Enriching Rich Media on Media Web Sites

Edgar Huang (bio)

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

A content analysis was conducted on four samples of U.S. newspaper Web sites and TV station Web sites to (1) explore the diffusion of the rich media technology among media Web sites, (2) examine the influence of rich media on the old habits of presenting news, and (3) provide guidelines for the media industry in developing rich media news content.


Rich media refer to a broad range of interactive digital media such as video, audio and animation. The use of the term is often associated with online advertisement production. This paper limits the discussion to videos, audios and Flash animations used in or as the primary content of media Web sites. Media Web sites refer to U.S. newspaper Web sites and television (TV) station Web sites.

For roughly a decade, media Web sites have experimented with online video, audio and Flash animation technology for interactivity. The results of these experiments, mostly on video, have left much to be desired. For instance, news viewers could be easily annoyed by fuzzy videos in a tiny box, videos with frequent and long interruptions by something called buffering, or poor-quality mono-channel audio as experienced on CNN.com. Viewers who are still using a dial-up connection may wonder why the Virginian-Pilot’s Web staff is only concerned with viewers with a broadband connection. Impatient viewers may skip the video or audio completely when they receive a request to download a specific media player in order to view or listen to the content. If viewers click on a video in the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Web site SignOnSanDiego.com, they may be asked to either choose a media player (and the viewer may not know which media player to select because the site does not specify) to play their audios/videos (A/Vs) or download an A/V to their hard drive to listen to or view it. The long download time may irritate the viewer and push him/her away from such A/V content. In addition, downloaded A/Vs could consume a considerable amount of disk space on a hard drive. After several frustrating episodes, the viewer may decide not to touch any rich media content on particular sites ever again. Finally, if a Mac computer user is interested in a video news story on MSNBC.com, he or she may receive a short error message “Operating system not supported” because the site does not encode its Windows Media videos properly for Mac computers.

Similar problems exist on ABC.com, CBSnews.com and USAToday.com. Many Mac computer users have to install Windows Media Player first to view the content on many of these news sites. Media Web site developers, on their part, may have little time to produce stories or other programs using rich media, let alone produce that same content for different media players and different Internet access speeds and caption and describe these choices for better accessibility—all under daily deadline pressure. After going through such effort, they may wonder: Are we making money by providing such rich media service? Can viewers access our rich media? Does anyone really care if we do or do not provide such a service? Some media sites, such as the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com and OutdoorChannel.com have decided it is not worth the trouble and have produced no rich media.

This paper examined how media Web sites took advantage of rich media in their content productions and used them to maximize the potential of presenting news. It compared the rich media usage between newspaper sites and TV sites and between the top media sites and the overall population of media sites. A content analysis was conducted on four different samples of media sites. The goal was to provide technological guidelines to the media industry in their rich media development.

Literature Review

Finding viable solutions for applying rich media content to media Web sites is important for two reasons. First, rich media can enrich news writing and have the potential of becoming tomorrow’s way of reporting news. According to Storslee (2001), exposure to content in rich media formats enhances the cognitive processing of content resulting in improved retention. In the early years of online news presence, the use of rich media was rare. About two percent of local TV stations’ home pages incorporated audio elements and seven percent contained links to videos, according to Bates (1997). By 1998, fewer than 10 percent of the daily newspaper sites offered animated graphics, audio clips or video clips (Tankard, 1998). Zaharopoulos’s 2003 study based on a systematic random sample of 142 U.S. newspaper sites found that 12 percent of the sites carried audio clips and 13.7 percent had video clips. The adoption rate climbed slowly over those years. Tankard (1998) found that most online newspapers seemed to be relying heavily on content from their associated print newspapers. “Too many sites confuse shovelware [1] with online news,” said Adam Clayton Powell III, vice president for technology and programs at the Freedom Forum (Lanson, 2000).

