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Web Newscasts Begin To Click

With fewer viewers at home to watch daytime shows, a growing number of TV stations are launching customized online newscasts. Usually abbreviated versions of on-air news, the online shows offer two to five minutes' worth of headlines, weather and traffic updates.

Stations have been offering archived video on their Web sites for several years. Some even stream their TV newscasts in real time. But creating a newscast specifically for the Internet is the latest in a wave of high-tech innovations as local broadcasters search for new ways to deliver information to viewers on the go.

KNTV San Francisco, an NBC O&O, recently debuted “Web News on the Hour,” brief newscasts updated hourly on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We want to break the old pattern of telling people that you are going to get the news when we give it to you,” says VP of News Jim Sanders. “We don't think people at work can invest 20 minutes, but two minutes here or there to keep up is more user-friendly.” The station's reporters, anchors and producers all take turns creating the Webcasts.

In Chicago, KNTV sister station WMAQ reruns shortened versions of its 6 and 11 a.m. newscasts online.

Station executives say startup costs for Webcasts are negligible because they largely use existing systems and staff. Plus, the Webcasts have potential to make money. When KPNX Phoenix revealed plans to start online newscasts, its sales staff fielded calls from several interested advertisers. “Some of our TV advertisers thought it was unique way to reach a daytime audience,” says VP/General Manager John Misner.

KPNX, a Gannett-owned NBC station, collaborates with sister newspaper The Arizona Republic on three-minute Webcasts updated hourly from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. On a recent day, the “I-cast” featured a commercial break with a spot for American Funds and a promo for KPNX's morning show. A local Ford dealer also sponsors the Webcasts.

Viacom-owned WCBS New York and WBZ Boston feature advertisers such as Crest Whitening Strips in their online newscasts. Both offer once-daily, five-minute Webcasts at 12:30 p.m., which are archived until 3 p.m. and updated as needed. Regional cable news network NECN also offers lunchtime news online. “Internet usage is highest during the day at work,” says WCBS President/General Manager Lew Leone. “If we give people five minutes of news, they will watch.”

Hurricane Info Via Cellphone

Another new high-tech offering has arrived just in time for hurricane season. Two stations in the Southeast, WSVN Miami/Fort Lauderdale and WRAL Raleigh/Durham, N.C., are offering cellphone alert systems to warn viewers when a hurricane is approaching and to provide updated forecast information.

WSVN, Sunbeam Broadcasting's highly rated Fox affiliate, calls its service “Cone on Your Phone” (the cone is the forecast path of a hurricane). The free service will include a storm's coordinates and wind speed and a list of emergency needs. It's available on all major mobile-phone carriers. After just one week, the station says, more than 2,000 users have signed up.

The mobile alerts are WSVN's foray into cellphone content. “You're not always near a television or radio,” says VP of News Alice Jacobs. “As the season starts acting up, we're hopeful that more people will sign up.”

WRAL is adding hurricane news to its existing cellphone service, which includes headlines, weather and updated traffic from 50 traffic cameras. The hurricane alerts will track a storm's location, wind strength and heading and include forecast maps.

Currently, the service, supplied by News Over Wireless, is available to only Sprint PCS users for $3.99 per month, although it is expected to expand to other carriers soon. WRAL does send out free severe-weather messages for Web-site subscribers.

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