Business is buzzing with talk about hyper-local websites, and it is likely affecting you & your business. It can be overwhelming for any young entrepreneur to attempt to navigate through the rapidly changing world of media. Now, with the latest hyper-speed evolution of hyper-local media, following the industry is more challenging than ever.
Since co-founding a lifestyle blog based in a suburb of Philadelphia, my business partner and I have experienced a crash course in navigating the hyper-local world. From gathering our first early readers to being voted the “Best Blog” in Philadelphia, we’ve learned many important lessons along the way and continue our education each and every day. Here is a crash course in the hyper local world:
What is hyper-local anyway? Generally, hyper-local refers to the movement away from mass media towards niche, local markets. Goodbye big 3 TV networks, hello millions of niche websites.
What brought on this movement? Like every other industry, the arrival of the internet turned it upside-down. In the past, the media industry was dictated by scale; newspaper and magazine conglomerates operated more efficiently than small business by bulking materials, printing services, and distribution methods. Due to the inaccessibility of smaller cable television channels, the large network television stations received higher ratings and therefore demanded higher advertising rates. Look into your local newspapers and radio stations; chances are they are part of a conglomerate.
Today, online outlets such as blogs; YouTube; and digital radio stations have shifted the momentum, allowing smaller operations to compete and forcing big media to re-evaluate their models. The passionate blogger now has the tools to access a large audience without high start up costs.
How is the movement affecting entrepreneurs? As internet savvy entrepreneurs enter the market-place, the industry is ripe with opportunity. At the same time, it is also heavily saturated due to low barriers of entry. Hyper-local sites such as Daily Candy and Groupon have experienced huge success while, on the other hand, hundreds of locally based websites are both created and abandoned every day. Yes, creating a local website may be an affordable start-up option, but growth and sustainability are big challenges. Motivated and savvy entrepreneurs are quickly adapting to the changing markets & taking advantage of the opportunities.
How is hyper local affecting big business? Big media certainly isn’t ignoring this trend. In 2009, AOL invested $50 million into the hyper-local news network Patch.com, which is currently challenging newspapers across the country. In response, MSNBC picked up news aggregator EveryBlock and The New York Times launched a couple of neighborhood based blogs called “The Local”. Of course, these actions are causing a ripple effect across the nation, forcing established local media companies to quickly respond with their own hyperlocal websites. There is no doubt that AOL’s aggressive expansion of Patch websites is creating an impressive nationwide network, but the beauty of hyper local is that the community decides which source they like best. With hard work, small start-ups can still compete in niche markets.
How is this making any money? The question as to whether hyper local sites are sustainable has been widely debated. In my opinion, they are sustainable but not in the traditional sense. Hyper local sites must run extremely efficiently (without the large staff of a traditional newspaper or magazine) and must also utilize creative revenue streams. Just as television stations are being forced to adapt to more modern forms of advertising (such as product-driven plots), online outlets must think outside the box. With our site, BucksHappening.com, we’re constantly brainstorming & testing new revenue streams. Still, since the power of a blog lies with their audience and competition is so fierce, it is a difficult balancing act to both drive revenue and keep viewers happy. Other revenue options can be found by exploring the hundreds of blog networks seeking to capitalize on the movement, creating various ways to better connect bloggers and large advertisers.
Where is hyper-local going in the future? That’s the million dollar question (or $50 million according to AOL). In the coming years, we’ll find out if hyper-local websites are sustainable. Will they replace traditional media outlets, serve a different function, or meet some place in the middle? I have my theories and you can bet that the thousands of hyper local bloggers and big media have their own. For now, though, we must all keep our eyes and ears open for the opportunities that always accompany an evolving industry.
Tina Paparone is a serial entrepreneur, best known as the co-founder of Happenings Group Media.