Some media professionals regard good writing as the sole criterion in judging the quality of online reporting and call rich media “added multimedia pizzazz” (Glaser, 2003). Roland De Wolk, producer at KTVU Investigative Reports and an online journalism professor at San Francisco State University, says, “Today, 90 percent of the content on the Web is text, but as the pipe grows fatter, text will become more of a supplement rather than the main meal… That old journalism adage, ‘Show, don’t tell,’ is best told in a broadband medium” (Lasica, 2000). [2] Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton believes that editors and publishers have to learn “to compete in a world in which faster computers and bigger ‘pipes’ [3] will make online news truly multimedia news” (Lanson, 2000). Daniel Webster, West Coast vice president of The FeedRoom, also believes “the second wave of the Internet revolution will be a video and audio wave. Are we there yet? Not at all” (Lasica, 2000).

Second, the broadband surge has brought up more audience needs for rich media, especially videos. Online users’ craving for videos is not something new. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Michael Silberman, executive editor of MSNBC.com, observed that, on election night, 20 percent of the site’s 5.5 million visitors went to a video page to watch a video stream of election coverage, such as concession and acceptance speeches from around the country (ibid.). “That’s more than a million people who chose the Web over watching the coverage on their television sets. ‘That, to me, is a real sign that broadband has arrived,’ he said” (ibid.). “At MSNBC we think about broadband in two ways: as rich content, as video, as animation, about how we can combine those elements into a single experience,” Silberman said (ibid.). Over the last two years or so, Internet users in the United States and all around the world have been embracing broadband technology and rich media consumption at a faster speed. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, the number of U.S. at-home broadband users increased 36% in 2004, accounting for 55% of the total U.S. at-home users by the end of December (McGann, 2005b). [4] A study by AccuStream iMedia Research (2005) found that the number of video streams increased 80.7% in 2004. Worldwide, broadband adoption grew even faster. The total number of broadband subscribers, as estimated by Point Topic, a U.K.-based company, exceeded 150 million by the end of December 2004, a year-over-year increase of approximately 50% (ibid.). By the end of 2005, worldwide broadband lines exceeded 205 million, as estimated by the same company (Burns, 2006a). A recent study shows that the consumption of streaming videos is positively correlated to whether the consumer has a broadband connection (McGann, 2005a). [5] McGann (ibid.) writes, “Broadband connections (defined as 100kps or higher) accounted for 79.3% of that [video] volume.” Research from Points North Group found, “As networks and other content creators line up to bring video to the Web, anticipation for rich media programs grows” (Burns, 2006b). As a result, many publishers have scrambled to redesign sites to deliver additional video content (Cohen, 2005).

The rich media function of enhancing text and the audience’s increasing needs for rich media resulting from the broadband surge all point to an urgent need of a study on how to enrich rich media on media Web sites. The extent to which a media Web site incorporates rich media has to do with a recent trend in the media industry—media convergence. Led by Time Warner-AOL, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and The News Center in Tampa, Florida, many news companies in the United States have either merged or collaborated in different ways to report news across media platforms (Huang et al., 2003). Media convergence via corporate merger constituted just 8.5% of the 714 commercial television stations in 210 designated market areas around the United States in 2003, [6] but convergence in the forms of content sharing and staff sharing, etc., has happened among many more companies. Huang et al. (2003) found in a national survey among newspapers and TV stations that roughly half of the news professionals surveyed (48%) reported that they produced news content for multiple media platforms on a routine basis both in merged media (50%) and non-merged media (48%). Media convergence has been made possible by new technologies such as the Internet, streaming video and audio and networking infrastructure, but is technology dictating how messages are constructed? In the analog world, TV and newspapers have different platforms (paper and TV screen) to present content in different ways; but when content is presented on the Internet—a digital world made up of 1s and 0s—both can present not only text and photos but also rich media content. However, are newspaper Web sites and TV sites still sticking to their roles in the analog world? In other words, to what extent has new technology transformed media professionals’ mindsets for constructing media messages on the Internet? It is interesting to see to what point print, TV and the Web have been converged to tell stories and present programs at their full potential and to reach viewers with different needs.

