Free Access Or NewsSelect?

Web surfers are increasingly concerned that their access to news content is being limited. The advent of TimesSelect invoked the ire of many Web users when what was once free became $49.95 a year. That got us wondering: do news networks' Web sites offer enough access to the video content that is on television? In particular, we wondered why none of the networks carry any free video of broadcasts online in their entirety.

At CBS News, "the reason is that we have agreements with affiliates that entitle them to exclusivity of the product -- including entertainment, news and sports -- and that agreement stipulates specifically under what circumstances we can 'repurpose' previously broadcast material on other platforms" such as the web, said Preston Farr, senior vice president of affiliate relations at CBS. The exceptions within those agreements stipulate that the network can use pieces of news broadcasts, but not entire programs.

Farr says that the current agreement has been in effect since 1998 and is currently being renegotiated. "It will likely include some revision to exclusivity agreements," he said.

Betsy Morgan, senior vice president and general manager of CBSNews.com, says she would likely not play the broadcasts in their entirety even if the affiliate arrangements allowed for it. "I don't think that's the way the online audience wants to see that content. They want to pick and choose. All of our research data shows that the attention span for this medium is very short form. The web user is often time-constrained and looking for bits and bytes rather than a sit-back experience," she said.

Jonathan Dube, editorial director for the Canadian Broadcasting Company's Web site and editor of Cyberjournalist.net, a site that focuses on the intersection of web technology and journalism, agrees with Morgan. "Online users are more likely to watch shorter video segments than full shows," says Dube. "Plus, breaking up the video from a show into individual stories enables the sites to integrate the video with related articles on the Web site, and makes it possible for sites to offer users 'build their own newscast' options. Presenting the video in that way enables news sites to better take advantage of the strengths of the Internet."

All the networks' Web sites include free video in the form of selected segments from various broadcasts, and some offer more than others. In addition to Web-exclusive video content from correspondents and a wide selection of segments from "The Early Show" and the "Evening News," CBSNews.com now features online editions of "The Early Show" and the "Evening News," but the content of both programs is limited to three segments from each broadcast that last about 10 minutes. Only brief clips from segments broadcast on "60 Minutes" are available online, again because affiliate agreements stipulate such an arrangement. FoxNews.com and MSNBC.com feature free video segments from various broadcasts. ABCNews.com, which has increased the amount of free video content on the site recently, features some free segments from its broadcasts, but also maintains an on-demand subscription feature, in which viewers can choose to watch ABC News programs for $4.95 per month.

Still, while publications such as The New York Times may be navigating toward subscription-based content, television news web sites are shifting in the opposite direction, says Dube, citing CNN's recent decision to drop its charge for video content on its Web site. "In the past year, CNN.com, one of the biggest sites that required a subscription for people to view video, moved away from that model, opening it up to all CNN.com users for free. Most major news sites now offer their video for free, and I expect them to continue to do so. In the past year demand for advertising on online video has soared, making online video very profitable. As a result, it's now possible for most major sites to offer video for free, cover their bandwidth costs and still make a profit."
  • Hillary Profita

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