local media insider
Case study

WHTM ABC27's web-based local app store bypasses iTunes, gets 16,000 merchant downloads directly from users in its first month

How a station bypassed the Apple app store to build its own

Alisa Cromer
A link in the desktop nav bar gives another look at more than 20 categories. Please click to enlarge.
Appsolutelypa starts off with a prompt to save the app - and have all local apps in one place. Click to enlarge these images.
Pick option 3!
Click to enlarge and note the "Add to home screen" prompt.
Descriptions of merchant apps are basic, but clicking takes them to a page that prompts visitors to save the app to the home screen...

Company: WHTM ABC27TV 

Market: Harrisburg, Pa 
Traffic: ABC27.com reaches 360,000 UV's and 2.6 million page views monthly
Key executives: Anthony Maydwell, Senior AE; Sue Mumma, Local Sales Manager

Summary: In July, 2012 ABC27TV in Harrisburg, Pa.  launched what may be the first local app store of its kind. AppsolutelyPA launches via a browser-based  app, so the app is saved to the desktop without going through the Apple store. Custom apps  can be sold to local merchants and promoted in the store - and of course onair. In the first 30 days, the store had 9,000 downloads, with an additional 16,000 downloads of merchant apps. The station is in the process of converting many of the 30 day  "beta test" accounts to annual packages, with a minimum hosting fee $4000, plus campaign packages. 

Challenge: With less television inventory to sell during political season, ABC27's Harrisburg affiliate station began to explore new avenues and platforms.  At first selling apps to merchants seemed limited due to time and cost to create and place a single app in the Apple store.

 "How do you make money getting all the top local businesses involved if there is only one national store that controls the market?" Maydell says. A solution appeared when local app developer IMAMLocal showed the station how to a launch browser-based app store of its own.

Strategy:  The technology uses standard website coding so that apps can be launched from the browser. Visitors simply go to  ABC27.com on their device, click on AppsolutelyPA, then saving the  app directly to their home screen. No Apple store needed. Users can also save apps from individual merchants in the store to their device screens. 

Similar to Columbia Daily Tribune's iPad app, the technology is based around the "add to home screen" bookmarking feature, which prompts visitors through a few clicks to save the app to the home page of the phone (see images top right for a quick walk through of the process).

Merchants  in the store  get a mobile web site and  app that is seven pages deep. Functionality includes click-to-call and click-to-get directions from current location  and push notifications, which show up as bubbles on top of the phone screen. With no advanced skills, merchants  can update their web APP and mobile website 24/7 via their own business panel.

The browser-based platform avoids the time and cost of developing native apps and submitting them to the apps store, a cost that would typically be around a prohibitive $1500 per merchant. That means merchants can also spend more money promoting the app - money that goes to  the media company instead of Apple.

Merchants get extra promotional benefit from the store's own onair and internet promotions. TV is a strong medium for introducing new consumer techonology; almost every one has see a TV spot showing someone using a native app to deposit a check. Lumma says new commercials for AppsolutelyPa show two young friends deciding where to go by browsing the app store for offers;  the store features a deal of the day  any merchant can post to.

The July, 2012 store launch included onair spots, QR Codes on posters at point of purchase locations, letters to existing customers and customers "who have turned us down before" and a co-promote with the riverboat, Pride of the Sussquanannah, which carried a giant QR code sign on its mast.

Maydell, who has gone on numerous app sales calls, says his pitch to local merchants is simple: 

"Do you have an app? What about a mobile version your web site?  This is the first year the mobile audience will be larger than the audience on computers. We have the ability to create app and host in our app store, promoted with the number one TV station in Harrisburg, Pa. Are you in?" 

The sales pitch also  includes the fact that 60% of the  television audience is also using an iPad or mobile device while watching  -  making promotions for store downloads and merchant downloads a powerful combination. Below are key statistics in the go to market sales kit:

ABC27 also  holds Absolutely Wednesday, a workshop for interested advertisers - typically those who already have or have had a relationship with the station - who are told to  take out their phone and use them for the demo. 

The price of the app to merchants includes set up fee of around $800 that covers the cost of the app, and a hosting fee between $300 and $400 per month (packages are created in three tiers, depending on number of pages and functions provided). The app also includes push notification, so pricing is on a par opt-in text messaging service (in this case the opt-in is a download). All merchants can also post their own deal to the "deal of the day" app. 