This study is based on Everett M. Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory. Rogers characterized varying degrees of user participation of technologies into five categories: laggards, late majority, early majority, early adopters and innovators (Rogers & Scott, 1997). Rogers described early adopters as “instrumental in getting an innovation to the point of critical mass, and hence, in the successful diffusion of an innovation” (ibid.). Rogers used the term “critical mass” to refer to the point at which enough individuals have adopted an innovation that the innovation's further rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining. The concept of the critical mass implies that outreach activities should be concentrated on getting the use of the innovation to the point of critical mass, usually reached between 10% to 20% (Mahler & Rogers, 1999). These efforts should be focused on the early adopters. After a critical mass is reached, the diffusion of innovation likely becomes irreversible (ibid.). Broadband technology adoption has long passed the critical mass, but is the diffusion of rich media content closely following the crest of the broadband surge? Is the diffusion of rich media trickling down from large media companies to the smaller ones? These are the questions this paper attempts to answer.


The general research questions of this study were: How has rich media technology influenced the way news is presented online? To what extent are American media companies ready for a Web presentation paradigm shift or even a revolution that will bring viewers a truly converged media experience? These general questions were operationalized into the following specific research questions for observation:

1.     How extensively are rich media used across media Web sites?

2.     How many sites produce their own rich media? Do they use rich media to show content or to promote content?

3.     To what extent are rich media emphasized both quantitatively [7] and structurally?

4.     How have the media Web sites made it convenient for viewers to use rich media, such as providing large video sizes, [8] a full-screen viewing button, streaming and live webcast?

5.     How serious is the issue of media player compatibility across PC and Mac platforms?

6.     How do newspaper sites and TV broadcast network sites differ in using rich media content?

7.     How do top media sites and the overall population of media sites differ in using rich media?

Questions 1-5 were the factors to be measured, and Questions 6-7 were the contexts in which these factors were measured. Therefore, the findings report on the Question 6 and Question 7 will be mingled into the answers to the first five questions. A content analysis was conducted on four samples of media Web sites. Two were samples of top media sites and the other two were overall samples of media sites in the nation.

1.     Top 100 newspaper sites in the United States. The Newspapers.com site has listed 100 newspapers with the largest circulations in the United States. [9] All 100 sites were included in the observation. To some extent, this sample is a census.

2.     TV station sites from the top 25 Designated Market Areas (DMA) in the United States. [10] The TV industry has 210 designated market areas. The bigger a market is, the more TV homes can access programs from those TV stations, the more profit those TV stations can reap, and the more likely those TV stations are to invest in new technology. In total, there were 706 TV stations in the top 25 DMA. A systematic random sample of 141 stations was drawn from them. [11]

3.     Overall newspaper sites in the United States. A systematic random sample of 229 newspaper sites was drawn from a total of 1,190 U.S. dailies listed under Newslink.org. [12]

4.     Overall TV station sites in the United States. TVRadioWorld.com included a total of 1,576 TV station sites in the United States that had a unique Web site. A list of all TV station sites from each state was compiled from the TVRadioWorld.com site. All 1,576 stations were alphabetically sorted. Then, a systematic random sample of 309 sites was drawn from the list.

The sample sizes were roughly based on the recommendations made by Patten (2000, p. 132) in the chart listing the proportion of each specific population to its corresponding sample size.   From October to December of 2005, each site was visited both on a PC and a Mac to observe performance consistency across platforms. Both the Mac and the PC used for coding were advanced computers and had the latest versions of Windows Media Player, Real Player, Flash Player and QuickTime Player, the latest operating systems, and the latest versions of major Web browsers installed. Both coding computers had a 5Mbps broadband maximum downloading speed from a cable modem.

Two coders coded these sites. The intercoder reliability index using Scott’s Pi was 0.88. The coders took notes during coding to record any significant observations on individual sites. The unit of analysis was each piece of audio clip, video clip and Flash animation. Both descriptive and inferential statistical procedures were applied.


The reporting of the findings will be based on the first five specific research questions. The last two questions concerning comparisons across newspaper sites and TV station sites and across top sites and overall sites will be included in the report on the first five questions. All observations of individual sites are based on the observation notes taken during coding.

