Tegna outlines local-content strategy at NewFronts

Amazon Fire TV news app
Tegna is one of the U.S. broadcasters contributing local news to Amazon's Fire TV app. (Amazon)

Tegna offered a pitch to advertisers Tuesday at IAB 2021 NewFronts that amounted to: Trust us, because our viewers already do.

The Tysons Corner, Va., firm—among the first-time presenters at IAB’s annual gathering—emphasized how its local roots intertwined with a renewed interest among Americans in their local communities.

“Tegna is 64 local media brands in 51 markets,” said Lesli Foster, weeknight anchor at the Tegna-owned WUSA9, in opening the 10-minute presentation. “While our brand started as television stations, today, every newsroom operates its own web site, mobile app, OTT apps, multiple newsletters and at least four social feeds.”

In the last few months, Tegna stations have also gained distribution via apps on Amazon’s Fire TV and Fox’s free ad-supported streaming service Tubi.

Reese Waters, a colleague of Foster at that Washington, D.C., station, cited record digital engagement in 2020 of nearly 70 million monthly visitors to Tegna digital properties and credited that to broader consumer trust in local news.

“Studies show audiences see local journalists as more caring, trustworthy and unbiased,” he said, citing 2019 research by the Knight Foundation and Gallup that found 66% of respondents saw local news as reporting without bias—versus only 31% seeing the same in national news.

(That October 19 study also contained this less-reassuring nugget, unmentioned in Tegna’s presentation: While half of Democrats trusted local news organizations, just 27% of Republicans did.)

Adam Ostrow, Tegna’s chief digital officer, added that the pandemic had fueled a renewed interest in local communities.

RELATED: Amazon adds 88 local markets to free news app on Fire TV

“Increased time at home has led to rises in telehealth, home repairs and upgrades, online education, and all things home delivery,” he said. “There's also the mass adoption of remote work, which has led people to move to new cities, and also led to a good dose of cabin fever.”

Tegna’s newest acquisition—the sports podcast network Locked On, which it purchased in January—got a prominent spot in the presentation.

Host Ross Jackson touted the 80 million-plus downloads Locked On saw in 2020 and said the network was adding “new video experiences designed specifically for passionate hometown fans” on both local stations’ existing digital platforms and a new OTT app.

Tegna’s sales pitch wrapped up with two more themes of trust. First Joanie Vasiliadis, vice president for digital content, discussed how Tegna is expanding Verify, the fact-checking operation it launched in 2015 as a feature at local stations.

“In 2020, Verify content saw more than a 400% increase on Tegna websites,” she said. (Fact check: true, via a Jan. 25 Tegna press release that cited a 423% increase as seen in Google Analytics data.) Adding that Verify had done especially well on Snapchat—“where 50% of the audience is younger than 24”—Vasiliadis said Tegna would build out Verify as a nationwide brand.

Then John Vilade, head of sales and vice president at Tegna’s subsidiary Premion, touted that operation’s role as a department of defense against ad fraud.

“In today's media marketplace, trust is critical, which is why our focus remains on brand-safe, high-quality premium inventory at all times—and no use of open exchanges,” he said. Vilade pointed to Premion’s certification against ad fraud by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (a recognition bestowed by that industry group in November 2020) as “a validation of our strategy of directly sourcing inventory from premium publishers and using cutting-edge anti-fraud technology.”

Jessica Daigle, vice president for sales intelligence, followed up Vilade by discussing how Tegna’s attribution system allows precise tracking of outcomes.

“Our market leading insights help deliver more than 7000 attribution campaigns across a variety of verticals,” she said, citing such figures as an 11 to 1 return on investment for new-car advertising. “Last year alone, we captured tens of billions of impressions, 19 million website visits, and 11 million location visits.”

Daigle announced new partnerships with IHS Markit’s Polk Automotive Solutions and the travel-ingelligence firm Arrivalist to expand existing targeting and attribution offerings.

“Look, local is the solution for high-impact results because local wins consumers,” she said—a vote of confidence in community-centric news that may leave reporters at cash-strapped local newspapers wondering what their employers keep doing wrong.