Rise of the hyperlocals?

Alan Mutter’s recent blog item about Yahoo’s purchase of Associated Content and its inherent threat to newspapers highlights a renewed interest in hyperlocal news sites … to folks outside of the news industry.

Mutter points out that Yahoo acquired a stable of 380,000 writers who could potentially be utilized to provide content on a very local level. Those writers could draw audiences that could make Yahoo’s rich database even richer.

This news comes amid AOL’s push to expand its purchase last year of Patch, a hyperlocal news site that showed signs of success in suburban New York. Since then, AOL has taken Patch to key suburban areas in California and is currently planning to launch a number of sites in suburban Chicago.

And that could be bad news for local publishers, many of whom have written off hyperlocal as not a big moneymaker. Unfortunately, most of that thought falls on the failure of early ventures during the mid-part of the last decade, when the Denver-based YourHub and the independent Backfence unsuccessfully tried to expand on the user-generated local content model.

So what makes hyperlocal so interesting now? Well, local news has always been big among readers, no matter what the platform. And, as Mutter points out, Yahoo’s targeted audience model would provide big national advertisers with laser-point advertising in local markets that they are unable to get through traditional media (Likewise, AOL’s customer database also provides a pinpoint local portal with national advertising, and has successfully provided that at some of their original Patch sites).

So, unlike its predecessors, the new hyperlocals have the potential to generate revenue from bigger clients as well as the mom-and-pop operations.

What will be interesting to see is whether Yahoo’s local efforts turn into a local collections of bloggers, a la exmainer.com, or follow the Patch (and the Backfence/YourHub) models as becoming a combination staff-and-user generated local news site.  In either case, you won’t see the enterprising and expose journalism that local newspapers are re-adopting, but you will see an increase of the ‘virtual refrigerator door’ type of news that readers … especially suburban readers … still crave.

(As an aside, it will also be interesting to see if AOL can leverage its brand in Chicago, where the Tribune Company has been doing hyperlocal for a few years with its TribLocal web and reverse-to-print products, and other local sites linked to traditional brands exist. Can Patch gain reader loyalty in an area that already has established local brands … especially in a market where the readership still associates AOL with ‘you’ve got mail’ and as one Twitter follower pointed out to me, should be renamed ‘AWOL’?)

But if Yahoo, AOL and others (Google, maybe?) can capitalize on hyperlocal, it will spell big trouble for publishers who are still clawing to hang on to its remaining readership.  As I noted in past blogs, the hyperlocal site that has the deepest and most dynamic local database will be the one who owns the market. Yahoo and its like know databases … and know how to make big money off of them.

And that could be the worst news for publishers on their strongest level.

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