Local media companies might be hearing an unsettling noise drawing closer – the roar of the digital freight train is headed their way. These small operators have little choice if they want to survive. They must find a way to jump on board and begin what Borrell Associates calls the ‘mediamorphosis’.

Borrell analysts have been tracking developments in the $19.9 billion local digital ad market for a while now. The company’s most survey covered over 5,700 companies in the U.S. and Canada. According to Borrell, there are clear winners and losers in the transition to digital.

For example, the companies that are bringing in the most digital revenue are all about commerce-related content. This strategy is proving superior to the one being taken by many smaller newspapers, radio and TV stations – which is a focus on local news, weather and sports. This is not to say that smaller media firms are at a disadvantage. The Borrell study found that some small companies may have 1/3 the volume of unique visitor traffic of larger firms but ‘were generating up to three times more revenue.’

It may come as no surprise to most media sales professionals that the directory industry is the sector experiencing the fastest transition. Local online directory operators such as Supermedia and Yellow Media report that between 25% and 50% of revenues are now coming from digital.

Borrell analysts also note that the most successful local media sales firms are expanding their focus to more than one product. That may be an excellent strategy. As they seek to compete against the likes of Google, small media firms will need to offer local SMBs more than one solution for their advertising needs.

[Source: Borrell Associates Annual Benchmarking Local Online Media. Borrell Associates. 3 Apr. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2012]