WebFN spins Web first - Broadcasting & Cable

WebFN spins Web first

Online content to make move to over-the-air next month
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Bridge Information Systems has spent years building its reputation and resources covering financial news, and now it's looking to leverage that reputation and experience at WebFN.com, a financial news and information site it has started as a joint venture with Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting.

At the present time, the venture can be found only on the Internet (at www.webfn.com), but next month, Weigel will look to change that when it begins to broadcast WebFN's content over the air to Chicago TV viewers.

"Our competitors have a broadcast product that they're bringing over to the Internet, but we believe there's some logic to starting with the Internet first," says CEO Bob Reichblum. "And while we expect to have some television and satellite distribution at some point, we wanted to start with the Internet first because we thought it provided a unique opportunity."

From an editorial standpoint, WebFN will offer reports from Bridge's 600 reporters around the world, as well as related charts, graphs and other text-based information to complement reports from the field. For those not familiar with Bridge, the New York City-based company has 5,000 employees worldwide and claims more than 250,000 users in 65 countries. The company is one of the largest providers of financial-information services, delivering market data, news and other information.

When it comes to financial news presence on television, Bloomberg News and CNBC lead the charge, but a Bridge spokesperson says the decision to create WebFN hopefully will allow the company to find a new audience.

"We're excited to be part of a worldwide financial news and informaton station on the Web that is available to our customers but also to a wider audience who derive value from financial market information," he says.

Anchors will be located in a studio at the site's headquarters in one of Weigel Broadcasting's buildings in Chicago, and the company is completing installation of a managed, private video network that will bring in video reports from 100 bureaus around the world. It currently offers eight hours of news a day, but plans call eventually for "follow-the-sun," 24-hour coverage of financial markets around the world. Currently, 45 employees work on the Web site in Chicago.

Two Weigel-owned Chicago television stations will broadcast WebFN's daily content by the end of August: WCIU-TV and WFB-TV, the latter a low-power station that will go by the call letters WEBFN-TV. According to Reichblum, WebFN will also offer a syndicated 30- or 60-minute program to broadcast stations by the end of the year and should have a DBS deal in place by then. He expects those talks to heat up once WebFN is comfortable that the automation technology that will help reconfigure the Internet content for TV broadcast works and once distributors have a chance to actually experience WebFN.

One unique aspect of WebFN is the site's ViewCaster media player, a proprietary streaming player that allows the user to access charts and graphs related to the topic being discussed. This feature also provides a unique business-model opportunity because the company expects to syndicate its ViewCaster media player to other financial Web sites on the Internet.

"We provide an unbiased news source for financial information, and other financial sites can put our ViewCaster on their site in return for payment and marketing," says Reichblum. "Also, they can personalize the content for their site. For example, when WebFN.com runs a commercial, they can run their own commercials or other content."

Though acknowledging that WebFN.com isn't alone in the market, Reichblum considers its global reach and Internet-based approach to be a real selling point. "At our core," he says, "we wanted to make sure that we're an Internet-streaming, broadband-delivered Web site."

On the technical side, WebFN partnered with Microsoft (as the exclusive provider of financial news to the Windows Media site); Enron Broadband Services (WebFN's streaming-media platform, providing hosting and delivery services); and Savvis Communications (providing global IP network capabilities).

WebFN.com also takes advantage of the Internet for its managed private network. All the video from bureaus is sent via the Internet, eliminating the need for satellites. "The video is sent in what we call V-bricks," Reichblum explains, "allowing us to call on any newsroom when we need to without having to worry about satellite time."

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