JESSELL AT LARGE

NewsON Could Be ON To Something Big

NewsON is additional evidence that broadcasters have matured and recognized the wisdom of cooperation in the digital sphere. Founded by five major station groups, it plans to aggregate local newscasts from around the country and offer them on an ad-supported basis to consumers so they can watch on mobile devices or connected TVs. It could be another good opportunity for stations to deliver their news programming to the hard-to-reach viewers.

I like the whole idea of NewsON, the new digital venture of five major station groups — the ABC O&Os, Hearst Television, Cox Media Group, Media General and Raycom Media.

As you should know from having dutifully read our story on Wednesday, NewsON plans to aggregate local newscasts from around the country and, starting this fall, stream them on an ad-supported basis to consumers so they can watch on mobile devices or connected TVs.

The five station groups will contribute newscasts from 112 stations in 84 markets, including 17 of the top 25.

And NewsON expects to grow those numbers by persuading other broadcasters to join for a cut of the ad revenue. “I would be ecstatic to see one station out of every market,” CEO Louis Gump told me.

Some stations now stream newscasts on their websites and through apps.  And I suppose that if you were interested only in your local news and you were fortunate enough to be in market where at least one station streamed its newscast, you would be OK.

But what if you are interested in newscasts from other markets? I am. Since launching TVNewsCheck in 2006, my inability to drop in and casually watch the local TV news in far off markets has been a great frustration.  When a big story like, say, the rioting in Baltimore breaks, I want to be able to hop around the stations in the market and see how each is handling it. Or, sometimes I just want to check out the new talent, a new set or a new format.

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I live outside New York in Chatham, N.J., now, but I spent part of my life in Pittsburgh and another big part in Washington so I have a personal interest in what goes on in those towns.

As a one-stop shop, NewsON promises to take the pain out of out-of-market trolling for local TV news. When the app becomes available, I will be the first to download it. I’ll be able not only to get WABC here in New York, but also WTAE (Hearst) and WPXI (Cox) in Pittsburgh. I just need Fox, NBC, Sinclair or Gannett to sign on so I can get a D.C. station and fulfill my minimum requirement.

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NewsON has some other attractive features. According to Gump, I will be able to watch entire newscasts live or shifted to other times, clips of individual stories or compilations of clips assembled by NewsON staff. The compilations have tremendous potential beyond booper reels. They can show how stations in a market covered an important local story or how stations around the country covered a critical national one.

It’s always encouraging to see station groups working together, although I do wonder why the other members of the Pearl group — Scripps, Graham Media, Gannett, Meredith and Schurz — are not on board. Pearl was created to jointly pursue new ventures just like this.

On the other hand, the ABC Owned Television Station Group is in. In the canned quote of the press release that went out on Wednesday, President Rebecca Campbell was just as enthusiastic as the other group heads. “This exciting venture gives our stations yet another way to highlight our local content and connect with viewers, wherever they happen to be.”

ABC gives NewsON a presence in the top four markets that it would not otherwise have. That lends instant credibility to the venture.

TV news consultant and blogger Terry Heaton was among those who saw early on the potential of broadcasters working together in “cyberspace,” but he had his doubts about it happening.

Cooperation among broadcasters is “highly problematic,” he wrote in 2007. “The No. 1 station would tell the others to go to hell, because they think they can (A) do just fine on their own and (B) it would ‘cheapen’ them by putting their work on the same stage as their competitors.”

NewsON is additional evidence that broadcasters have matured since 2007 and recognized the wisdom of common platforms. If they must, they can continue to compete on the NewsOn platform just as they do on the broadcast platform.

This is not to suggest that cooperation among the broadcasters insures success. In fact, history suggests otherwise.

In 2004, hoping to leverage the power of digital broadcasting, NBC and its affiliates created NBC Weather Plus, a 24-hour weather service that would air on subchannels. It lasted just four years.

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The Pearl group put its combined might behind mobile DTV starting in 2010 and even won the support of NBC and Fox. But the service, marketed as Dyle, was met with indifference, if not hostility, by ABC, CBS and the wireless industry. To paraphrase the great Neil Young, it started out slow and then fizzled out altogether.

And then there is ConnecTV, another Pearl-backed initiative. It was interesting. The app would recognize what was playing on TV by listening to the audio and then complementary information about the show or commercial would appear on your smartphone or tablet.

I guess that didn’t quite work. By the fall of 2013, it had morphed into a means of recording 10-second clips off of TV and then sharing them with comments via social media. Now called MemeTV, it hasn’t exactly captured the imagination of the fickle American public.

Now, is NewsON a viable business? I don’t know. CEO Gump was stingy with information about how NewsON would sell its inventory and split what it sells with its equity members and affiliate stations. He said that affiliates will have to pay a fee, but gave no hint as to how much. I presume that affiliates will have to bear the costs of streaming their newscasts.

Gump’s immediate goal is to recruit as many stations groups to participate as he can, knowing that every additional one makes the service more valuable. The more selling he does, the more details will spill out.

What I do know is that NewsON is in the right place at the right time. It almost goes without saying that watching TV on mobile devices and on connected TV is a rapidly growing phenomenon.

Through their individual efforts and partnerships with the networks (TV Everywhere and CBS All Access), broadcasters have come a long way in making their programming available where the second- and third-screen viewers can find it.

But those efforts and NewsON are not mutually exclusive — or shouldn’t be. Broadcasters need to be part of the future in every way they can.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.


Comments (5)

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Gene Johnson says:

June 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm

It would be nice if the app offered the ability to omit all the crime, accident and fire reports from a local newscast. It would make for much quicker viewing of what might be left (other than weather and sports). Watching last night’s local news, for example, one crime was followed by an accident, or another crime, and it repeated. There was a little bit of substantive news, such as the data breach of government employees information, but it received scant attention compared to the crime and accident reports (and I’m in the Wash. DC market with lots of government employees). Local news actually is often quite disheartening.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    June 12, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Interesting that you fail to see that crime, accidents and fires are not news. I guess we should just ignore all crime as if it does not exist! Better yet, let’s just have “good news”! Yes, that will work!

    kendra campbell says:

    June 13, 2015 at 8:04 am

    90%+ of crime, car crashes, and house fires are not important, relevant, or even interesting. It’s just easy and cheap, and fills time between local car commercials.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    June 17, 2015 at 4:44 am

    And as proven over and over again, that is what wins in the ratings. BTW, you see all the shark bite coverage on WRAL, even though it was not even in the Raleigh-Durham TV Metro. In fact, 3 days after the fact, it is still the Top Story (Parents of girl bitten by shark say she has long road to recovery) followed immediately by “Suspect in Raleigh cold case homicide rearrested” followed immediately by “Child on bike hit by vehicle in Raleigh”.

Nick Jossendal says:

June 16, 2015 at 11:38 am

This service is already available with the Watchup app (available on iOS and android mobile, xbox, amazon fireTV, apple watch) with an impressive list of stations around the country, local and national, as well as international. A great feature is creating your own newscast by stations or topics (the Pandora of news if you will). Clicking on a story brings up a list of how other organizations reported on the topic.


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