1.      How extensively are rich media used across media Web sites?

By the end of November 2005, media convergence endeavors in the nation had tasted their initial fruit on the Web. Rich media usage across newspaper sites and TV station sites was loosely chasing the broadband connection expansion in American homes (See Figure 1). That was especially true among top newspaper sites (42%) and on TV station sites (47.9%), where the use of video content had passed the point of critical mass and was getting close to 50%. Among overall American newspaper sites (10.9%), rich media usage was still gaining momentum. Pure audio clips were very rarely used (1.3%) and they were carried mostly on newspaper sites. Compared to the adoption rate of video, Flash production usage was sporadic among the overall samples of media sites (1.3% for newspapers and 7% for TVs), and showed up mostly in top media sites (27% for top newspapers, 17.1% for top TVs). Chi-square Tests (See Figure 1) show that, across the nation, TV station sites significantly outperformed newspaper sites in the use of all kinds of rich media. After all, producing A/V is what TV stations do every day. However, top newspaper sites and top TV station sites were almost equally ambitious in using video, audio and Flash production (See Figure 1).

2.      How many sites produce their own rich media? Do they use rich media to show content or to promote content?

Whether a media site produces its own rich media indicates, from one aspect, the extent to which the site makes an effort to enrich its content. Newspaper sites are usually maintained and supported by their print counterparts. For print dailies, producing rich media could mean an extra burden and extra cost unless a newspaper is willing to expand its scope of content for the Web rather than shovelwaring its print content. Compared to TV station sites, which can, and mostly (roughly 93%) did, repurpose their videos for Web use, newspaper sites that produced their own rich media were still few (20.7% overall, 34% top), and most of them (79.2% overall, 66.1% top) relied on Associated Press for such content to combat the shortage of in-house A/V materials (See Figure 2). All newspaper sites and most TV station sites (86.5% overall, 76.7% top) used rich media solely for covering content while a few TV station sites (9.6% overall, 18.3% top) did little except for promoting their programs with videos (See Figure 3). Those TV station sites that promoted content tended to have the least A/V content (1-5 videos, 80% for overall sample of TV station sites and 81.8% for Top 25 DMA TV station sites). TV station sites used rich media to either show content or promote content, but very few of them did both (See Figure 3).

3.      To what extent are rich media emphasized both quantitatively and structurally?

Both top newspaper sites and top TV sites outperformed their overall counterparts in adopting rich media (See Figure 4). To be more specific, more top newspaper sites (18.8%) carried over 20 pieces of A/V than the overall sample of newspaper sites (1%), and more top TV sites (37.9%) carried over 20 pieces of A/V than the overall sample of TV station sites (25.5%). Not surprisingly, both top TV sites and the overall sample of TV station sites outperformed their newspaper counterparts in the number of A/Vs produced.

How did media Web sites promote rich media content no matter whether they produced videos in-house or adopted them from syndicated sources or local TV stations (for newspaper sites)? Newspaper sites and TV station sites showed very different mentalities (See Figure 5). Predictable and featured presentations of videos can make it easy for returning viewers to go right to the videos. However, fewer than a quarter of newspaper sites (24% overall and 23.3% top) featured videos on their homepages conspicuously, or showed videos as story links with a video camera icon and/or as a link in the top/left menu in the first screen of the home page. The rest of the newspaper sites de-emphasized their already scant videos by showing them as story links (some days no story was attached with a video, so videos could come and go) or a menu item in the lower portion of the home page, or simply tucked them away to inside pages to the point that viewers might not be even aware that those newspaper sites had A/V content available at all. Extremely few newspaper sites (1.2%) in the nation featured Flash productions on their home pages except for a few of top newspaper sites (14.8%, See Figure 5). In contrast, over half of the TV station sites (58.6% overall, 52.5% top) prominently featured their video content up front in fear that anyone would miss such a feature (See Figure 5). If a TV station site had a Flash production, chances were it would also feature it on the home page, and that was especially true for the overall sample of TV station sites (81.8%), 75% of which featured Flash productions while carrying no videos. Such “Flashy” TV station sites usually carried neither video stories nor textual stories; most of the content was about program schedules, links to programs from their respective mother companies, service information, and so on. Almost all PBS station sites took on such a model. Top newspaper sites tended to feature videos and Flash productions, if any were used, compared to the overall sample of newspaper sites (See Figure 5).

