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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 13:32 GMT
Digital challenge to old-style TV news
By Peter Feuilherade
BBC Monitoring in Amsterdam

Natasha Kaplinsky on the set of the BBC 6'o clock news
Is traditional TV news still relevant to young people?
Television is going through major changes in the ways in which news is collected, transmitted and received.

Consumers increasingly want more online, on-demand services, last week's NewsXchange media industry conference in Amsterdam heard.

The old-style, prime-time evening news may not yet be dead, but news on demand is taking over.

Rapid take-up of broadband means that growing numbers of people will watch the news on computer screens.

News providers are also increasingly reversioning content for mobile phones.

End of appointment TV

US media industry consultant Merrill Brown said that in the US, technology-savvy young people are no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways.

In spring 2005, Mr Brown wrote a Carnegie Foundation report called Abandoning the News.

"It's pretty hard to predict what news consumption will look like in 2010, but there's no chance that people who are today 18-34 will consume the news through anything rather than digital devices," he said.

"They're going to want it in their pockets, in their desktops, in their cars, and in a growing range of consumer products."

ABC news clip on a mobile phone
People increasingly want news on mobile phones
Rather than watching TV news bulletins at scheduled times, more and more people are turning to live streaming news or video on demand of latest bulletins via their PC.

Some European broadcasters such as the BBC have been offering these options for some time. But they are only now gaining ground in the US, as channels like CBS move to a digital, online strategy.

However, traditional scheduled news summaries will still attract "significant numbers of eyeballs", said Mr Brown.

The content of news delivered to portable devices, meanwhile, is being transformed into a snappier "made for mobile" style.

As Nick Wheeler of British news channel ITN explained, this includes larger "straps" along the bottom of the screen than on conventional TV, and broadcasters being more careful about the kind of pictures they include, so that shots are not too small or too dark.

Audience revolt?

US commentator Danny Schechter, the self-styled "media dissector", told NewsXchange he believed the media were focusing excessively on technology and on getting their products out in new forms.

Media companies should be paying more attention to the transformation among audiences, he argued.

"The mighty mainstream media machine cannot insulate itself from the growing chorus of dissatisfaction that manifests itself in a growing tune-out of traditional TV news and falling newspaper circulations," Mr Schechter wrote in a post-conference guest contribution on Buzzflash website. "When their market speaks, commercial media must listen."

Citizen media

In media-controlled societies such as China and Iran, as well as countries that enjoy greater freedom of expression, millions of people are writing blogs.

Many offer only diary-style content and opinions, while a tiny number contain news in the conventional sense.

Video-blogging is taking off, and some 9,000 podcasts are available, although Netherlands-based media innovator Jonathan Marks dismissed 98% of podcasts as "absolute rubbish".

After terrorist attacks this year from London to Bali, some of the most striking footage broadcast was shot on mobile phones and video recorders of commuters or tourists, ordinary people caught up in the incidents.

The implications for news gathering are profound. Some major broadcasters who have solicited contributions from the public, such as the BBC, are receiving a growing mountain of material from the latest generation of "citizen journalists".

NewsXchange speakers observed that amateur film footage of President John Kennedy's assassination in Dallas in 1963 fell into the same category.

Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news, described it as "an unstoppable tide", but added that "as with any information, we have to have the same kinds of checks and balances about authenticity and verification for material we get from the public".

There are also legal issues with amateur footage, as media lawyer Rhory Robertson outlined.

"The real problem I foresee broadcasters having is preserving and exploiting the rights acquired in that footage. If a rival broadcaster likes that footage, you're going to have real difficulty stopping him from showing it, unless you've signed a contract with the person who took it."

ITV trials broadband TV service
18 Oct 05 |  Technology
TV's future down the phone line
14 Mar 05 |  Technology
Blogs vie with news for eyeballs
11 Oct 05 |  Technology
Broadband to rule the TV waves
14 Sep 05 |  Technology


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