TV News Searches for Clear Net Strategy
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NEW YORK -- The traditional business of the TV networks is under threat, even as technology is allowing more people to make and consume news reports. So how do the major powers in television aim to cope?
For starters, representatives from the major TV news networks told an audience here at this week's mediabistro.com TVNewser Summit that they're trying to learn from the mistakes of related industries -- like the beleaguered newspaper business. (Mediabistro is part of WebMediaBrands, the parent company of this Web site.)
"The newspaper industry couldn't see around the corner," Dan Farber, Editor-in-Chief of CBSNews.com and CNET News, told the audience. "They couldn't build their own Craigslist before they got, so to speak, de-classified."
In contrast to the newspaper industry, Farber said that his network is ready for the Internet. "CBS knows the future," he added. "The only question is: Can we execute?"
Part of the concern stems from the fact that making the leap from TV to Web is dramatically more complicated than simply repurposing TV clips online. For one thing, the attention span of the Internet audience is far shorter than that of a TV audience, and this limits advertising.
"After 90 seconds of video, there's a big drop off," said Jeff Misenti, vice president and general manager of Fox News Digital. "You could get away with three 45 second ads in an hour of video -- 60 seconds if it's pharma ads." But the online audience will turn off a 45 second ad if they only want to spend 90 seconds watching a video clip, he added.
Jonathan Shar, senior vice president and general manager of CNNMoney.com , said that his site is still learning what people want.
"We're doing usability testing, and we're doing lots of other testing. We're doing qualitative and quantitative consumer research. Our audience is an at work audience, watching clips that are 30 seconds to five minutes long. We see spikes in the early morning and at lunch."
The networks are looking to experiment in other ways, as well. "We will try live streaming appointment programming on the Internet," said Paul Slavin, senior vice president of ABC News Digital. "It will also be available as video on demand. There's no harm in live streaming. We'll try it and see if it works."
But there's more to leveraging online media than simply re-rerunning TV clips on the Web, panelists said. To really take advantage of the Internet, TV networks have to learn new skills, such as tailoring content for new media and understanding the metrics of the business.
[cob:Pull_Quote]For instance, Fox's Misenti said that social networks can build the fan base of the TV shows. He said that Fox News viewers go to its Web site to meet each other as much as to interact with the anchors, so that there's an opportunity to build a sense of community online -- especially among the younger demographic.
Misenti conceded that Fox News isn't yet fully on top of social media, however, and is still working to understand how it can interact with social networking sites like Facebook.
In the interim, though, he added that Fox has big plans for bringing Web-based content to mobile devices -- and making money in the process.
"We expect to obtain subscriber revenue, starting sometime in the next 12 months, especially for cell phones," Misenti said.
He's not alone in eyeing the potential profits in wireless media. "There are 250 million cell phones now, and soon all of them will have screens," ABC's Slavin said. "There's a tremendous opportunity to extend the brand and obtain new sources of revenue."
[cob:Special_Report]Slavin added that he thought his own network has the best iPhone app at the moment, and that networks have to understand the specific demographic of the device for which they make content, whether it's the iPhone, mobiTV, YouTube, or any other.
But he also admitted that in general, the TV news industry is still doubtful that new media is set for a big payday anytime soon.
"Online content will never be as profitable as broadcast," he said. "We're moving toward ad-supported content, but the ad economy is doing poorly."
Added CBS's Farber, "It's hard to extract even $3 per month from anyone for online content -- unless it's porn."
Page 2: Shifting roles in TV-to-Web news