CNN’s wall-to-wall live coverage of the Gulf War in 1991 is widely credited with tipping traditional linear news coverage into chaos.
Three decades on and now round-the-clock cable news broadcasts are being undercut by audiences seeking information online.
Big News is reacting — but perhaps not fast enough or radically enough to prevent fatal hemorrhage.
“I think [streaming] is as big a change for the video news business as the introduction of the cable news channels was — only it is happening much faster,” Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, told Alex Weprin at The Hollywood Reporter.
“That was a slow tectonic shift from broadcast to cable, and while programs controlled by the news divisions — the morning shows in particular — still make a ton of money, the overwhelming emphasis for years now has been on cable news.”
It’s not to say that US TV news outlets aren’t invested in streaming. Every TV news organization now has a platform, or is planning to launch one, from NBC News Now and CBS News on streaming to ABC News Live, Fox Nation and CNN+.
“But all of these offerings are a hedge on the status quo,” says Weprin. “These TV news streaming platforms are designed to appeal to an audience that doesn’t pay for TV but still wants live news, analysis and interviews.”
Some services are catering to superfans (like CNN+, Today All Day or Fox Nation), some are trying to meet the needs of advertisers (the free streaming service Fox Weather was created in part because the company wanted to “build vehicles” for advertisers outside of its opinion shows) and others are trying to find that young audience that doesn’t currently watch linear TV news programming.
“But the incentives favor the status quo, with the current business models and multimillion-dollar talent deals — top-name TV news anchors earn eight figures annually — built around the linear present and not the streaming future,” says Weprin.
Still, there are signs of changes afoot. NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News and others are hiring hundreds of employees to create streaming-first programming, and the approach to talent is being rethought.
THR reports that NBC’s Brian Williams, a veteran journalist who helmed various programs at NBC News and MSNBC, is departing with rumors swirling that a streaming service like CNN+ could be in his future. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, meanwhile, will step back from her daily cable show in 2022 but produce more content for the company’s digital platforms, perhaps including MSNBC’s The Choice. Established talents like NBC’s Tom Llamas and CNN’s Kasie Hunt have shifted or are shifting to streaming-first jobs.
“Other TV news divisions are taking similar approaches, with talent expected to treat their streaming and linear duties equally, not viewing digital content as ‘extra’ stuff meant to be done on top of the ‘real’ job,” says THR.
It could be that news orgs are preparing to flip a switch and stream all their news offerings online. But it’s all about timing and not wanting to disrupt still lucrative linear models or the talent they have housed for years.
“You don’t want to be the last person out of the gate deciding to get serious about streaming in news,” Lukasiewicz adds, “I do think there is a fear of missing out….”