News on Demand Is in Demand

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

When the on-demand revolution began in earnest a few years ago, it was thought that news was one of the content categories viewers would simply prefer to watch live. But now that consumer on-demand habits and patterns are more established, some cable operators consider news to be an essential on-demand viewing option.
Indeed, many viewers are opting to watch the 6 p.m. news at 8:17 p.m., as Comcast suggested in its video-on-demand ads when it first launched local and national news from NBC as part of its flagship Philadelphia on-demand market in late 2002.
Cable operators regularly cite news on demand as a key differentiator, especially when it comes to local content from broadcasters. That’s because the local edge is an advantage cable has over satellite.
Comcast carries NBC News content on demand in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pa., northern New Jersey and Washington, and is planning to launch CBS content, such as “The Early Show,” “CBS Evening News” and “48 Hours,” in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and other markets as on-demand becomes available elsewhere later this year. In markets that offer national CBS content, Comcast would likely negotiate deals with the local CBS affiliates for local news content.
“This is a category we expect to grow substantially in the future,” said Page Thompson, VP of marketing for new video products at Comcast.
In Philadelphia, Comcast offers the 6 p.m. local news and 6:30 p.m. “NBC Nightly News” from NBC-owned affiliate WCAU-TV, available on demand immediately after they air. A “huge spike” in usage occurs at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., when people arrive home from work and watch, Mr. Thompson said.
Since news is perishable, though, viewing for the nightly newscasts drops about three hours after their live airing. But Comcast also offers additional content such as “Meet the Press,” “Dateline” and some CNN shows, and on-demand viewership for those programs is spread throughout the week, Mr. Thompson said.
“We see a very bright future for news on demand. I think there is a lot of interest in news on a near-live basis. People have grown up watching Tom Brokaw or other highly credible, skilled broadcasters, but maybe they can’t be home by 6:30 p.m. That’s what on-demand is all about,” Mr. Thompson said.
News on demand makes sense as part of a larger VOD strategy simply because news often airs at times that don’t fit well into people’s schedules, said Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group. News may not be one of the top categories for on-demand, but “It’s always nice to have more content,” he said.
Comcast isn’t the only cable operator betting on news on demand. Mediacom is also seeking to strike deals with local TV stations. In the Quad Cities market, consisting of four cities in Illinois and Iowa, Mediacom will carry all the newscasts from the local ABC affiliate, The New York Times-owned WQAD-TV, immediately after they air and up until the next newscast, starting in August, said Scott Westerman, a regional VP with Mediacom.
Mediacom is currently investing about $45,000 in the digitizing equipment that’s needed in the cable headend to make the local news content available on demand. Local news fits into the operator’s larger strategy to offer as much local content on demand as possible, such as video from local hospitals and local high school sporting events, Mr. Westerman said.
That’s because localism is cable’s trump card over satellite. “It is absolutely an important part of Mediacom’s strategy. The one thing we do better and will always do better than satellite guys is local, and the one thing we will always do better is VOD because they don’t have the bandwidth to do VOD. This is such a natural combination,” he said.
News Drives Cable
News is actually one of the biggest drivers of cable consumption, said Jon Klein, CEO of the FeedRoom, which delivers 1 million streaming video clips on the Internet daily, at least 75 percent of which is news. Given the popularity of news online, it’s not surprising that viewers would also place a huge premium on getting that information on demand too. “Chances are you probably missed the president’s news conference, [but on demand] it’s easy enough to find,” he said.
Other cable operators are experimenting with news on demand. Insight plans to roll out 20 hours of ABC news programming content each month starting May 1. The content will be evergreen material that is at least 60 days old, like the capture of Saddam Hussein or Peter Jennings’ report on the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.
Consumers are also watching news on their phones. MobiTV delivers live TV, including MSNBC, CNBC and ABC News, to wireless phones. The news channels are consistently among the five top-rated channels, with MSNBC often ranking No. 1, said Paul Scanlan, co-founder and VP of marketing and sales at Idetic, the parent company of MobiTV. Based on a MobiTV Web site survey, 33 percent of respondents ranked news as the most requested channel category, second to sports at 46 percent.
“If you ask our subscribers what they are most interested in, most will say news. Our content is live content, but it’s on-demand in terms of you carry it with you,” he said.