Television Grows News Apps

Networks exploit tablet, smartphone usage
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NBC News offers a centralized homebase iPhone app featuring content from NBCUniversal's broadcast and cable networks.
ALEXANDRIA, VA—Today most TV news content is being repurposed beyond its typical broadcast, cable and online venues to serve the growing armies of mobile smartphone and tablet consumers. Yet while the mutual goals behind all TV news apps are to exploit as many platforms as possible and, if possible, to grow audiences, the various network strategies for fulfilling those goals can differ widely.

Television news apps with varying amounts of advertising so far have been targeted to Apple's iPhone and iPad, with an increasing eye on more recent platforms from Windows 7, Android, BlackBerry and other competitors.

NBC

NBC News offers a centralized homebase iPhone app (under its MSNBC branding) that features content from NBCUniversal's broadcast and cable networks, such as "Today" and "Morning Joe." But the same content is repurposed for standalone apps, too, for some of its most popular shows—notably "NBC Nightly News" and "Meet the Press." ("Nightly" is also available now on iPad.)

"As new mobile devices have emerged, it's become important to tailor the user experience to those devices. That's what apps do for us," said Mark Lukasiewicz, vice president for NBC News specials & digital media. "We have a variety of apps because the needs of our users are different, depending on content. The [Rachel] Maddow app, for example, is focused on social media—tapping into Facebook and Twitter about her show during her show."

For "Today," NBC News provides a standalone app to allow quick access to content within the program's mammoth four-hour daily broadcasts (with yet another app dedicated solely to recipes from the morning show's cooking segments).

ABC

ABC News launched its iPad app last July. (Its iPhone app fired up in 2008.) Paul Slavin, senior vice president of ABC Digital Media, said "we like to get our content to our users anywhere and anytime," and, therefore, ABC News soon plans to also move into Android, Windows 7, and other new platforms.

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Fox Business Network recently added an iPad app to complement its iPhone venue. ABC News designs its apps to maximize the best technical attributes of a given platform. "For iPhone, we wanted to take advantage of its GPS function to allow users to bring in local news," Slavin said. ABC doesn't stream full broadcasts of its evening newscasts on mobile platforms. "We do [stream] full broadcasts on our [PC and Mac] platforms, but having long-form programs…did not feel like a good choice, at least for the iPhone," Slavin said.

CBS

CBS News, apart from offering content on the iOS platforms (iPhone/iPad), also taps into Android, BlackBerry and Symbian (open source). Like ABC, CBS News has opted for a single homebase app. Mark Larkin, vice president of CBSNews.com, said the network has "doubled down" on mobile because it finds it essential to maintain a robust offering across all platforms. "Mobile applications present us with an opportunity to explore new business models," he said.

Some CBS TV content comes courtesy of radio: While a new app provides mostly CBS Radio programs—including live streaming of breaking news—it also provides audio streams of full broadcasts of such fare as "Face the Nation" and "60 Minutes."

PBS AND FOX

"The PBS NewsHour," produced by MacNeil Lehrer Productions, launched its iPhone app last August and more than 125,000 users have downloaded it so far, according to spokesman Rob Flynn. "We don't care how people find the 'NewsHour'—whether on broadcast, [satellite] radio, online or on a handheld device," Flynn said. "There's a demand for the types of content PBS is known for, so basically we are taking our 'NewsHour' brand and making it more readily available."

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More than 125,000 users have downloaded "The PBS Newshour" app since it launched for the iPhone last August. Fox Business Network recently added an iPad app to complement its iPhone venue, while Fox News Channel plans to add an iPad app this spring, according to Jeff Misenti, vice president of Fox News Digital. "We want to create material with the idea that an editor's content is going to a lot of different platforms—which you have to keep in mind when you create that content in the first place."

Both Fox and CNN say they've prompted about two-million downloads apiece for their respective iPhone apps. Louis Gump, CNN's vice president for mobile, said while a lot of its mobile content is similar, "Our point of view is the tablet experience is significantly different, so we use images very differently for the iPad." CNN had been the only TV news app that charged a fee for U.S. users—a one-time $2 payment it dropped last December when it launched its iPad app. "We hadn't been convinced yet that advertising would be an adequate way to provide a sustainable business," Gump said.

As for News Corp.'s recent launch of "The Daily"—touted as the first "electronic newspaper" designed specifically for iPad that includes text, HD video, 360-degree imaging, and audio for $4 a month—ABC's Slavin said "people will pay for original high-quality content. How much they'll pay is a different matter. Our approach is everyone is our competition now. The days of saying only NBC and CBS are competitors are long gone."