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ABC to Relaunch 24-Hour Digital News Channel

The network plans to make the service that it experimented with last year available on cable and satellite TV, as well as over the Internet.

April 05, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — ABC News announced Monday that it was relaunching a 24-hour digital news channel it experimented with last year, and promised a beefier multimedia service that would deliver customized news reports on television, the Internet and even cellphones.

ABC executives said the network was in discussions with cable and satellite TV providers to carry ABC News Now, which aired on about 70 of its affiliates' digital stations July through January, primarily as a supplement to election coverage.

The news channel -- which now offers more than 20 original programs -- can still be viewed over broadband and wireless devices.

Come July, ABC is hoping to make it available to cable and satellite TV subscribers, along with 50 hours a month of video-on-demand programming and customized local news.

So far, 10 ABC-owned stations, including Los Angeles' KABC, have agreed to provide local programming.

ABC's venture comes as network news divisions are struggling to hold on to their audiences, which face a dizzying array of media options. The Walt Disney Co.-owned network, which does not have a cable news partner, is turning to technology to broaden its reach.

"I see this as the next generation beyond the traditional, basic cable linear channel," ABC News President David Westin said at a news briefing Monday in San Francisco, where television and cable executives were gathered for the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.'s national show.

"If anything, the thing that's been limiting us is we've been principally on the ABC television network," said Westin, adding that he hoped to carry the ABC brand to a wide range of platforms.

Last year, ABC News Now was available to more than 6 million digital cable subscribers through providers such as Comcast Corp. that carry the digital stations of local ABC affiliates. This year, ABC executives are pursuing a different business model by attempting to sell the channel directly to cable and satellite TV providers.

Sean Bratches, president of affiliate sales and marketing for the Disney and ESPN networks, said he believed the portability of ABC News Now would change viewer behavior.

"Where they want to ingest news products, our intention is to be there," Bratches said.

The network has given the nascent channel an infusion of about $7 million for infrastructure and personnel.

Whether another 24-hour news channel can attract viewers is unclear. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are already locked in a battle for that audience, scrapping daily over relatively small numbers.

"The disadvantage is that this is already a really crowded market," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.

Michael Clemente, ABC News Now's executive producer, said he was pursuing a formula different from the current all-day news channels.

"With all due respect to the others, people know what they're getting with Fox and they're very used to CNN," he said. "Journalistically, we can put our stable of people up against anyone's."

Clemente said ABC would offer a form of "info-snacking," and compared it to reading the Sunday paper in small portions. Interactive technology also will allow much greater input from viewers, he said.

"My goal, being given so much time, is to have a conversation with the country," Clemente said.

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