4.      How have the media Web sites made it convenient for viewers to use rich media, such as providing large video sizes, a full-screen viewing button, streaming, and live webcast?

Streaming had become a dominant method for delivering A/Vs on media Web sites. At least three quarters of media sites from all four samples took advantage of at least one kind of streaming technology (See Figure 6). However, some media sites, even leading ones, were still using an HTTP protocol to deliver A/Vs (i.e. Muncie Star Press’s thestarpress.com), or even worse, using outdated Flash embedded video technology so as to cut cost. CBS and Discovery.com were cases in point. Many of CBS’s affiliated station sites used a Web site template featuring a Flash video on the home page using the progressive downloading technology. [13] Ironically, CBSNews.com itself uses either Real Player or Windows Media Player to stream videos. Discovery.com featured a marvelous Flash-driven homepage but with embedded Flash videos. A viewer must wait for a video on that site to be fully loaded before he/she could watch it; and the video would stop frequently while playing if an Internet connection was not fast enough. Extremely few media sites provided live webcast programs, most of which were provided by TV station sites (See Figure 6). The media sites seemed to agree on the best size for a video frame. The longer side of a typical video frame was on average 3 inches. Most sites kept their video frame size consistent across stories (See Figure 6). Although Real Player and Windows Media Player both allow full-screen video viewing so long as the videos from a site are configured in a way that external player viewing is possible, not all viewers necessarily know how to take advantage of such a feature. Flash video can also be viewed in a large screen through scripting. Unfortunately, extremely few media sites added a full-screen button/link (0%-9.8%) beside the videos (See Figure 6).

5.      How serious is the issue of media player compatibility across PC and Mac platforms?

Media player war was typically reflected on the media sites (See Figure 7). IBM-compatible computers had been dominant in businesses and homes. [14] So was Windows Media Player, which came along with any Windows operating system. Real Player was still popular among media sites, but its popularity was overshadowed by Flash Player by the end of 2005. QuickTime Player still had a little market share among newspaper sites, but had fallen down hard in the media player battle. Across all four samples, at least 82.5% of the media sites produced video content for only one kind of media player, and chances were it was Windows Media Player. Very few sites (and those were mainly top media sites) still bothered to produce the same content for two players, let alone for three. Media player compatibility across platforms was an issue, mostly for Mac computer users. From 7.6% to 10.7% of the media sites from different samples could not show any of their videos, mostly on a Mac (See Figure 7). Almost all such cases had to do with Windows Media Player. Many of these media sites would show diversified error messages as an excuse for not showing their videos on a Mac: “The current version of your browser does not support ActiveX. Windows Media Player 9 not detected. Click here to download,” “WINDOWS MEDIA TEST. Sorry, video is not supported for Macintosh computers at this time,” “The file may not play correctly because it was compressed by using a codec that is not supported,” or “Cannot open the file. Verify that the path and filename are correct and try again.” The same videos on these sites could be viewed on a PC all the time. Such problems occurred on some premium media sites, such as LATimes.com, MSNBC.com and ABCnews.com. Obviously, Windows Media Player had serious Mac compatibility problems.

Confusion about rich media technology and inconsistencies in rich media usage were sometimes observed from media sites. For instance, South Carolina’s newspaper TheState.com claimed to carry streaming videos, which turned out to be videos for progressive downloading. It alternated between QuickTime videos and Flash videos. WFMZ from Allentown, PA, carried videos in Real format in different sizes. Viewers had to download them to watch them. A video camera icon was put in front of every news story, but not every story was accompanied by a video clip. Mislinks and broken links to A/Vs were observed in several sites, such as Cincinnati Enquirer, Troy Daily News, Erie Times & News, and Waco Tribune-Herald’s respective Web sites. WRC-DT’s NBC4.com and some other NBC affiliated sites forced viewers to use Internet Explorer to view videos, or videos wouldn’t show.

