What Can We Learn From Katie?

by , , Aug 24, 2006, 8:46 AM
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On September 5, 2006 Katie Couric will make broadcast history--not by becoming the anchor of the "CBS Evening News," but by participating in the first network television newscast to metamorphose into a full-featured Internet simulcast.

Sean McManus, President, CBS News and Sports, explains: "For people who can't be in front of their televisions when the 'CBS Evening News' is on, they can now watch the program live on their computers."

The success or failure of this new online programming will have nothing to do with making the show available to people who can't watch TV live. It is totally about finding a new audience for the content, and packaging it in a way to attract people who already choose to get their news online.

However, McManus may be right for all of the wrong reasons--or I may be wrong for all of the right reasons. Let's review.

The simulcast of the show, formatted for television and distributed over the public Internet through a Web site, should be a very bad idea. There is no demonstrated need for this type of distribution. Expatriates might like to see it from abroad. But domestically, sitting in a lean-forward posture at a desk and watching a 30-minute news program with commercials on the Net is probably not what anyone wants.

On a good day, the public Internet offers only a "best efforts" quality of service--and even triple-play customers will find themselves lacking in bandwidth for sustained viewership of this kind. Everything that everyone schooled in the art knows about long-form programming online says this won't work.

On the other hand, CBS is offering up some daily content that is much more suited to Internet distribution.

  • "Couric & Company"--a blog exploring the day's news through links to exclusive free video, with contributions from CBS News correspondents around the world.

  • "Eye to Eye"--a daily, on-demand Web-exclusive feature hosted by Couric offering extended interviews with top newsmakers. The segment will be posted on CBSNews.com by mid-afternoon and will be available for audio and video podcast and on iTunes.

  • "CBS News First Look with Katie Couric"--a web-exclusive rundown, available early each weekday afternoon, of the stories being considered for coverage on that night's broadcast.

  • "Katie Couric's Notebook"--a one-minute look at a top story or issue by Couric, available as an audio and video podcast and on iTunes.

From what we think we know, these features, which are being crafted for the medium, should have a much better chance of success.

I will be thrilled and excited to see how America reacts to this new online programming. It is the first time that a show with national media attention, a big promotional engine and a daily production schedule will be both thrown up on the Internet and also repackaged for the Internet.

Which will do better? If the long-form show finds an audience, some of us will be surprised, but it will open up a world of alternative distribution for existing television formats. If the short form, specially crafted features do better (as many of us think they will) this outcome will open up a world of opportunity for producers and creatives to repackage these very same formats. And, if nobody comes to the party at all, we will still learn a valuable lesson.

No matter the outcome, CBS News is truly leading the industry! Hats off to Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media, and to the all of the people who are making this happen.

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