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Local TV iPhone app tops the iTunes charts

Here’s a first for local TV. Orlando’s WESH-TV has produced a 99 cent iPhone app that has topped the paid news app chart on the iTunes store. And they did it by focusing the app on a single story with a national following: the Casey Anthony trial.

“I think it’s safe to say we never guessed it would have hit as high as it has in the App Store,” explains Gabe Travers, digital media manager. The app has bounced between the #1 and #2 spots on the paid news app chart, beating popular apps like Instapaper. WESH isn’t disclosing how many times it’s been downloaded, but given the length of the trial, it must add up. “For WESH, an app for the trial was a natural extension of our extensive coverage on the trial and just of the state of the industry,” he says.

The app features daily news stories, videos, case calendar, photos, legal documents (20,000 pages in all) and “live wire” updates as the case is underway. The app doesn’t feature live video, in part because of the cost associated with providing it, but the on-demand clips have been popular. “I’ve seen strangers waiting in line at local theme parks watching Casey Anthony videos on their phones,” Travers explains. “We realize in reality many people can’t sit down and watch the trial for hours each day.” He says the court documents are also a popular draw.

Travers said WESH knew the trial was going to be a big draw in part because of the popularity of its Casey Anthony Facebook page, which they launched last year — it now has over 73,000 fans. Some posts, like the one above from earlier today, are attracting north of 1,000 comments each. “We know Central Floridians aren’t the only ones who are showing interest in the story,” Travers said. “We want folks, whether they live in Orlando, Los Angeles or London to come to our coverage of the story.” WESH is also using as a gateway domain into its online coverage.

WESH’s national mindset to the story is evident on the app itself: the WESH brand is virtually non-existent. The app title and description don’t mention it. The app author is Hearst Television. The start screen features a small WESH logo, and the app itself has a house ad running for WESH — but that’s it.

“Stories about the case were (and are) always available on the WESH app,” he says, referring to the station’s free general news app. “But there wasn’t a way to read documents or follow our live blog. I think that was a key point for WESH, this wasn’t just another news app, this was a new product that we hoped would really help case followers keep up on new developments in the case on the go.”

WESH is a great example of how mobile apps and social media can enable local stations to gain national distribution on big stories. Travers adds, “These days, it’s not just about our website anymore.”

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