Discussions and Conclusions

Today, streaming technology and Flash technology are gradually transforming the way news is presented on media Web sites. Compared to the data from Bates’ 1998 study and Zaharopoulos’s 2003 study, this study shows that the rich media adoption rate was much increased by the end of 2005. However, such a transformation has largely occurred on the top media sites in top markets, which enjoy the concentration of capital, technology resources and mass consumption power. The transformation is most convincingly witnessed on many top newspaper sites, which team with local TV stations to disseminate news across media platforms on the Internet or take advantage of the availability of AP rich media; some are willing to walk the extra mile to produce their own rich media to enrich their print news stories.

On the other hand, newspaper sites, especially the ones in the larger national sample, have produced much less rich media content, have tended not to feature them if they use any, and are less likely to present them to their full capacity compared to their TV station counterparts. They tend to treat rich media as supplemental, trivial, and non-integral. All these facts, added together, suggest that the practices of presenting Web news on many newspaper sites in the nation are still driven by their print mindsets. In other words, technology is facilitating the transformation of news presentations on the Internet, but is still subject to the boundary set by the social-cultural tradition. Comparisons between top media sites to their overall national samples of media sites, on many counts, indicate that the innovation of rich media technology has trickled down from the top markets to the lower markets. The adoption of rich media on TV station sites and on top newspaper sites has surpassed the critical mass, but is still gaining momentum on most newspaper sites in the nation. The high rich media adoption rates across multiple samples predict an irreversible trend of rich media practices and more saturated rich media content on media sites in the coming years. Yet, the practices of rich media production are far from being mature. With such a promising rich media future, much work remains to be done to provide viewers a truly pleasant converged media experience on the Internet. Based on the findings above, the author recommends the following four guidelines for developing rich media content:

1.     Best exploit rich media for online users.

2.     Deliver a no-extra-burden rich media experience.

3.     Conspicuously feature rich media on the home page.

4.     Provide a consistent and user-friendly interface.


1. Best exploit rich media for online users.

This recommendation is made primarily to newspaper sites, but applies to TV station sites as well. Media convergence has been a buzzword in the media industry over the last decade, but it still has a long way to go before media convergence becomes a way of life instead of being merely an option for media companies. Many newspaper sites in the nation still seem to be at the stage of treating a Web page as if it were a piece of paper and have not taken advantage of the rich media features. When online, however, the distinction between newspaper and television is erased because all information is governed by 0s and 1s. The focus for developing a Web component for a newspaper or a TV station should not be to conform to its mother platform, but to best serve the Web users with the help of rich media. Of course, rich media should not be used as eye candy. News value needs to be the sole driving force behind whether to add rich media to a story package. Newspaper sites may still need to rely on the Associated Press for out-of-state or global news feeds, but they can actively develop their own rich media content as Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Cleveland.com, Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Startribune.com and Washington Post’s Washingtonpost.com have done, as the study found. Compared to the TV station sites, newspaper sites can do much more to produce more rich media and to improve the way rich media are presented and featured.

The comparative scarcity of Flash productions in both newspaper and TV station sites indicate a potential scarcity of professionals who know how to produce Flash pieces. This fact poses a challenge to journalism schools and telecommunication schools that normally do not teach Flash even though it has become a standard in delivering rich media content. Also, a “Flashy” site needs to be rich with solid content, or the “Flashy” form will betray its pale content.

2. Deliver a no-extra-burden rich media experience.

Inappropriately or irresponsibly prepared rich media serve as “engineering noise” in Shannon and Weaver’s model of communication (Fiske, 1982, p. 6-9). Such noise either compromises or limits the amount of desired information that can be sent. No matter how good and well-intended a message is, the medium through which the message is transmitted must first be studied and used to its best advantage to serve the message. Otherwise, the medium will become the message, as McLuhan (1967) claimed, but a message that repels users.

