ABC Squares Off In Cyberspace

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ABC News, trailing NBC News in the morning and in the evening, is taking on its rival in cyberspace.

ABCNEWS.com is scheduled to go online later this month, offering 24-hour national, international and local news, plus sports, entertainment, business and science reports.

For technology and support, ABC News will be relying on Starwave Corp., which produces ESPNet SportsZone, the sports Web site.

ABC parent The Walt Disney Co. said last week it acquired a minority stake in Starwave. Reports value Disney's investment at $100 million.

`EXPANDING BRAND NAMES'

"Starwave makes a lot of sense," said Harold Vogel, analyst at Cowen & Co. "The entertainment giants are looking for a way to expand their brand names in different media. The Internet is a logical place to look."

Other broadcasters have also tabbed technology partners for the Internet. NBC teams with Microsoft Corp. for MSNBC on cable and on the Internet. CBS recently bought a stake in SportsLine USA, which puts sports news on the Internet.

Like MSNBC, the ABC effort will be free to Web surfers and advertiser supported, said Katherine Dillon, vice president of ABCNEWS.com.

ABC has made special arrangements to provide an exclusive "slideshow" presentation for America Online subscribers and a headline service for Netscape Navigator users.

"I think they are serious contenders," said James Kinsella, general manager of MSNBC on the Internet. "From my perspective, that's exciting. The more major players who get involved in giving news on the Net, the more it ratchets up the level of competition."

PERSONALIZING MSNBC

MSNBC this week unveiled a "tool kit" that allows MNSBC.com viewers to personalize the information they receive from the Web.

"We intend to stay No. 1, through technology and the journalism we're doing," Mr. Kinsella said.

CNN.com and FoxNews.com also offer news online.

Dean Daniels, vice president and general manager for new media at CBS, said CBS News is also working on an online news service.

"The bottom line in all this is that the competition doesn't scare us. The more buzz everyone creates, the more audience it creates. The beauty of the interest is that people can find the information they want," Mr. Daniels said.

ABC News has been building a digital newsroom down the hall from its New York broadcast newsroom and is in the process of hiring a dedicated staff of more than 100 between New York and Seattle, Ms. Dillon said.

"We look at it as another broadcast that we're doing," she said. During the San Diego cult suicide, ABC online staffers "made a significant contribution to the broadcast product."

Ms. Dillon expects ABC News broadcast staffers to be involved, both through audio and video clips and by new generation auditorium and chat forums.

The Web site will be aggressively promoted on the network, both during promotional time and editorially during newscasts.

Copyright April 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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