"CBSN," the 24-hour news channel that CBS News will launch (possibly by Election Day), brings a familiar brand and recognized reporters to the online, on-demand news marketplace.
Although details about the CBS News digital channel are still scarce, published reports indicate that the project will enable the network to leverage assets of its existing news programs (Evening News, This Morning, 60 Minutes, 48 Hours) as well as creating new content for the Web stream.
It is not clear whether CBSN will be part of the "All Access" $5.99 monthly streaming service that the network unveiled last week. Whenever it debuts, the news service will enable online viewers to watch either linear newscasts (some of them featuring CBS broadcast anchors) or on-demand stories, selected from an on-screen menu. "CBSN" and "CBS News. Always On" (the digital network's slogan) have been trademarked, according to a report in the online publication Capital Online.
CBS's focus on Web delivery can be seen as a capitulation to the network's inability to establish cable and satellite carriage. It long ago lost cable news presence to the NBC (now NBCU) and Fox channels. The plunge into Web news puts into competition with dozens of other online news, much of it featuring video but without the gravitas of a legendary news purveyor.
CBS declined to discuss its plans for the digital streaming network.
CBSN's format is expected to have a different "look" than conventional behind-the-desk TV anchoring. It will feature original reporting from CBS reporters, as well as follow-up discussions about stories they are covering. Through social media platforms, viewers will be invited to interact with reports.
The digital news channel will arrive at a time of turmoil in the cable news category. CNN's recent cutbacks plus its current battle with DISH (cutting its distribution, along with other Turner Broadcasting networks) could be part of a long-term downshift of news viewing on linear platforms, such as cable channels.
CBSN may resemble CNNGo, a similar on-demand TV Everywhere service that debuted in spring. Although online distribution plans for CBSN are unknown, the broadcast network will likely allot plenty of air-time to cross-promote the new digital channel.
One curious challenge will be audience interest in a news service that can been seen on desktops as well as phone/tablet mobile handsets. Broadcasters' plans to transmit local programs - including their newscasts - to mobile devices appear to have been abandoned. The over-the-air "mobile DTV" initiative, touted two years ago, has been absorbed into the NAB and has disappeared.
Gary Arlen follows online and convergence programming at Arlen Communications.