In terms of media player incompatibility problems, it is imperative that a media Web site check its rich media content across platforms and across Web browsers before it makes its rich media production routine. If the government, businesses and usability groups care to spend millions of dollars on studying how to make the Web more accessible to visually and aurally impaired Internet users, why should the media Web sites make a much larger Mac computer viewer population, which makes up 5% of the overall U.S. personal computer user population (Fried, 2002), involuntarily handicapped online? Spending money, effort and time on either minority group in terms of Web development makes little business sense, some people may say, but does it? By providing all users with a burden-free experience, the media companies will send a strong message to their users saying, “We care about you.”

3. Conspicuously feature rich media on the home page.

Viewers love rich media as shown in the Introduction of this paper. Promoting rich media on the first screen of the home page could more easily entice viewers. Here are a few quick cases from this study that can help illustrate the point above. Minnesota’s Startribune.com was one of the very few sites that provided quality videos across Windows Media Player, Real Player and QuickTime Player. Unfortunately, such excellent videos were hidden deep inside the site. No videos were featured on the home page. There was no menu link to the videos. Once in a while, when a news story had a video component, a story link to video(s) would be attached at the bottom of the story on the home page. Then a viewer could click on the video link to be led to another page that lists all the audios and videos that were tied to this particular story. The viewer could click on one of the video links to watch it. On the top portion of a subsequent video page, a “Video homepage” link surprisingly showed up. If the viewer clicked on it, suddenly, around twenty links to the latest videos would appear on another page. What a waste of excellent resources!

Such excellent resources would make an ideal marriage with Azcentral.com’s way of promoting A/V content. In U.S. dailies, The Arizona Republic seemed to be a media convergence model. The newspaper was housed under its Web site Azcentral.com together with its local TV partner 12News. Azcentral.com promoted videos by listing eight video links on the home page, creating a Photo/Video link as a top menu item, and a 12News link in the left menu. Viewers could easily access textual stories and photos from the paper and videos from the local TV station. The same could be said about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s AJC.com. Newspaper sites can also learn much about using rich media from Boston 7News’s http://www3.whdh.com/, an outstanding TV station site. Its top story was always accompanied by a video. It had a Video link in the top menu, which led to live webcast programs. Unlike other sites that provided live webcast, WHDH maintained an extensive live webcast schedule all through the day. WHDH also posted archived videos from the last five days, provided video forecast, and finally, took care of viewers with different Internet connection speeds by producing the same videos with two sizes. Promoting rich media, especially video, may boost a media Web site’s “stickiness.”

4. Provide a consistent and user-friendly interface.

Finally, rich media experience needs to be enjoyable. Do streaming videos have to be in a tiny video box and in mono-sound? No. As broadband Internet service providers, such as Bright House and SBC/Yahoo, increase their maximum connection speed from year to year without raising their premium, and as software developers such as Macromedia and Maui X-Stream, Inc., care to develop and advance streaming technologies that deliver high-quality A/Vs at a low data rate, media Web site developers should not hesitate to provide broadband users the luxury of enjoying more Flash animations, videos with a longer side longer than three inches , high-fidelity sound and live webcast over the Internet. Also, providing a “Full screen” button makes a site more user-friendly. Rich media presentations need to be made consistent over stories or programs and over platforms. A consistent style of presentation relieves rich media developers of the pressure of coping with different formats and sizes, but also allows viewers, especially return viewers, easily access to rich media. The scope of this study has been limited to the media Web sites in the United States. At this age of global media, more scholarship should be encouraged regarding the uses of rich media on the global scale. Also, more data need to be collected to establish a correlation between media cross ownership and rich media usage.


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Figures 1-7: Status of rich media usage on media Web sites


Overall sample of newspaper sites

Top 100 newspaper sites

Overall sample of TV station sites

Top 25 DMA TV station sites

Figure 1: Overall rich media usage

Used video only





Used video and/or audio [15]





Used Flash





* Chi-square tests between the top 100 newspaper sites and overall sample of newspaper sites and between the Top 25 DMA TV station sites and the overall sample of TV station sites, df=1, p<0.05. The same tests were done in the following figures.

