’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
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
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
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
’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,’
’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
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
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
’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
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
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.