Obits on TV

We’ve been fiddling around with the Internet for about 15 years and tried lots of different ideas. Streaming audio of debate from the state legislature; oral arguments from the state supreme court; online database of accident reports format he state highway patrol; and –as the say– the list goes on. One idea could never get off the ground was Obits Online. This was back in the late ’90’s as I recall.

Funeral homes would log in to our online database and post funeral announcements. The public could search by name, date, city, etc etc. We pitched the funeral home associations in Missouri and Iowa (maybe some other states, I don’t recall).

The idea never got off the ground because most funeral homes were still trying to figure out their fax machines and were convinced the people in their communities were not using computers and were unlikely to do so any time soon.

I bring up this stillborn digital baby after spotting this story (AdAge.com) about a TV station in Michigan that’s running on-air and online obituary ads after three of the region’s four daily newspapers reduced publication to three days a week.

obt-screenshot“For $100, the station will run the deceased’s name and photo on-air and publish a full-length obituary on ObitMichigan.com. Full-screen graphics listing names of people who have passed away are broadcast during the local station’s morning and noon shows Monday through Friday, as well as on weekend morning shows. Viewers are pushed to the website for more information about the deceased as well as funeral-services information.

The station’s owner, Meredith Corp., expects to roll the concept out to its other stations and says it is also in licensing discussions with other station groups.

At $100 an obituary, it’s not clear that WNEM or Meredith has really tapped a massive vein of cash. Revenue from obituaries “is a teeny subset” of overall newspaper-classified revenue, said Mort Goldstrom, VP-advertising at the Newspaper Association of America. Fees charged by papers can range from as high as $1,000 for a major metro to a few hundred dollars for a midmarket paper. And many small community and weekly newspapers still run obituaries for free.

WNEM started running obituaries in August at no charge, to get people familiar with the service and to work out any software bugs. Since launching as a paid service in early September, executives said, the station has over 700 obituaries in its system.

The new obituaries are also prompting a change in the way people go about their daily routine, he said. “The biggest issue that we have is the elderly people that don’t have the ability to pay for internet access or don’t have a computer. Now they see it flash on TV and those that don’t have a computer can call the funeral home and ask for information,” Mr. Luczak said.”

Having the TV station to promote and leverage the idea is an important component. I hope they make some money and provide a useful service.

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