Media Relations: Not the Nine O’Clock News as we know it - With the introduction of its 24-hour online news service, the BBC has ushered in a revolutionary new age of news delivery which could take over from traditional TV and radio

’The first of its kind in Europe’ was the bold claim of the BBC as it launched another news service two weeks ago.

’The first of its kind in Europe’ was the bold claim of the BBC as

it launched another news service two weeks ago.



But this was not the vastly hyped 24-hour UK Television News channel

which went on air on 9 November, it was an new kind of news service

altogether, one which has the potential to overtake television news in

popularity.



BBC News Online, developed from the BBC web site, offers constantly

updated news and sport information, using a mixture of text, graphics,

audio and video.



It competes head on with the established US versions, notably MSNBC

based at Microsoft in Seattle and ABCNEWS.com. If the television giant

hasn’t been slain quite yet, most experts seem to think that it is being

rapidly cut down to size.



’In the US, audiences for conventional TV news programmes are falling

rapidly. The answer is to be on the air all the time,’ says Jeff

Gralnick of ABC News. ’We must provide news when people want it.’



Editor-in-chief of MSNBC, Merril Brown, goes further: ’TV news as we

know it, with the family sitting around watching a half-hour show at

dinner time, will not continue.’



Some of the bigger PR agencies are moving to embrace online news. Many

have their own web sites, and are employing expert site-designers to

advise clients.



Broadcast PR specialist Medialink is currently working on an internal

online strategy document. It now runs two web sites, one for the general

public, and one specifically for journalists.



’The material we post on the journalists’ site is being picked up by

newspapers and rebroadcast by major companies like CNN,’ says David

Whitbourn, Medialink’s vice-president, European operations.



’It’s working for us and we’re recommending it to our clients as another

string to their bow, supplementing the television and radio coverage

we’re able to achieve for them. No one is entirely sure how important

online services will become, but the market is growing incredibly

quickly.’



Early next month Shandwick UK will go one step further, with the launch

of a multi-media broadcast division, led by ex-BBC journalist Tessa

Curtis.



’The explosive growth of broadcast outlets, each with its own style and

requirements, requires a tailored approach,’ she explains. ’TV is a

blunt medium where simplicity is all. Radio is different, with many

kinds of news programming. And we must include online in our thinking,’

she adds.



’Our new division will embrace broadcasting in all its forms. The

advertising industry understands the need for targeted messages, and

styles appropriate to different media. I believe that PR businesses have

been slower to take this on board. The first task is to educate clients

for the need for multi formats for multimedia. Online is a chicken and

egg situation. As soon as it has big audiences, people will suddenly get

interested.’



It won’t be long before audiences reach critical mass. Following

Princess Diana’s death, and during the recent stock market turbulence,

all major news web sites were overloaded. The publicity surrounding the

judges’ decision to publish the Louise Woodward appeal verdict on the

web gave news sites another big boost, although the verdict didn’t

actually appear online until after the TV news services had broadcast

it.



During the Academy Awards ceremony this year, ABC put on screen its

online news address. Within seconds there were 600,000 hits, crippling

the site for over 30 hours.



’It’s very exciting indeed,’ says BBC News Online editor, Mike

Smartt.



’This medium is now our third broadcast service alongside radio and TV,

and we believe it could take over as the main way people receive BBC

journalism in the UK and around the world.’



It has been estimated that 34 per cent of homes in the US now have

access to the internet. The indications are that the online news market

in Europe is now racing to catch up.



The British are the most enthusiastic converts to the wonders of the

web, with four million logging on each week, and current growth put at

100 per cent per year. Analysts report that the new BBC site received a

million hits on its first day. The huge growth in online news will not

be sustainable at present levels for long, but senior executives in

broadcasting agree that this is the biggest single development since the

invention of colour television.



The key differences between online news and conventional TV or radio is

that the web offers news when you want it, coupled with

interactivity.



Audience research shows that the under-30s with a more mobile lifestyle

and keyboard skills watch very little TV news, but are high users of

online services.



Next year BBC News Online will offer main TV news programmes online, 30

seconds after the live transmission. If you come in late from work, you

will wait less than 30 seconds before the Nine O’Clock News will play

for you. And if you want to skip some stories you can do that too.



More media outlets means greater capacity for coverage for organisations

with a message to give or a product to sell. But the PR industry has to

make sure it keeps up. Because more opportunities to be seen also means

there is a higher chance of failing to respond to issues directly

concerning a business.



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