NEW YORK (AP) — CBS News, which has passed up opportunities to start or join a cable news network, said it wants to be at the forefront of broadband by allowing consumers to construct their own online newscasts.
CBS said its revamped CBSNews.com site will effectively become a 24-hour news network that includes a Web blog called “Public Eye,” on which CBS journalists and executives respond to questions and complaints from the public.
The announcement comes at a time of trouble for the venerable network news division, which has lagged in coming up with a new format and replacement for Dan Rather on the flagship “CBS Evening News” and recently canceled its “60 Minutes” spinoff.
CBS’ Web efforts also have been slow compared with those by rivals, but CBS executives said yesterday that they have developed a broadband component that is truer to how people use the Internet for news.
“We’re not claiming to invent anything here, but we have an opportunity, along with our colleagues at other networks, to create a whole new genre of broadband journalism,” CBS News President Andrew Heyward said.
ABC News, the other broadcast network without a cable news operation, has been running the ABC News Now Web cast for two years and has aggressively sought agreements to distribute news on cell phones and hand-held devices.
But while ABC News Now essentially translates a broadcast form onto the Internet, CBS’ product will put users in better control, said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media. Through a “video jukebox,” users can build their own newscasts with exclusive Web video, material already broadcast on the network and archival material.
Many cable news networks last week, for example, carried live British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s remarks after the London attacks. CBS’ Web site will do that, too, but also will let users call up that press conference whenever they want afterward, Mr. Kramer said.
CBS said the content on its advertiser-supported Web site will be free to consumers. ABC News Now charges subscribers $4.95 a month, although some people get the service bundled with others in a broadband package.
“ABC News Now has a substantial viewing audience, and we have high-quality content,” said Bernard Gershon, general manager of ABC News Digital Media Group. “I would say our business models differ.”
America Online’s coverage of the Live 8 concert on July 2 was a dramatic moment in broadband’s ability to compete with television, said Tom Wolzien, senior media analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
Prime-time AOL viewership exceeded the audience for 25 of the 69 cable networks measured by Nielsen Media Research, he said.
Although CBS and ABC initially were left behind in the cable news wars, the Internet offers a new opportunity to reach consumers, he said.
“What’s interesting to me is the jukebox approach to a newscast,” Mr. Wolzien said. “It’s something that people in television news have been talking about for the last quarter-century, and it looks like they’ve come up with a way to do it.”
The Web blog examining CBS and other press is unique to the network. CBS seemed caught flat-footed last fall when the blogosphere hummed in reaction to the network’s ill-fated story on President Bush’s military service.
Vaughn Ververs, managing editor of the political Web site the Hotline, will run “Public Eye” when it debuts later this summer.
CBS is part of the media company Viacom Inc., and ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co.