How much local news do OTT viewers want? CBS is about to find out

24/7 Local News: Cable Has a New Competitor

As a loyal viewer (and alumnus) of WCBS-TV in New York, I admit I find the station’s promotional tagline — “Expect More” — unintentionally ambiguous, as in “Frankly, I expected more.”

But all that’s changed now that CBS has rolled out the station’s 24/7 live streaming service, CBSN New York, with other CBS markets to follow. Who could possibly expect (or ask for) more than round-the-clock live breaking news, local coverage and weather, streamed on the station’s website and available on Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and CBS mobile apps?

“We want everybody to watch it and use it as a resource. The target is everybody who watches and uses local news,” says EVP and GM of CBS News Digital Christy Tanner. The station promotes the new service all day on the air, but Tanner says that news-binging cord-cutters and cord-nevers as well as what Nielsen calls “savvy streamers” are likely users as well.

CBSN New York’s Facebook cover photo.

The new, ad-supported OTT service is challenging existing New York area cable news channels like Charter Spectrum’s NY1 and Altice’s News12. CBSN New York simulcasts existing broadcasts on WCBS-TV and its Long Island-based sister station WLNY-TV and fills out the many remaining hours of the day with newscasts anchored and reported by the stations’ staff. Adam Wiener, who oversees the new project as EVP/GM of CBS Local Digital Media, won’t say how much all this costs, except that it’s a “substantial investment in building out editorial resources at Channel 2.”

As the name suggests, CBSN New York is an offshoot of CBSN, the streaming service that CBS News and CBS Interactive introduced just over four years ago. Innovating across divisions isn’t easy, but it helps that Tanner is no network snob. She says a lot of CBSN users have expressed interest in streaming local news — especially hard for cord-cutters to find — and she has a healthy respect for local journalists’ expertise. On Tanner’s watch, CBSN has made good use of affiliate reporters to enhance its own coverage.

Moreover, building the local spinoff to work on multiple platforms was a technical challenge — “no small lift,” says Wiener — that both parties agree would have been very tough for the station to pull off on its own. So teams from CBSN and WCBS-TV worked together on newsroom organization, workflow, engineering challenges, day-to-day mechanics, even rehearsals. And the collaboration continues, says Tanner: “The TV station is responsible for creating the content and selling it. CBS Interactive is responsible for helping with the technology and distribution.”


Veteran WCBS-TV anchor Dana Tyler takes on additional duties at CBSN New York (screenshot)

CBS says 80% of CBSN’s audience is in the 18-49 demo, with the average user just 38 years old. But don’t expect aggressive targeting of younger viewers on the local spinoff. “It’s incredibly condescending when news organizations say they’re going after young people,” says Tanner. “People of all ages just want the news.”

So for now, the content on CBSN New York is pretty much local TV news as we know it, although with added breathing room that can “free the operation to create content free from newscast timing,” says Wiener. “The extra nugget you would have put on the web — we have room for it now.” There are also a few “webbier,” younger-skewing segments, like The Dig, reported by Elle McLogan, who happens to be the daughter of the station’s long-time Long Island correspondent.

CBSN Los Angeles is expected to start streaming early this year. The immediate value proposition: local TV news available any time on pretty much any screen. But a 24/7 service and a new user base offer plenty of opportunity for additional innovation. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if time and expansion to more CBS markets and additional platforms and devices bring bolder experiments in tone and content. “We have a media-savvy audience,” says Tanner. “Some of the familiar tropes may not be necessary.”

In other words: Expect more.

Share your OTT innovations with us at cronkitenewslab@asu.edu. We’ll check them out.

Related:

Article: InvestigateTV’s bet: If you build it, they will come. Read here.

Article: The Future of News is On Demand. Read here.

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