Promotional campaigns with advertising are sold in annual packages,  tiered at $1000 to $3000 per month, including online adsor onair spots depending on the package. Advertisers with larger buys get more time as the "Featured app" which moves them to key positions in their category. 

Top local merchant app categories are in the service sector: Restaurants, leisure, travel tourism, and automotive. 

"If you buy a car, you want to be notified about your next service appointment through app push technology," Maydell says. 

IMAMLocal CEO Sean Barowski (sean.barowski@yahoo.com)  says popular uses include  creation of pages showing the closest locations for multiple location restaurants;  notifications of new listings from real estate agents, doctors using push to remind patients of appointment times, and banks providing check to deposit scanning. 

He contends linking to all the stores in a shared imamlocal.com url also helps with Google search, and that the store will migrate to a .mobi brand as soon as about 2000 downloads have been created. The platform is exclusive by  DMA and the  cost is a flat $600 per merchant app; which is recouped in the first month's set up fees. 


*The site went live on August 20, running the first promo spot at  4:36 a.m.  By 5 a.m. 76 people that had already viewed the site. In 31 days  site could boast 1.4 million mobile  page views, desktop or lap top views were 78,000.  Lumma says traffic has been "ogoing, sustainedand steadily increasing growth."

*In 31 days more than 9000 people have downloaded the Appsolutelypa. They look at 4 to 5 different apps per visit. Visitors downloaded 16,000 merchant apps.

*Of  "most downloaded apps" the top two are restaurants. The third  is a  huge mega church in the area. Also in the top ten, a  fitness center's personal trainer who offered a two-week recommended program and nutritional analysis with each download. "The (merchants)  who are getting mega-downloads have an offer, such as a free appetizer, or a the only way is deal of the day, app of the week or app of the month.  They don't all fit a profile; one " trunk and motor" auto after-market supplier recieved  76 downloads in a week.

*ABC27 signed up just more than 180 merchants pre-launch. Only some of these have bought campaigns; contracts were for one year  and most wanted to see the first month's results. The sales team is now in the process of using these downloads to convert merchants. "Now we are getting in touch and saying, you have these downloads, time to make this commitment."

Lessons learned

*An advantage of the IMAMLocal partnership is that IMAM already had customers in the market who needed promotional help.  "A lot of people they made apps for couldn't wait to be on the store" and part of ABC27's promotional launch. 

*Even with a locally based platform developer, the launch took seven months to plan and execute. This gives ABC27 a significant head start with a product that is clearly a home run with mobile users - and shows how easy it is for companies who don't invest in digital to get left further and further behind. "Everything we learns to do, whether its Facebook or an app, we market to customers," Mumma says. 

*For local merchant apps, the Apple store may not be as important as a key source of marketing as it is to  other apps with higher search traffic. "Why would they look for your and download you (from a national store) anyway?. They don't even know to seek you. With a TV station you have that visibility and top of mind awareness," Maydell says. 

*On the other hand, all apps need some kind of marketing and "a huge amount... is neccesary to overcome people's natural tendency to look for apps where they always have." So marketing needs to be major and on-going. 

*The local app store acts like a convenient, top of screen directory for local services, providing a unique competitive advantage to the first merchants on the store, who stand to get the bulk of the initial downloads. 

Maydell predicts that in the future, "smart televisions" may include a right hand area where favorite apps  can be accessed directly on the screen, and advertisers can tag commercial with the information that they are part of the store.

"Maybe we'll have a commercial with someone asking Siri, where do you find local apps? And she tells you Appsolutelypa.com," Maydell says.

Our take

The browser- based local app stores are a winning combination. We suspect that over time, the store will be populated with more  services whose extra functionality makes sense on apps, as well as offers.  The AppsolutelyPa store today functions more like as a kind of 'mini-directory' of key local services and a way to bookmark frequently used services and have local numbers readily available. 

On a crowded phone screen, it makes sense, for example, to save the app for the kids school updated with key dates than, say, the plumber.  But it's still nice to have a "click to find a plumber" icon on the home screen instead of a typing in a search request, and the number of downloads suggests that visitors like the idea. Like Facebook pages, local apps require local promotions; we can see this initiative result in a significant number of large contracts over the course of a year. 

Anthony Maydell has been senior major accounts AEwith ABC27 for nine years represesenting, among other companies large auto dealer groups and insurance companies. Sue Lumma is Local Sales Manager. Many thanks to both of them for sharing this unique initiative.  Mumma can be reached at smumma@abc27.com

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.