Local broadcasters are trying to get it together, literally. Five major broadcast TV groups--ABC, Cox, Hearst, Media General and Raycom--are forming a free joint venture called NewsOn that will offer live and on-demand local newscasts from around the country, all in one place. It will start this fall.
The idea seems fascinating, and almost radical, in a local TV business where stations break their necks proclaiming they’re more serious about the news than the other guys. But local news is also a distinct thing--why not package it that way? Now, competing stations in the same markets--in 21 of them at this point--could end up on the same app, and would all get a cut of the revenue from new advertising that NewsOn will offer.
Stations that have sometimes been frustrated trying to get viewers and advertisers to use their Websites, will have to get comfortable with the idea that many of its viewers will be encouraged to visit the app instead.
NewsOn will carry newscasts from eight out of the 10 largest markets at this point and 17 of the top 25. Altogether, 112 news stations in 84 markets will be a part of NewsOn, with more expected, and welcomed to partner up.
Local viewers will find a one stop place to watch competing newscasts in their own market, or be able to watch local newscasts from around the country. But increasingly, Americans are nomadic. That old “all news is local” adage really depends on who's watching.
“That’s a thing I’m excited about, frankly,” said Louis Gump, the CEO, based in Atlanta. “How many people want to keep up with their hometowns, or have family members living somewhere else?”
There could be compelling reasons to watch. Imagine watching a Boston TV station’s live newscasts after the Patriots’ Day marathon bombing, or coverage of the Michael Brown shooting on a St. Louis station, or other hot local stories, to see how the locals see it. The app will offer a menu of cities to choose from.
The announcement comes a day after Apple announced its own News app that will be a curated aggregation site that it’s betting will be better than others that already exist, or at the very least have that Apple touch. The app’s launch partners include CNN, ESPN, Buzzfeed, Bloomberg Business and The New York Times among others.
NewsOn would carry live news telecasts, and at least a 24 hour archive of past broadcasts, that could be just the start. “We want to be a catalyst for innovation,” Gump said.
One of the most logical ones, it would seem to me, is a specially-produced newscast for the app.
Mobile viewers often watch news in short grabs and may not sit still for the crosstalk banter a too-typical local newscast contains. So Gump says, if a local station wants to create a shorter, mobile-only newscast for NewsOn, “Philosophically, we would welcome that,” he said. “The invitation is open to produce original content that does not appear on air.”
Since 2013, the Watch ABC app has let authenticated viewers in cities where ABC owns a station, stream the station online, plus 13 Hearst stations that are ABC affiliates.
On the plus side, viewers can watch programs live. On on the debit side, at least in Philadelphia where I watch ABC-owned WPVI, many commercials are stripped out, which would seem like a positive, but replaced with a small handful of network and local promos that make the Latin phrase ad nauseum precisely accurate. Some syndicated shows also can be blocked.
Most of that ought not be a problem at NewsOn, and Gump, who has had a key role on mobile work-ups for CNN and the Weather Channel, thinks the local broadcast app can be a growth area.
“One of the factoids I learned when I started work on this project earlier this year in any given market, only 5%-15% of viewers have downloaded a local news app,” he says, which suggests that’s there’s a lot of room for growth, or that NewsOn has some selling and educating to do.