The EVP and GM of CBS News Digital may have found an answer to the aging out of typical TV news viewers. On average, users of its CBSN streaming service are 38 years old. Now the unit is turning its attention to delivering more local news with the rollout of CBSN Local later this month. (Photo: Jack Pagano)
For an indication of how much promise lies in over-the-top news channels, look no further than CBSN. The four-year-old service currently delivers an average 1 million streams a day.
That’s according to Christy Tanner, EVP and GM of CBS News Digital, who spoke Tuesday at TVNewsCheck’s annual NewsTechForum in New York.
She noted that an average 50% of CBSN streams are delivered to OTT device users; 30% desktop and 20% mobile — and the proportions haven’t changed over the years as the viewership level has climbed.
There are 65 million unique users per month on CBSNews.com, which serves as a gateway to CBSN. And CBSN is available on more than a dozen devices, including Roku, Apple TV, Vizio and Samsung TVs, Sony PlayStation and Xbox.
The situation will become even more interesting when CBSN Local launches later this month, with an initial streamed channel specific to New York, a partnership with CBS-owned WCBS and WLNY.
On average, CBSN users are 38 years old, according to Tanner. As TVNewsCheck Editor Harry Jessell noted during the session, that’s far younger than the average demo for most broadcast news programs.
In their responses to surveys, the viewers have helped shape CBSN’s news coverage in ways that make it distinctive from other broadcast news programs.
As with CBS News, the streaming channels’ viewers are interested in non-partisan news, unlike cable news channels that lean in certain political directions. But more specifically, “they have told us they want coverage of topics that they don’t feel are being covered elsewhere,” said Tanner. “So we started covering climate change really aggressively a couple of years ago as a result of that research. They also told us that they want more international news. So that’s why you see us doing five minutes of what’s happening around the world. We do that every half hour.”
Survey respondents also indicated that they wanted stories that “dig deeper,” so the channel does so through its documentary unit and by taking advantage of synergies with other CBS operations.
“If the morning show [at CBS] has booked somebody to come in and talk about a topic — let’s say it’s analysis of the El Chapo trial — that person will probably get a max three minutes on broadcast because there just isn’t enough time. That same person will walk across the hall, go to the CBSN anchor desk and talk about El Chapo for 10 to 15 minutes. And the audience sticks with it and is interested in it. We see that in the day-to-day behavior,” Tanner said.
The channel and CBS’s affiliates also share content quite freely. More than 75 affiliates run the CBSN Originals documentary series, and CBSN relies heavily on the newsgathering service CBS Newspath to run the best local stories in any given day, Tanner said. When big news breaks in a market, like a hurricane, the streaming service often will cut directly to local affiliate’s feed.
“I’m a firm believer that our local reporters are just as good as our national reporters. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t use a local reporter instead of somebody that’s at the national level,” Tanner said.
Because viewers expressed interest in more local news, CBSN started a new franchise called Red and Blue about a year ago as the midterm-election developments started to gain momentum. “We tried to book a local affiliate or newspaper reporter every day for that show to illuminate what was happening in local races. And we also booked candidates in local races that might have seemed obscure. But some of those candidates later achieved fame and notoriety,” Tanner said.
In addition to the upcoming launch of the first CBSN Local service, Tanner dropped word on other initiatives in the works — or not. Maybe at some point some of the service’s content will live behind a paywall, but Tanner didn’t indicate that was coming any time soon.
Playlisting — in other words, lists of news segments or shows that can be played at random — isn’t something that viewers seem to want. “We just don’t see that behavior, and we’ve looked for it,” Tanner said. “I think that adding more value to the news experience through graphics and interactivity, the ability to dive deeper, is something that we’d like to develop,” she said.
“One area that is a no-brainer that we’ll get to, I hope in the next year, would be the ability to do picture-in-picture, and make that clickable within our services,” she added, referring to the ability to show one main program image along with smaller inset windows showing other program options. That will allow for better cross promotion.
“By the end of this month, we’ll have five streaming channels within CBS Interactive that you’ll be able to change the channel on. But we’re not making it easy to do that through the interface as it stands right now,” she explained. In addition to CBSN and CBSN Local, the unit includes CBS Sports HQ, ET Live and subscription-based CBS All Access.
Here is the link to a video of this session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHWP5lSW4oE
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