TV takes step into cyberspace

A US news service linking NBC and Microsoft promises to fuse television and the Internet. David Usborne reports

Television in the United States will take a tentative step along the information highway this morning with the launch of an ambitious 24- hour news service operated jointly by the NBC network and the computer systems behemoth, Microsoft Corp.

Formed from a $500m joint venture unveiled only seven months ago, the new channel will attempt to challenge directly the primacy of Ted Turner's Cable Network News (CNN), which has had the field virtually to itself in 24-hour news programming since its foundation 16 years ago.

The birth of the new service, to be known as MSNBC, is likely to trigger a fierce battle in the industry for news viewers globally. Rupert Murdoch's Fox television company is also preparing to join the fray with its own all-news channel later this summer. Similar plans were recently shelved by ABC, owned by Disney, because of inflated costs.

MSNBC is attracting intense curiosity also because of its promise to fuse traditional television viewing with the Internet. An interactive version of the cable news service will be carried simultaneously on a World Wide Web site managed by Microsoft ( Viewers will be encouraged to refer to the site for further details and context of individual news stories.

"Visionaries have said, 'Oh yes, some day the computer and the television screen will come together,'" commented Mark Harrington, the general manager of MSNBC. "Well some day turns out to be 15 July. What happens after that, we'll invent one day and one story at a time."

Executives have rushed to introduce the service in time to catch a peak period of news in the United States, beginning with the Olympic Games, which open in Atlanta next weekend, and the final stretches of the presidential campaign, which culminates with the election itself in November. President Bill Clinton is to be tonight's inaugural guest on Internight, an interview programme to be put out daily in evening prime time.

There will be nothing coy about MSNBC's determination to take on CNN, meanwhile. Several weeks ago, a giant billboard advertising the new venture was posted across the road from CNN's headquarters in Atlanta bearing the cheeky message: "The future of cable news from the people you know."

As its primary weapon, MSNBC has at its disposal not only NBC's 1,200- strong corps of journalists but also the network's most famous household names. Among these is NBC's veteran evening news reader, Tom Brokaw, who will conduct the interview with Mr Clinton.

CNN, meanwhile, has the advantage a world-wide brand identity for delivering round-the-clock news. Crucially, it also has a commanding presence on America's overcrowded cable distribution systems, with access to some 65 million US homes. To make way for the MSNBC, NBC is being forced to close down "America's Talking", an all-talk cable channel it launched two years ago. That service, however, has only made inroads into 16 million homes.

Finding space on cable is also a critical challenge for Fox. Rupert Murdoch recently offered cable operators $10 as a cash incentive for every viewer given access to his putative all-news service. It was that manoeuvre that persuaded ABC to throw in the towel. Even more strikingly, Mr Murdoch also last month offered Telecommunications Inc (TCI), America's largest cable operator, a 10 per cent stake in his new service in return for a guarantee that it would be automatically offered to TCI customers.

A danger for MSNBC, meanwhile, is that its launch may be coming too soon for the interactive side to be fully developed, which could lead to disappointment for users of the web. Technology that would allow full video of the cable news service to be played on the web is barely available yet and critics point out that CNN already has several web sites of its own. NBC executives predict, none the less, that within a few years more people will be accessing MSNBC by computer than on their televisions.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all