Finding Bin Laden: Good Luck Cutting That Cord

No doubt the media world will be abuzz today over last night's release from Nielsen showing that the number of households with TVs in the U.S. has declined for the first time ever. MediaPost's editor in chief covers the startling news extensively today.

TV penetration of U.S. households fell about two percentage points. Although the temptation is to blame the mythical "cord cutting" phenomenon on this new trajectory, recession and the shift to digital broadcasting may have more to do with it than people leaving TV connections behind.  

Nielsen cites the increased availability of multiplatform entry-points to TV or video content, including mobile. But anyone hoping to leverage their mobile connections as a way to cut the cord will have a long way to go.  

During a weekend of massive news stories (from the royal wedding to the death of bin Laden) a lot of us were trying to stay connected by mobile. If you were looking for an easy way to get timely video news updates, however, the platform was really not ready for prime-time, TV-like newsgathering.



As there have been for years, we do have live TV feeds available from companies like MobiTV ($10 a month). Sports nuts do have ESPN's new WatchESPN set of live programming. But we are not even close to the point where mobile users can expect to use their mobile handset s as a reliable portal into the latest news in video form.

Personally, I am not that far away from realistically cutting the rod, because I mainly rely on live TV for news now. I don't watch many regularly scheduled TV shows any more, and the ones I do - "Mad Men," "60 Minutes," "Masterpiece Theater"  -- are often available to me in some on demand form even on mobile shortly after their air time. The "60 Minutes" and PBS apps for iPad are indispensible for me now, and "Mad Men" can be purchased the next morning on iTunes. If I can find video news on mobile that is truly timely, either live or on demand, then I am that much closer to ditching the cable box.

Good luck with my mobile video news quest. Let's just stick with the apps. If I am trying to cut the cord on news, going to the apps from major TV networks is a frustrating exercise. To be sure, ABC, CBS and Fox all have apps that deliver news stories in a timely way. But if you are after the video experience, then things get frustrating. In CBS News you will find videos only if you scroll down to the bottom of individual topic verticals like U.S. News or specific stories like the royal wedding. The video stories are not time-stamped in an obvious way, so it is not clear how fresh they are. You can find the time stamp once you stop the video, however. To its credit, CBS has clips from its most recent on-air programming fed into the system within a few hours. By 10 a.m., for instance, I am seeing pieces from the CBS morning show. All good, but we need more. 

ABC News's iPhone app is entirely hit or miss as a video experience. Drill into a topic like the royal wedding and you are likely to find a number of stories with the telltale play button attached. Why there isn't a bin Laden tab even a day after his death is anyone's guess. But again, there is no time-stamping to indicate story freshness. I emphasize this timeliness because I find myself coming to mobile apps looking for quick news video turnaround. I am hoping to use it as a more efficient way to access news updates than turning on the big screen.  

Fox News has an iOS app that actually includes a dedicated video channel. But like the network itself, there is a such a mashup of straight news and highlights from last night's conservative prime-time partisan programming that I can't rely on it for news.

CNN's iOS app comes closest to the kind of mobile TV news alternative I have in mind. They refresh the video vertical in the app regularly, although it still is unclear when stories make it into this mix and in what order. 

For newshounds, however, what we really need is a straightforward feed of news updates in some kind of chronological order. There is a tendency for the video-oriented news apps to overwhelm us with choice. This certainly is true with iPad iterations of ABC and CBS News, which offer us respectively a confusing globe or a wall of thumbnails. Again, chronology takes a back seat to pushing forward individual show brands and clips that may or may not be fresh.  

Perhaps my video news needs are idiosyncratic and not shared by others who find themselves unplugged from their TVs but wanting a video fix that is reliably current.

The most reliable feed of video news for me remains video podcasting. I know that every Monday morning I can download the Sunday morning talk shows and watch them at my leisure throughout the week on my iPhone or iPad. I know that by 10 a.m. every morning (workout time), I can download MSNBC's first hour of "Morning Joe" in order to get a look at all of the news I ignored overnight and in the first four or so hours of my workday.  

As more TV assets move to on demand Web and mobile platforms, news may become the last thread that keeps many of us tethered to our TV sets. As we move to mobile sources, however, familiar TV news brands need to anticipate how news gatherers want to harvest breaking-news video.  

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