Hearst: Surf’s up

TV station group invests in Internet partner

NEW YORK — Hearst-Argyle’s 26 TV stations are embracing the Internet in a big way.

The company has invested $20 million in IBS (Internet Broadcasting Systems) for a 30% stake, and the two companies will begin rolling out web portals in all 26 of the Hearst-Argyle cities, including Boston, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Orlando.

Bob Marbut, chairman and co-CEO of Hearst-Argyle TV, said one of his goals is to link the local Web sites into a national network that could start pulling in ad revenues from big corporations, starting with dot.com companies.

Hearst-Argyle will use its local news operations to key the Web sites with news and information.

Digital fare

Marbut said he foresees a day when the content on the Web sites could easily be cannibalized by one or more of the digital TV-station clones that the Hearst-Argyle stations have created to comply with Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

Tolman Geffs, CEO of IBS, says that even though each of the Web sites will be separate businesses, he’s counting on heavy cross-promotion between the local TV station and the local Web site.

Equity available

To beef up the national service, David Barrett, president and co-CEO of Hearst-Argyle, said the company would be willing to take on equity partners, particularly companies that could supply additional content to the Web sites.

IBS has four local Web sites in operation: Channel2000.com in Los Angeles (in partnership with KCBS-TV), Channel4000.com in Minneapolis (WCCO-TV is the partner), Newsnet5.com in Cleveland (WEWS-TV) and Channel6000.com in Portland (KOIN-TV). IBS also reaches 76% of Canadian homes with local Web sites through a deal with CanWest Global Communications Corp.