis atop New York skyscrapers on a particularly icy afternoon)? And of course there was “American Idol,” the battle of 20-something crooners singing hits from before they were zygotes.

Normally, I’m an unabashed television watcher. I’ll even suffer through episodes of “Fear Factor” with my 10-year-old as we both retch over contestants downing squishy larvae. This month, however, I found myself retreating to the computer room more frequently. Net content was better than TV’s so-called “reality blitz.”

Could TV’s current content be driving more viewers online? Don’t count on it. Nielsen data reveals 34.2 million people watched “American Idol”‘s finale at any given moment, up from 22.8 million for the first “Idol” finale in September. But perhaps the playing field is becoming more interesting.

According to the Online Publishers Association’s (OPA’s) study of Internet dayparts, although TV clearly dominates as the media of choice, significant numbers of Web users are online in the evening (5-11 p.m.). They’re online for entertainment more than for any other purpose (e.g., email or work-related activities). What’s the second-largest user group during this time? Women, aged 25-54. They trail men 25-54 by just 4 percent Yes, women, the influencers of 80 percent of all purchases made in the U.S.

Seems to me those numbers are compelling enough to induce you to start beefing up your Web content. You might want to connect with those looking for a little more than America’s sexiest Chihuahua.

Where do you start?

  • Stay ahead of the game. The Internet already trounced TV news coverage. David Scott’s EContent piece, “Forget the Remote, I’m Going Online” provides telling examples of how TV dropped the ball on the Columbia shuttle disaster. “After watching the same trails of smoke followed by canned images of the Shuttle crew for the tenth time, I gave up and went online,” he writes. Meanwhile, online news organizations had already developed Shuttle microsites with detailed information on the shuttle mission and crew and links to NASA pages, radar maps, and diagrams.

    Consider the same immediacy for your site. Take advantage of the OPA’s data on Internet dayparts, and schedule truly breaking Web events when your audience is most likely to tune in.

  • Remember why people watch TV. Most people turn on the tube for relaxation and, yes, entertainment. Ensure your content has a soupçon of entertainment — even if you’re dealing with a relatively serious topic. Think about your best college professors. Their lectures always had something entertaining in them to keep them lively.
  • Don’t forget design. Here’s an amazing revelation: Television appeals to the eye. Grainy footage, poor lighting, and garbled images aren’t tolerated by most viewers. So why have some sites simply given up on adhering to basic graphic design principles? If you want people to spend time on your site, you can’t assault them visually.
  • Observe sweeps. Networks ramp up programming when ratings are at stake. When should you ramp up content? Yes, all the time. But if sales figures or site visits will be scrutinized during a particular period, plan your powerful content accordingly.
  • Don’t regurgitate. Ever watch a TV sitcom and think, “Have I seen this before?” Most likely, you have. Sitcoms generally stick to safe, similar concepts (perhaps why reality TV seemed so different until it, too, began to regurgitate concepts). Don’t give readers a terminal case of content déjà vu.

Granted, you’ll never get all Americans to turn off their TVs. Plenty of us are far too addicted (and the networks love every minute of it). But given Internet users tend to be among the more highly educated and compensated, it’s reasonable to attempt some healthy competition. Just keep your content intriguing. And please, keep the doggy beauty pageants off your site.

Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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