TV news via Snapchat?

Au­di­ences for tra­di­tional for­mats are get­ting smaller and older. Here are some ways broad­cast net­works are try­ing to stay afloat

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Stephen Battaglio

NBC News re­cently be­gan pro­duc­tion on “Stay Tuned,” a twice-daily news­cast pro­duced ex­clu­sively for users of the so­cial me­dia plat­form Snapchat.

Young an­chors Gadi Schwartz and Sa­van­nah Sell­ers tape their two- to three-minute pro­grams in a Rock­e­feller Cen­ter stu­dio be­long­ing to the com­pany where such in­no­va­tions as color TV were de­vel­oped. But mak­ing a news­cast de­signed for a ver­ti­cal screen of a mo­bile de­vice did not re­quire a tech­no­log­i­cal break­through.

“The cam­era is lit­er­ally turned on its side,” said Nick Ascheim, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of dig­i­tal for NBC News and MSNBC. “It sounds al­most ridicu­lously sim­ple, but it’s the best way to do it.”

If only re­solv­ing the other chal­lenges fac­ing broad­cast TV news th­ese days were that easy. Broad­cast net­work morn­ing show and evening news au­di­ences are get­ting smaller and older. The three net­work evening news­casts av­er­aged 21.2 mil­lion viewers in May, down from 22.6 mil­lion a year ago, while the 25-to-54 age group de­clined by 10%. The me­dian age for a net­work morn­ing news pro­gram is 59.7, up from 57.6 five years ago, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen.

Mil­len­ni­als who want news are get­ting it on­line, of­ten from sites such as Buz­zFeed and Vice that tar­get them.

Those trends have pushed the news op­er­a­tions of ABC, CBS and NBC into ini­tia­tives aimed at reach­ing those viewers on dig­i­tal plat­forms, such as ex­clu­sive video con­tent for so­cial me­dia sites and live-stream­ing net­works for users of over-the-top TV de­vices.

“We are look­ing for ways to reach that au­di­ence that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to find us through tra­di­tional pro­gram­ming,” Ascheim said. “What­ever you want to la­bel them — cord cut­ters, cord shavers, mil­len­ni­als — they are not watch­ing nightly news and morn­ing tele­vi­sion in the same num­bers as they have in the past.”

Net­work news di­vi­sions have been dis­tribut­ing the video they make for TV on­line for nearly 20 years via their own web­sites, through part­ners such as Mi­crosoft, Ya­hoo and AOL, and on so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Face­book, Twit­ter and YouTube. But the lat­est wave of ac­tiv­ity puts a greater em­pha­sis on orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming de­signed for younger viewers raised on the In­ter­net and dig­i­tal de­vices.

An­drew Hey­ward, a for­mer CBS News pres­i­dent who is now a re­searcher at MIT Me­dia Lab,

be­lieves a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach is nec­es­sary. “They are smartly try­ing to find the next gen­er­a­tion of viewers rather than wait­ing for the next gen­er­a­tion of viewers to find them,” he said.

Last week, ABC News an­nounced it would pro­duce con­tent for ATTN, the Los An­ge­les-based me­dia com­pany that cre­ates top­i­cal, issue-ori­ented videos for so­cial me­dia sites and reaches users with an av­er­age age of 25. Colby Smith, vice pres­i­dent of ABC News Dig­i­tal, said ATTN will reach viewers that are even younger than what the net­work at­tracts with con­tent it runs on Face­book, Twit­ter or In­sta­gram.

ABC also launched “The Brief­ing Room,” a livestreamed show on built around the daily White House press brief­ings which have be­come ap­point­ment view­ing for po­lit­i­cal junkies since Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice.

NBC’s “Stay Tuned” cov­ers the ma­jor sto­ries of the day but also gives at­ten­tion to news of in­ter­est to a young adult au­di­ence (nearly half of the users of Snapchat are ages 18 to 24). In the first nine days af­ter its launch, the pro­gram de­liv­ered two special re­ports to users — one on the res­ig­na­tion of White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer, the other on the sui­cide of Linkin Park lead singer Ch­ester Ben­ning­ton.

The Snapchat launch fol­lows NBC’s for­ma­tion of a pro­duc­tion unit called Left Field, ded­i­cated to mak­ing short news doc­u­men­taries to be shown on so­cial me­dia plat­forms in­stead of TV. The docs will be used to beef up the of­fer­ings on and the NBC News app for stream­ing TV de­vices.

NBC’s ca­ble news chan­nel MSNBC is avail­able on­line to ca­ble and satel­lite sub­scribers who pay to re­ceive it. But Ascheim said the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple do­ing with­out pay-TV sub­scrip­tions has NBC News weigh­ing the idea of hav­ing its own stream­ing chan­nel for “over the top” TV con­sumers who watch on Roku, Ap­pleTV, Ama­zon Fire or other de­vices.

“As you’re think­ing about what the over-the-top en­vi­ron­ment should look like, you re­ally need to cut the cord for a month,” Ascheim said. “What you’re go­ing to find is the first time there is a big news story you’re go­ing to pick up your re­mote con­trol and you’re go­ing to want some­body to walk you through that story, and it’s not go­ing to be there for you. That’s why we’re ex­plor­ing it.”

