Lost in the wreckage of the Internet bust are a handful of content sites that have started to thrive as broadband Internet access moves towards critical mass.
As the magic number of 20 million cable-modem and digital subscriber line homes is likely to be met later this year, content providers have started to take a second look at the Internet — and at transporting content to other platforms. To the surviving pioneers, there may be some spoils after all.
To wit: ABC News and its Web site, ABCNEWS.com. Last year, the Alphabet Network the company chose to put the vast storehouse of historical and daily news footage on ABCNEWS.com behind a pay wall, charging subscribers $4.95 a month for access.
Content from ABC News is also a staple of Real Networks Inc.'s $9.95-per-month Real One SuperPass subscription service, now before 850,000 users.
The dual strategy gives the network's news division a nice little revenue stream — some cash from subscriptions, but most from license fees from Real — and sets the next stage for growth: broadband.
"We have seen a great deal of interest from most of the MSOs for premium ABC News content for both cable modem services and for their small but growing VOD services, but we haven't closed any deals yet," said ABCNEWS.com senior vice president and general manager Bernard Gershon.
The content offered by ABC News stands as the prototypical bite-sized chunk perfect for cable-modem subscribers — and, perhaps, for VOD platforms. Most programmers stayed away from the floor of last month's Western Show in Anaheim, Calif., but ABCNEWS.com was on hand to show off its broadband-content product.
The broadband site carries daily World News Tonight
installments after the shows are broadcast, plus segments from 20/20, Good Morning America, Primetime, This Week with George Stephanopolous, UpClose, and World News Now
with Derek McGinty and Liz Cho.
Also available are "greatest hits" programs, such as Ted Koppel's Nightline
interview with Bruce Springsteen, the first Nightline
from 1980, and extended celebrity-interview outtakes, such as ABC News's Whitney Houston interview in December.
"Viewers can watch the entire World News Tonight
or watch segments," Gershon said. The additional video shot in the Houston interview was only available to Internet subscribers. ABCNEWS.com also carries live news updates throughout the day.
"Breaking news does very well," Gershon said. ABCNEWS.com has the ability to go live to a press conference and stay with the feed without fear of breaking into live TV programming. Briefings from the White House and Pentagon are often carried in their entirety.
"We have the opportunity on the Internet, particularly with delivering broadband video… to give people far greater choice of content than in the evening news," Gershon said.
For instance, ABCNEWS.com Webcast the 100th birthday party of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) — at which then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) made the infamous remark that cost him the GOP leadership — in its entirety.
"People can watch the whole thing and judge for themselves," Gershon said. All told, ABC supplies the site with hundreds of hours of breaking news each week.
And just who is watching news video on the Internet?
"Our audience is very different than the TV news audience," Gershon said. "The average age is 40, split between men and women. They are college educated and have higher incomes."
Viewers are more inclined to watching video at work, late at night and on weekends, he said. ABCNews.com also is reaching younger people that may not even have access to a TV, he said.
While broadband allows for more multimedia and video applications, subject matter also counts. "We get data on what people are looking at," Gershon said. "Health stories do real well, but a dull political story is not going to do that well" on the broadband site, he said.
Political junkies can get their fix with the traditional ABCNews.com text-dominated narrowband site.
ABCNEWS.com encodes video at 300 kbps using RealVideo 9. It also delivers 700 kbps video to BellSouth Corp.'s DSL service, encoded in both RealVideo 9 and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player formats. BellSouth is primarily taking all the nonbreaking news content from ABCNews.com.
ABC News "is consistently in the top 3 in usage of all content providers on Real Networks," said Gershon. "The average time per connection is six minutes. That's a fairly impressive number, considering a lot of the content is 90 seconds. World News Tonight
has a consistent audience by day in the tens of thousands."
And the number of users who access it each month is in the six-digit range.
"It's becoming more and more like the growing audience of a digital cable channel," Gershon said.
As ABCNEWS.com proves the viability of content online, it casts an eye towards other broadband platforms besides DSL. Cable modem is an obvious choice, as is cable's VOD platform.
Gershon sees possibilities with SVOD. ABC is looking at its television library, whether it's documentary programs or certain Nightline
episodes that could be packaged in an SVOD format.
"We're thinking about 15 to 20 hours refreshed each month," Gershon said.