Why free streaming channels could be the future of TV news broadcasting
If TV news legends Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley were alive and they’re still reporting today, you’ll probably watch them on a streaming channel.
Live news and sports keep a large number of viewers interested in traditional TV. But the public’s move to online video has led the news departments of broadcast networks to delve deeper into 24-hour news through free, ad-supported channels accessible on Internet-connected TVs and mobile devices. .
The Walt Disney Co’s ABC, Paramount Global’s CBS, and Comcast’s NBC have increased their investments in their services, giving viewers a destination for their reporting at any time without a pay TV subscription.
The channels — NBC News Now, ABC News Live, and CBS News Streaming — have launched over the past decade without much fanfare. But they have quietly built audiences, and all the heads of news departments say their services are profitable. Each offers a mix of repeat network TV newscasts, original live reports, and documentaries.
Networks committed to their iconic characters on daily live shows on the channels, such as Chuck Todd, Kate Snow and Haley Jackson of NBC; Lynsey Davis from ABC; And CBS’ John Dickerson – a sign that they know where viewers are headed.
“In general, every reporter wants as many people as possible to see their stories,” said Neeraj Khelani, president and co-director of CBS News and Stations. “People feel like they want to be a part of that future.”
Network executives say they are seeing a steady growth in their streaming audiences, especially on election nights and after major news events like the death of Queen Elizabeth II or Hurricane Ian, which devastated parts of Florida in late September.
“The growth trajectory indicates that it will be an exceptional business in the coming months and years,” said Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News, whose network added 200 positions last year to build the division’s broadcast operation. “We’ve been able to monetize advertisers’ demand because we can save eyeballs.”
NBC News says its service averaged 34 million broadcast hours per month in 2022, up 55% from last year, based on data from Comscore and other sources. NBC News Now reached 37 million hours in September. ABC News said ABC News Live had 41 million hours broadcast in September, up 73% from last year.
CBS News Streaming added prime-time original shows in January — using popular broadcasters like Norah O’Donnell and Gail King — and saw its audience grow 55% as a result. CBS has also added full-time local news broadcasting channels using content from its stations in 13 markets, including KCBS in Los Angeles.
Viewers will learn what broadcasters can offer on Tuesday as they tackle the 2022 midterm elections. Each will broadcast their network’s prime-time television coverage beginning at 5 p.m. PT, when polling begins to close across the country. But it will be shown early to broadcast audiences and will likely provide ongoing reporting through the rest of the week as several gubernatorial, Senate and Congressional races are likely to be contested.
Broadcast TV news departments have been trying to figure out the streaming business since the days of the dial-up modem, with online programming experiences going back two decades. They have formed partnerships with many digital companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo and made content available on social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube.
Some projects have caught fire, such as “Stay Tuned,” a youth-oriented newsletter produced by NBC News for the social media app Snapchat.
But the move to full-time streaming news channels is now seen as essential if broadcast news is to survive after the generation who grew up with it has left this mortal profile.
“If we just try to go after younger viewers with traditional news outlets, we leave them all behind,” Janelle Rodriguez, senior vice president, said in an NBC News editorial.
Data from Nielsen shows that the average audience watching the evening news — a staple of networks since the 1950s and still attracting nearly 20 million viewers per night — is over 65 years old. That is why viewers see a lot of commercials for pharmaceutical products on broadcast.
“I have daughters who are in their twenties, who don’t watch our shows on Line TV and I don’t think they ever will,” said Kim Goodwin, president of ABC News. “They are very knowledgeable, and they get their news from a variety of live, digital and social channels.”
In previous efforts to tap into a digital audience, networks experimented with more informal presentations of news stories, believing that this would appeal to younger viewers. But the TV landscape has changed drastically, and broadcast news channels do not need to please the TikTok audience. The average age of viewers of streaming news is 25 years than the audience of traditional TV news.
“When we’re talking to a younger audience, we’re talking about people between the ages of 30 and 40,” Rodriguez said. “People who pay taxes. They vote more. They may be more connected to what is going on in the world, and yet they are young enough to change their habits.”
Broadcast networks are much like traditional television news, with correspondents in a desk covering a wide range of topics. No partisan political commentary, as executives believe their services are an alternative to cable news channels, with opinion hosts drawing the largest audiences on conservative-leaning Fox News and progressive NBCUniversal outlets, MSNBC.
“It’s an old, straightforward way of giving people a sense of what’s going on around them,” Oppenheim said. “NBC News’ core brand has always adhered to a straightforward, nonpartisan approach to journalism, and now we have a platform to showcase that.”
Todd, the political director of NBC News and director of the Sunday Round Table program on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” was an early participant in the division’s broadcast effort when it launched three years ago. He welcomed the opportunity earlier this year to bring MSNBC’s daily version of “Meet the Press” to a live broadcast.
“The exciting thing about the news right now is that we have an audience coming in for news and information first and not necessarily an audience that is motivated by shirt color first,” Todd said. “It was great to book.”
Each channel has a prime-time nightly newsletter – Davis on ABC News Live, Dickerson on CBS News Streaming and Tom Llamas on NBC News Now. Llamas said he was able to get NBC News’ full resources to contribute to his “Top Story” show. He also traveled to anchor his show on hot breaking news such as Ukraine.
“For live streaming to work, it can’t be a cheap product,” Llamas said in a recent interview in his office at NBC’s headquarters in New York. “I don’t want people to look at the show and say it’s a good streaming show. I want them to say it’s a great news show. It’s as good as ‘NBC Nightly News’ and ‘Today’ or whatever else is out there.”
Davis said getting a full hour each night allows her to delve deeper into the stories. “We hope to offer a nuance that you can’t provide in a 22-minute evening newsletter,” she said.
Goodwin noted that ABC News Live has become the number one stop for breaking stories. The era of waiting for the scoop on a scheduled radio show is over.
“It was the model of the past: keep it on ‘World News Tonight’ or ‘Good Morning America’ or whatever next show,” she said. “Now he no longer holds anything.”
Cable news is expected to enter the live-to-consumer business at some point. But the parent companies want to avoid disrupting the significant revenue networks get from pay-TV operators.
Fox News currently has Fox Nation, a subscription service that offers prime-time documentaries, films, and reruns of opinion programming but no live news. Fox Corporation executives have said that at some point Fox Nation could serve as a vehicle for Fox News Channel distribution if the shrinking world of pay-TV customers is no longer viable.
CNN abandoned a plan to serve a live-to-consumer channel when it took over its new parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery responsibility. CNN insiders believe the network will eventually be part of a larger streaming service than the combined company.
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