Old news buys into a new audience

The advance of the Internet signals the end of TV news as we know it.
THE NEWS that NBC, the leading American television network, has bought a stake in Snap, an Internet portal service, won't have surprised anyone with their finger on the pulse of new American media.

Snap is one of the lesser-known portals, services which act as search engines or directories and are often the first port of call for users. Since most Internet readers go online to get more information, links with mainstream media, print or electronic, can build audiences for both.

Internet use is exploding in the US. A new study from the Pew Research Centre shows that a quarter of the US public go online every day, up from 4 per cent three years ago, and news use is expanding in parallel. About 20 per cent of Americans get online news once a week, and they are younger, better educated and wealthier than the average American - a key audience for the networks and their advertisers.

Meanwhile, the networks' revenues are getting hit. Just five years ago, 60 per cent of Americans watched the nightly news on ABC, CBS or NBC; today it is down to 38 per cent, and sliding (though it is not the Internet that is pulling viewers away, but cable television).

By tying into the Internet, NBC can hope to re-establish itself with a younger and richer audience. The subjects that Internet users want to read about are not politics or sports, which feature heavily on network news, but science, health, technology and finance, which traditionally don't. In short, the Internet and the networks can be valuable allies.

Tele-Communications Inc (TCI) made a similar bet when its affiliate, United Video Satellite Group, bought TV Guide from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp last week. The weekly listings magazine nearly broke Murdoch's bank, and has a declining circulation. But TCI wants to turn it into an all- singing, all-dancing programming tool available through analogue and digital television, as well as the Internet. They are hoping that it's well-known brand name will pay dividends, helping it get control of the top technologies that will link the two as the difference between Internet and digital television starts to disappear altogether.