§ Chi-square tests between the overall sample of TV station sites and overall sample of newspaper sites and between the top 25 DMA station sites and top 100 newspaper sites, df=1, p<0.05. The same tests were done in the following figures.

Figure 2: Rich media production endeavor

Produced in-house rich media, but used non-in-house sources too





Used non-in-house rich media only [16]





*df=1 p<0.05; § p<0.05

Figure 3: The purpose of using rich media

Showed content only





Promoted content





Both showed and promoted content or just promoted content





Figure 4: Number of in-house A/Vs produced

Used < 5 A/Vs





Used 6-20 A/Vs





Used >20 A/Vs





Figure 5: Featuring rich media content

Featured videos





Featured Flash on homepage





* df=1 p<0.05; § p<0.05

Figure 6: Convenience in using rich media

Streamed A/Vs





Provided live webcast





Average video screen size (longer side)

3 inches

2.9 inches

2.9 inches

2.8 inches

Provided a “Large Screen” button or link for videos





Figure 7: Media player war

Windows Media Player (W)





Flash Player (F)





Real Player (R)





QuickTime (Q)





Produced for two players





Produced for three players





Did not work for a PC or a Mac or for both






[1] Shovelware refers to the practice of moving text and photos for hardcopy newspaper to the Web without taking advantage of what the Web can offer in terms of its technological capability and without considering the fact that the audience on the Web may be very different from newspaper readers in terms of age, medium preferences, attention span and so on.

[2] Broadband for consumers in data transmission usually refers to the fast Internet connection speeds made possible either by Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) or cable modem.

[3] Pipes in this context refer to broadband connections.

[4] As of December 2006, 78% of the U.S. active home online population connects via broadband, according to data released by Nielsen/NetRatings.

[5] This study corroborates the findings from a 2002 PEW study “The Broadband Difference.” The PEW study found: “Downloading and streaming are the most popular ‘new media’ activities for broadband users, with the high-speed connection encouraging a strong majority of these users to do these activities more often… For streaming, 72% of broadband elites have done this, with 81% doing it more often since they got their home broadband connection. Fully a third (31%) of the broadband elite stream audio or video several times a week or more, compared to 17% of other broadband users” (Horrigan and Rainie, 2002).

[6] The data were analyzed by Sheryl Larson in an unpublished paper based on Poynter Institute’s Convergence Catalog initiated and maintained by Howard I. Finberg (2003).

[7] This variable had three attributes: light (1-5 links), moderate (6-20 links), and aggressive (over 20 links). If a site contains live program streaming, that is counted as being equivalent to over 20 links.

[8] The sizes of the video frames were all measured on a PC with a 1024x768-pixel screen resolution with the highest 32-bit color quality to ensure consistent measurement. The coder measured the longer side of the frame to determine the frame size. Some sites used different dimensions across videos. The coder measured the longest video frames to represent those sites respectively.

[9] See http://www.newspapers.com/top100.html.

[10] The top 25 DMA determined by Nielsen Media Research can be found at http://www.nielsenmedia.com/DMAs.html.

[11] The list of the TV stations from the top 25 DMA was extracted from the authoritative TVRadioWorld.com site. See details at http://www.tvradioworld.com/region1/usa/usastates.asp.

[12] See site details at http://newslink.org/daynews.html.

[13] Streaming and progressive downloading are not necessarily different in terms of image quality, but streaming is usually done through a dedicated streaming server while progressive downloading is done through a regular HTTP server. Streaming allows a viewer to randomly access a video by scrubbing the play head, but progressive downloading does not have this feature. Progressive downloading leaves a downloaded file on the viewer’s computer, but streaming does not. Streaming can detect a viewer’s bandwidth so as to deliver a video with appropriate data rate, but progressive downloading does not have this feature.

[14] According to thecounter.com, as of December 2005, IBM-compatible computers took 94 percent of the market share. See details at http://www.thecounter.com/stats/2005/December/os.php.

[15] All videos come along with audio. When audio is singled out in this chart, it refers to those audio items without video.

[16] Such as local TV stations if it was a newspaper site, syndicated agencies or mother company’s productions.

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