Media giant CBS (CBS) plans to launch its 24-hour online news service on February 2, but emerging details indicate that the site will be decidedly different from offerings from network brethren ABC and NBC.
While ABC and NBC both feature network news through ABCNews.com and MSNBC, respectively, CBS is going the local route. It will offer links to network news through the sites of its local affiliates.
CBS, a latecomer to online news, thinks the gamble will pay off: Would-be advertisers may get a more targeted "buy," for example. Users will get to access the Web through a television station that is familiar to them. Other features may be offered as well, such as directory listings.
The strategy shows once again how the traditional media, both television and print, are grappling with online strategies. While the payoff is potentially great, most sites still are losing money and the cost of production is rising.
CBS's strategy is not sure-fire, either. Last year, Warner Brothers announced a service called CityWeb to provide local TV stations with content for sites on the Net. The content was to be branded with the local affiliate's name, and the two parties were to share ad revenue. But that service has yet to launch, although Warner Brothers insists it will happen sometime this year.
But media outlets such as CBS can't afford to sit still, because they risk losing TV or print ad dollars to the Net, as well as viewership. America Online, for example, contends that its "prime-time" online audience is growing, providing competition to TV. In addition, CBS may be feeling some heat from the already-established news sites offered by competitors NBC and ABC.
CBS executives say users will log onto the CBS.com site and will be asked to type in their zip code. That will direct them to the local CBS affiliate in their hometown. The affiliate home page then will become the gateway to CBS's online news. It will provide local news through the affiliate and national and international news through CBS. The cobranding deal is expected to involve 154 CBS affiliates.
CBS first disclosed plans for its online news service in October. It said a launch was planned for January but didn't release any details. At the time, it also labeled the service CBSnow. That Web address was accessible through the Web last week, with a user name and password. This week, however, users who type in CBSnow get a message saying, "There was no response. The server could be down or is not responding."
CBS executives said today that CBSnow will not be a Web address to use the service; it will be the address for the local affiliates.
NBC and ABC also offer local news on their Web sites, but it typically is one click away. ABC, for example, offers links to ten affiliate sites. Today, affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia has news about a new school for Atlantic City, New Jersey, students.
NBC offers a link to the "Interactive Neighborhood [NBCIN]," a guide to local and national information on the Web from the NBC affiliates. "With NBCIN, you can find a new job, a new home, a place to eat tonight, and all sorts of local information," the site reads.