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Live video news online? Think flying dinosaurs

Big media's trying to get hip, but CNET's Harry Fuller says they've still got lots to learn.

NBC has announced plans to put its evening news online. However, it won't be online until after the TV program has aired on stations in the Pacific time zone.

That's three hours after the program goes live on the East Coast. So a four-hour-old newscast gets posted. "NBC Nightly News," the first U.S. news program to air its entire nightly broadcast on the Web, exemplifies the struggle to keep broadcast news relevant.

If you and I had a barrel of venture-capital dollars for a video news service, we'd staff up. Cover the globe. We'd be live online all the time. No TV stations. No cable contract. No broadcast antennae. Our video news would be available over IPTV and via any wireless service that could deliver it to whatever wireless device could show it.

Video news companies in the United States are trapped by corporate plans and old business models.

California would not get "news" three hours later than New York and Boston. Live audio. Live video. Text. Maps. Charts. We'd be hot! We'd be cool. The blogosphere would quote us. News freaks would abjure sleep.

As it now stands, none of the big four American broadcast networks stream their news programs live. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC each excerpt newscast and magazine video for their Web sites. They do produce various podcasts and video specifically for their Web sites. Why isn't broadcast network news live online? Why aren't the cable news channels live online?

Broadcast and cable are in a death grip with one another--Holmes and Moriarity going over the falls. Cable news channels may not put too much material online before its goes out on cable. They're forced to ignore the most valuable viewer demographics during a workday: folks with Internet at work or on a handheld, not those left watching cable at home.

Video news companies in the United States are trapped by corporate plans and old business models. It's impolite to mention what happened to livery stables when somebody began selling gasoline for horseless carriages. Or to railroads when madmen started getting into little metal cylinders that flew through the air. Livery stables and railroads once had rich cash flow to protect.

There's quarterly corporate addiction to cash flow. Disney needs $200 million or more from ABC broadcast units quarterly. GE likes all that cash from NBC broadcast and cable. Ditto Viacom with CBS, and News Corp. with Fox. The golden goose must lay those golden eggs.

TV networks own entertainment shows, production units and distribution channels that make much more profit than the small news divisions. Here's one possible future conversation:

Owner of Colorado Springs affiliate of X Network: "How can you post the X News one hour before I get to show it to my viewers? Nobody here will watch."

X Network affiliate relations exec: "...mumble...compete in digital universe...mumble..."

Irate X Network owner: "Tell your boss in his digital universe back there in New York, we're in a dollar universe out here. Frankly, to cover lost news revenue we'll pre-empt your Thursday night sitcoms on all eight of our stations for local sports."

For any network, that's real pain. Thus, despite the potentially rich workday online audience, serving them may be too risky for today's TV giants.

American TV network structures date from a predigital time. Just as it once took outsider Ted Turner to bring the world 24-hour cable news, it may now take a not-TV corporation to bring live news video to the Internet. Four-hour-old NBC "Nightly News" online may be the pterodactyl trying to grow feathers.