CBS is al­ready tap­ping into the cord-cut­ting au­di­ence with its stream­ing news chan­nel CBSN, a free, adsup­ported ser­vice launched in Novem­ber 2014. Spear­headed by CBS News Pres­i­dent David Rhodes, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at Fox News Chan­nel, CBSN started out as an out­let for pro­vid­ing ex­tended live break­ing cov­er­age from CBS News and re-air­ing seg­ments and in­ter­views from broad­cast pro­grams such as “CBS This Morn­ing” and other CBSowned fran­chises such as “En­ter­tain­ment Tonight.”

Over the last 18 months, CBS News has in­creased its com­mit­ment to the chan­nel by broad­en­ing the pro­gram lineup with orig­i­nal doc­u­men­tary-style seg­ments cre­ated pri­mar­ily for the stream­ing au­di­ence.

The seg­ments are fea­tured in a short-run sum­mer se­ries called “CBSN: On As­sign­ment” that be­gan Mon­day night, simul­cast­ing on the stream­ing chan­nel and the CBS broad­cast net­work where it was watched by 2.8 mil­lion viewers, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen.

The pieces on the pre­miere in­cluded in­ves­ti­ga­tions on ef­forts by ISIS to in­doc­tri­nate chil­dren in Mo­sul, Iraq, and on how visa fraud is used to bring for­eign work­ers into U.S. auto plants. But they were de­liv­ered in con­ver­sa­tional tone, with CBS jour­nal­ists talk­ing to the viewers as peers rather than as ex­perts.

“What we have found in our re­search is maybe the tra­di­tional no­tions of author­ity of the correspondent or the an­chor don’t res­onate with the younger au­di­ence,” said Christy Tan­ner, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager for CBS News Dig­i­tal. “What does res­onate is go­ing on a jour­ney with the cor­re­spon­dents and learn­ing with them as they go.”

CBSN does not re­lease data on how many peo­ple are watch­ing the ser­vice or its fi­nan­cial per­for­mance, but CBS ex­ec­u­tives re­cently told staff at a meet­ing that the oper­a­tion is prof­itable.

The ser­vice is free, but Tan­ner said fea­tures could be added in the fu­ture that would gen­er­ate sub­scriber fees. CBS an­nounced Tues­day that the CBSN feed will be added to its CBS All Ac­cess ser­vice, which gives on­line users the net­work’s pro­gram­ming for $5.99 a month.

Even as CBSN seeks a younger crowd — the me­dian age of the au­di­ence is 38 — Tan­ner main­tains that the ser­vice ben­e­fits from its brand as­so­ci­a­tion with the decades-long legacy of CBS News that in­cludes “60 Min­utes” and leg­endary an­chor Wal­ter Cronkite.

“In the re­search we have done, peo­ple have said, ‘I watch CBSN be­cause when I bought my new iPhone I went to look for a news app and I was fa­mil­iar with the CBS News brand be­cause I watched the CBS lo­cal sta­tion chan­nel 2 in my grandmother’s liv­ing room,’ ” Tan­ner said. “There is still a quest for trust in our land­scape.”

That land­scape is grow­ing more crowded and com­pet­i­tive. Ca­ble net­work CNN, al­ready a lead­ing news source for dig­i­tal and mo­bile users (it re­port­edly made $150 mil­lion in prof­its from its dig­i­tal of­fer­ings alone in 2016), is build­ing up its youth-ori­ented dig­i­tal video en­ter­prise Great Big Story. GBS has been mak­ing highly pol­ished orig­i­nal short films about food (the his­tory of in­stant noo­dles), travel and un­usual hu­man in­ter­est sub­jects (a tat­too artist with a pros­thetic arm or Queen El­iz­a­beth’s re­hearsal dou­ble) for so­cial me­dia sites since 2015. With an in­vest­ment of $40 mil­lion over the next two years, CNN will make Great Big Story avail­able as a 24-hour stream­ing chan­nel that will tar­get young viewers — and look noth­ing like a ca­ble news out­let.

“It’s the first time CNN has launched some­thing with­out the three red and white CNN let­ters on it, and we did it for a rea­son: to at­tract a to­tally dif­fer­ent au­di­ence with an en­tirely dif­fer­ent con­cept,” said An­drew Morse, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of CNN Dig­i­tal. He notes that mil­len­ni­als are al­ready go­ing to CNN prod­ucts when there is break­ing news. “GBS has a dis­tinct au­di­ence and a dis­tinct voice.”

NBC News

NBC’S “STAY TUNED” cov­ers the ma­jor sto­ries of the day but also gives at­ten­tion to news of in­ter­est to a young adult au­di­ence (nearly half of Snapchat users are ages 18 to 24). Above, co-an­chor Gadi Schwartz tapes a pro­gram in the Rock­e­feller Cen­ter stu­dio.

NBC News

SA­VAN­NAH SELL­ERS co-an­chors “Stay Tuned,” pro­duced for Snapchat users. The launch fol­lows NBC’s for­ma­tion of a unit ded­i­cated to mak­ing short news doc­u­men­taries to be shown on so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

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