NAB 2018: Digital Domain Drives Fresh News Model at CBSN

Streaming news service has achieved a balance between independence, collaboration with other CBS properties
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Las Vegas -- Speed and agility are hallmarks of any over-the-top video service, but striking a balance between full independence and a collaborative relationship with CBS News have also served as key tenets at CBSN, the digital, 24/7 news service launched in 2014.

Christy Tanner (left) with Will Richmond, editor and publisher of VideoNuze. Photo: Jeff Baumgartner

Christy Tanner (left) with Will Richmond, editor and publisher of VideoNuze. Photo: Jeff Baumgartner

CBSN is, at its core, a digital, over-the-top news service that features live feeds and covers breaking news alongside on-demand access to past news stories. In addition to being available as a free, ad-based standalone offering via apps for mobile and TV-connected devices, it is also offered via CBS All Access, CBS’s subscription-based streaming product.

“We’re set up to take advantage of the fact that it’s a digital stream,” Christy Tanner, executive vice president and general manager at CBS News Digital, said here Tuesday in a keynote conversation with Will Richmond, editor and publisher of VideoNuze.

CBSN, which is expanding into Canada, emerged as a dedicated digital property in part because CBS saw a market need for it, but also because CBS did not have a full-time cable news outlet.

“That was freeing in a way to start something new,” Tanner said, noting that CBSN didn’t have to worry about cannibalizing a 24/7 cable news outlet. Launching the service was “a bet we could take that was relatively low risk,” she added.

However, CBSN pays its own way. “We can more than support ourselves in this [digital] space,” Tanner explained.

CBSN operates separately from CBS’s broadcast TV news organization, but, in a collaborative twist, the digital entity will, on occasion, produce elements for the TV side of the house. A guest on CBS This Morning, for example, might appear for two minutes, and then head over to CBSN for a 10-minute segment on the same topic.

“We like to go a little deeper sometimes,” Tanner said, noting that those segments do end up getting some play on the CBS Evening News.

“We do coordinate extensively with all the [CBS] shows,” including 60 Minutes, she said.

“For the most part, what we have is a new model for a news organization,” Tanner said. “It our shop, everyone’s digital…we’re all intertwined. That’s how the future news organization will be structured.”

And that structure will continue to evolve. The CBSN news operation “will be a lot different two years from now,” she predicted.

CBSN’s demo tends to skew younger, with an average age of 38, than CBS News, whose audience is 20 years older, on average.

“We certainly do see cord-cutters tuning in,” Tanner said.

Though the situation can change on the time of the day or the day of the week, about 50% of CBSN streams come way of TV-connected devices like streaming players, smart TVs and gaming consoles, with 20% coming from mobile devices, and 30% from desktops/PCs.

In addition to getting usage on its own apps via those platforms, CBSN is also getting some traction with Xumo and Pluto TV, two ad-based streaming services that aggregate content into digital “channels” via a wide range of sources, including CBSN.

CBSN, so far, has not focused on carriage with virtual MVPDs [multichannel video programing distributors] such as Sling TV and DirecTV Now, but is not necessarily closing the door on that form of distribution. In fact, carriage of CBSN tied into a broader distribution agreement between CBS and fuboTV, an OTT TV service, that was announced last year.

RELATED: CBSN to Launch on CBS All Access, fuboTV

“We’re talking to everybody,” Tanner said.

CBSN, she said, has strived to remain non-partisan with respect to the political landscape.

“We made a conscious choice to be based on fact, not opinion…and knowledge, not debate,” Tanner said.

As for the future, Tanner said CBSN is getting pitched hard to integrate its service with voice-based navigation and search platforms.

“It’s a huge opportunity, as we are both video and audio news service, but it raises a lot of questions about how to choose from results…I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in this space.”

CBSN, as a standalone app, will remain a free, ad-supported service (CBS All Access, the paid OTT service, includes CBSN as an added benefit). CBSN is also available to local affiliates to embed the service into their own digital properties.

“We’ll see how it evolves,” Tanner said of the service’s business model, adding that CBSN does think about what kind of content that consumers would pay for. “But right now we’re providing so much value [with] breaking news that you don’t want to put a pay wall in front of that.” 

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