ABC News and Britain's BBC are joining together to form a global electronic news alliance that could change the face of news gathering.
The joint venture reflects the increasing globalization of television brought about by satellites, digital transmission and other high-tech innovations that are drawing together former rivals to fill the expansion of TV channels around the world.
Although details are still to be worked out, including the issue of possible layoffs, the alliance calls for ABC News and the BBC to share correspondents, producers and bureaus in their news-gathering operations. The BBC has had a nearly 40-year relationship with NBC News, but it has been mostly limited to exchanging video footage. That relationship will continue.
Under the ABC News-BBC alliance, the partners will jointly plan news coverage, share facilities and collaborate on various programming and technology developments.
More interesting, the venture suggests that one day ABC News and the BBC could jointly operate international or regional news channels that could rival CNN.
Roone Arledge, president of ABC News, said both partners will "benefit enormously" from the alliance.
One way that may happen is that separate news crews would no longer be deployed to cover far-flung stories. In theory, an ABC News crew or BBC team could cover a news event for the other partner, thereby saving money for both organizations.
Robert Murphy, senior vice president for hard news at ABC News, said the alliance will begin with the daily exchange of assignment sheets between both organizations. He said each organization will be able to use the other's reporters and crews to cover stories where they might not have some available.
"This basically extends and expands ABC globally in a way that we could not accomplish ourselves," Murphy said. Down the road, he said, ABC News and the BBC may combine some of their foreign bureaus as various leases come up for renewal. He said the alliance does not require any up-front capital expenditures.
The alliance could also serve as a precursor to more ambitious plans for new global or regional news networks. The BBC is in the process of introducing around the globe the BBC World Television Service, a worldwide news channel similar to the Cable News Network. CNN, the undisputed leader in global TV news, is now available in more than 135 countries.
Murphy said discussions between ABC News and the BBC have "not yet reached that stage," but he noted that "the rule here is that cooperation is beginning and there is no limit to what can be done here. Nothing is ruled out."
The alliance brings together two of the world's leading television news organizations. But both ABC and the BBC are facing long-term economic pressures in their respective countries from a wide array of competitors.
ABC News in recent years has trimmed its full-time foreign bureaus to 12 from 17, and the division may have to reduce further some of its 1,400-member staff as part of a cost-cutting program ordered by its corporate parent, Capital Cities/ABC Inc.
Murphy, however, called the alliance a "way to grow, remain competitive, to be the most competitive news organization without major additional investment."
In the United States, the role of traditional network news has declined in recent years as CNN and local TV stations now have instant access via satellites to the same video pictures and stories that were once the exclusive domain of ABC, CBS and NBC.
And in the United Kingdom, the BBC faces increasing competition from Rupert Murdoch's Sky Television, a satellite news channel modeled after CNN.
ABC has been looking for ways to deliver its news programming to a wider audience for several years. Two years ago, it discussed becoming a partner with the BBC in Global News Network, a 24-hour news service operated by Japan's NHK and conceived with the idea of taking on CNN in the global TV news game. The project was later abandoned.