News For A New Generation

ABC recently announced they are dedicating staff to create original-content webcasts in an attempt to reach out to younger audiences. They are simply calling these webcasts: World News.

I think this could be a very smart (albeit very late) move for ABC. About 5 1/2 years ago I attended an event where Scot Saffon, EVP of Marketing for CNN was speaking. Scot said then that college students did not even think about CNN as broadcast television; they associated the brand solely with the Internet. Because of this, Scot announced that CNN would cease charging $ to watch vids online and would start creating original programing for the web; one of the best decisions CNN had made in years. So, frankly, it’s about time the network news caught on.

But, these ABC webcasts aren’t guaranteed success, here’s where it could all go horribly wrong:
According to the article, ABC’s plans for these web segments are that “they purposely look raw and personal, as if they were made for MTV rather than ABC.”This could be a good move — if it is truly produced by the audience they are trying to reach.Unfortunately, the article also states: “[the] network is using the staff of its evening newscast to produce a separate and distinct daily program for a Web audience.”Nothing fails faster than phony — especially in the digital arena. And, if 50 year old newsmen are producing segments with an MTV feel, it could epitomize phony. Even using the same anchors could spell deadly for ABC … I mean really, when you think hip, young, fresh and digital, do you really think Charles Gibson? And, I say this with all due respect — Gibson is, afterall, the most youth-friendly anchor out there (next to AC) simply because he doesn’t try to be something he isn’t. Let’s hope he carries that into the webcasts…In another network bid for the youth market — NBC’s Brian Williams is hosting SNL on Nov. 3rd.

I have such mixed feelings about this. While I recognize that anyone wanting to reach a younger audience should absolutely appear on SNL — the part of me that adores journalistic integrity shudders. I mean, could you actually imagine Tom Brokaw hosting SNL?

John Friedman said it best in his Media Web blog: “Skeptics may wonder what’s next. Will CBS’ Katie Couric try to goose her flagging ratings by cracking a case on an episode of “C.S.I.”? Perhaps ABC’s Charles Gibson will defend his No. 1 rating by making a cameo on “Desperate Housewives.” Couldn’t you picture him popping up in a scene playing an ever-reliable corner druggist named Fred?”

BUT, Brian Williams is young, handsome (no AndersonCooper, but not bad) and if he is funny … really funny and personable, it could pay off. Williams has already appeared a few times on The Daily Show as a guest (and countless times as The Giant Head of Brian Williams.) I thought he was terribly stiff in his appearances, but nonetheless, smart and clearly willing to laugh at himself. So, I think he has a great shot in making this appearance work.

And who knows…given today’s merging of entertainment fluff and hard news, pop culture and world events, government affairs and, well … government affairs — maybe even Cronkite would have embraced SNL if he thought it might get America’s youth more interested in current events beyond Brittney’s latest pantyless prancing.

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