Next on the news

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The way that CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC are battling one another, it's easy to conclude there aren't enough news viewers or advertisers to go around.

But that apparently is not what executives believe at Discovery Communications, Major Broadcasting Cable Network and Gannett Co. Each of these companies is eyeing a new news-oriented cable network.

Discovery, with partner The New York Times Co., recently relaunched its Discovery Civilization Channel as the Discovery Times Channel, offering documentaries and series that provide historical context to current events. MBC, which currently operates MBC Network aimed at African-Americans, plans to debut MBC News next year. Meanwhile, Gannett, whose empire includes USA Today as well as 22 local TV stations, has put on hold at least until next year its plans to launch America Today.

Media strategists remain unconvinced that cable TV needs more news outlets. "That's a crowded field," says Mark Stewart, exec VP-chief strategy officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York. At the same time, media strategists welcome alternatives that drive down ad prices.

The New York Times Co. paid Discovery $100 million for a 50% stake in Discovery Times Channel, which insists it isn't competing with CNN. "We're picking up where the news leaves off," says Vivian Schiller, senior VP-general manager of the digital cable station, which reaches 25 million homes. Discovery Times' intent is to bridge the gap between history and current events. Examples include the documentary that launched the station, "Al Qaeda 2.0,"as well as another program titled "Terror's Children."

Discovery Times is approaching potential advertisers in several ways. First, it's offering the channel in packages with other Discovery networks as well as ad pages in The New York Times.

In addition, Discovery Times is offering exclusive charter sponsor opportunities. The network confirms it has already secured General Motors Corp. as its exclusive automotive sponsor. Discovery Times' goal is to secure three exclusive sponsors, and it's currently pursuing sponsors in the financial services and technology categories.

Some media strategists, however, are skeptical of these sponsorships' value. "It's just a sales ploy," scoffs one media buyer. "When you emphasize the exclusivity of something, you're sidestepping the issue of what's the core value."

The plan at MBC Network is for a 24-hour channel that focuses on breaking news and how it affects the African-American and urban communities. Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. once called rap music the "black CNN," but now that title might belong to MBC News when it launches.

A glimpse of what MBC News might offer is available on MBC Network's current hourlong news telecast titled "MBC Network News," which began airing at 7 p.m. (ET) earlier this year. Viacom's BET (Black Entertainment Television) also reaches news-hungry cable views with its "Nightly News" telecast.

MBC News will borrow elements of CNN, ESPN and Fox News Channel, covering breaking news and sports as well as featuring news-talk programs. With this programming lineup, MBC News will try to attract an upscale, professional audience of African-Americans and urban dwellers, says Wanda Pendleton, MBC Network's national advertising director.

Advertisers that have appeared on MBC's 1-hour newscast include Verizon Communications and Office Depot, Ms. Pendleton says, though these advertisers bought time on the network as a whole, not the news specifically. Mr. Stewart says of the planned news station: "It sounds potentially strong. There are not a lot of African-American broadcast operations out there."

At Gannett, plans to stitch together its local news coverage into a national cable network are being fueled by the passion Americans have for their hometowns. America Today would air local news broadcasts from the TV stations Gannett owns in Atlanta, Denver, Washington and elsewhere.

"The actual launch date has not been determined," says Roger Ogden, senior VP of Gannett's television division. "We're still in discussion with cable operators and the satellite companies."

Evidence supports America Today's premise that out-of-town newscasts can attract viewers. Tribune Co.'s WGN airs a Chicago newscast at 9 p.m. (CT) that had 215,000 Chicago area households and 200,000 additional households elsewhere during the February sweeps.

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