ABC News courting next generation on Internet
As the US news networks come to grips with the digital revolution, ABC News is merging the old and new world every day with an original newscast whose primary audience have video iPods.
Each of the networks has carved out a news presence on the web. NBC News was the first among the Big Three, putting "NBC Nightly News" onto the web and adding the "Early Nightly" video blog recently. "CBS Evening News" is simulcast on the web.
But only ABC News creates a 15-minute daily newscast, separate from "ABC World News" though often using the same anchor, Charles Gibson. "World News Webcast" airs live at 3 p.m. ET on http://www.ABCNews.com and the ABC News Now digital channel. It's available for downloading on iTunes a little more than an hour later and it's popular: In September, there were 5.2 million downloads via ABCNews.com and iTunes, according to ABC. So far this month, there's been 5.2 million.
The webcast is similar to the broadcast in some ways. Gibson sits in the same studio; the control room is the same. It's treated as a full-on broadcast, though it's much leaner personnel-wise, with senior producer Tom Johnson and another producer assembling and writing the newscast with help from others as time permits.
There are the headlines of the day on both newscasts. But owning to a much younger audience, the story selection often diverges from "ABC World News." There are often quick Q&As with correspondents and features that may not get on the broadcast but have real, often quirky appeal to a younger demo. ABC News knows that it's an audience that doesn't watch the evening news, and it isn't just because it's not home at 6:30 p.m.
"What it has become is much more of a broadcast aimed at people who use the web and who are much more web-savvy than people who watch the broadcast," says Jon Banner, who is executive producer of both broadcasts. "You still get a lot of things that are on the broadcast every evening, but they're done in a much more web-friendly style."
Johnson said they're always on the lookout for enterprising, creative pieces that will work well in the more fast-paced format, things that may not have made it onto the broadcast in pre-webcast days. But it's not for evening-news castoffs.
"We want pieces that are smart and interesting," Johnson says.
Some of the pieces have a decidedly new-media feel to them. A correspondent recently shot a piece walking on the streets of Baghdad to explain what it was like to wait in line for gasoline and pay more than Iraqis are accustomed to paying. It was closer to a video blog entry than a traditional report.
Some pieces earmarked for the webcast play so well that they find their way to the broadcast. A David Muir piece on the rise of phoneless telephone booths did just that recently, and that's only one example.
The webcast itself has evolved. There's a partnership with Google that provides the webcast with the top web searches and keywords. Another innovation is the chaptering and web links that make the iTunes product much more interactive, Johnson says. And the staff has found a way to compress the file even further, so that it downloads faster than it did when it was first offered.
Banner is thrilled by all of these things and more. He says it has also given people who wouldn't normally have a chance an opportunity to train themselves to do more producing and editing and, in some cases, both.
"It's changed the culture (of the newsroom) in some ways," Banner says. "It's a very exciting time when the web is driving content on 'World News.'"
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