Nonstop news for TV buffs who think they've seen it all
Atlanta — If you're a TV junkie, you'll probably love the all-new, 24 hour Cable News Network (CNN). Just tune in, sit back, and get your fill of news, sports, fashions, gossip, financial and garden tips, and almost anything else you can think of.
Of course, waiting for the evening news on CBS, NBC, or ABC has some advantages. Events that may be worth only a few seconds in the tightly trimmed evening newscasts may have taken up much more of a CNN viewers' time during the day. They may have seen the same train derailment several times, though with new details each time.
But then immediacy is the name of the game with CNN even if the bit-by-bit approach to the news may leave viewers a somewhat confusing picture of the world by day's end.
Round the clock, nonstop, and mostly live, CNN is attempting to capture the kind of viewes that might like all-news radio stations. Now those followers of constant-flow news can see, not just hear, what's happening. And even if you are among the millions of Americans who do not have the time to sit and watch hours of TV, CNN offers constant updates of news.
CNN is a first -- but it is also a gamble.
Having gone beyond the guffaws and doubtst about being able to launch such a creature, Robert E. (Ted) Turner III,flamboyant owner of the Atlanta Braves and "superstation" WTBS (a cable TV station that broadcasts via satellite nationwide), must now keep it alive.
The initial reaction to the concept has been positive from the people who are in the best position to determine the future of CNN -- the cable companies that carry it to viewers across the country.
"I'm very impressed -- extremely impressed" says Andrew Goldman, vice-president of new services development for Tele-Prompter, the nation's largest cable system.
TelePrompter has some 1.3 million subscribers, of which an initial 100,000 were offered CNN when it started broadcasting June 1.
"If they (CNN) maintain the quality they've had the first week, I can sya emphatically we'll give more subscriber support," says Mr. Goldman.
Cox Cable Communications Inc., which offered about half of their subscribers the CNN station, is intially pleased. "Our reactions has been extremely positive ," says Mark Handler, director of marketing for Cox. A number of subscribers have called in favorable reaction, too, he says.
What is this new approach to television journalism that is stirring such reactions?
A visit to the utramodern studio at CNN headquarters here provides some of the answers. Program schedules, top executives and a day of off-and-on watching of CNN provide further answers:
It is a few minutes after 10 a.m. Senior news producer Ted Kavanau has just taken temporary charge of the nerve center of CNN an open control room with some 45 TV monitor screens and a panel of dozens of green, red, and white buttons and switches.
Sen. Edward Kennedy is just about to open a Senate hearing on the Love Canal. CNN is going to carry the hearing live -- cutting into its other programs whenever the testimony gets interesting.
But first a piece on Nicaragua is run, a CNN original done with its own reporters and camera crews. "It would be very nice to finish it," Mr. Kavanau tells his Washington office by phone. Seconds after the fiveminute Nicaragua piece is finished, the CNN cameras cut to Senator Kennedy, then stay live with the remarks by a distraught man who lives near the chemical-Iaden canal. The man breaks down and cries.
"Good stuff," several CNN executives say later, and scenes of the man crying are scheduled for reruns later in the day's news summariesm .
CNN news headlines that hour include a murder-rape, a killer on the loose, terrorist bombing of the Statue of Liberty, an attack by Afghanistan rebels, and Nicaragua developments.
CNN news summaries are given hourly. The main newscasts are from noon to 2 p.m. and from 8 to 10 p.m., with updates are given whenever needed.
"I counterprogrammed the whole thing," CNN president Reese Schonfeld told the Monitor. "We're not strong enough to go head to head (trying to match the evening newscasts of the three major networks)."
Headed by veteran journalist Daniel Schorr, former CBS correspondent, CNN's reporters number about 20. (But some 30 television stations cooperate with CNN, providing coverage and using CNN material.) The CNN reporters are located in Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in the US -- and Rome and London overseas. A joint venture with Canadian Television Network Ltd. gives CNN Peking coverage. So while the networks with their much larger staffs are offering the evening news. CNN is giving sports and financial roundups.
Cox cable marketing director Handler approves of such an approach: "For many people, the national news is not really on at a very convenient time."
"Within a 24-hour period we can be all things to all people," Mr. Schonfeld predicts confidently. Viewers, he adds, are "going to tumble out of the trees."
Or will they get bored? If they do, it will not be for lack of variety.
Included among the many commentators, for example, are consumer advocate Ralph Nader, former Treasury Secretary William Simon, women's rights champion Bella Abzug, and national STOP ERA chairman Phyllis Schlafly.
But clearly CNN is not designed for the viewers who watches hour after hour. Nor is it likely that many viewers will even try to keep up with the information flowing out on a seemingly endless variety to topics.
"The average viewer may watch 15 minutes at a time. . .1 1/2 hours a day," suggests Doug David, CNN's director of marketing.
CNN began June 1 with about 2 million subscribers. It plans to double that by the end of the year. Mr. Schonfeld says the break-even point financially will be around 8 million to 10 million subscribers, a point that may, he says, be reached in about three years.
Until then, Ted Turner's money is the prop to keep CNN afloat. He has borrowed heavily to launch his all-news station.
Cable companies carrying CNN will pay CNN 15 to 20 cents per viewer. Other revenues will be from advertisers, with Bristol Meyers currently leading the way.
More viewers will mean higher prices can be charged for advertising. CNN plans to have 12 minutes of its ads and two minutes of ads by local carriers hourly.
One potential snag -- getting the service to viewers. Currently, the programs are beamed via RCA Satcom 1 Satellite. When RCA's Satcom 3 satellite, which was to have carried CNN, was lost in space last December, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that RCA had to make space available on Satcom 1, at least until Dec. 1
Meanwhile, there is an air of excitement in the CNN studio here. Despite the deadline-every-minute nature of the work, there is a high degree of friendly cooperation among most staffers.