With control of its digital properties under its sole control at long last, NBC News said it would present a radically different face for web and mobile users in the hopes of giving the NBCUniversal unit a more constant presence among news aficionados – and sell advertising against a broader array of content, too.
“There is such a wealth of material that we can offer our consumers throughout the day, and it’s dynamic and ever-changing,” said Deborah Turness, the NBC News president who came aboard in August. “Our hands were slightly tied in terms of ownership, ” she later acknowledged, but NBC News is “investing in the space where we see consumers moving to and we hope to stay ahead.” NBC News is expected to launch the new site overnight.
For many years, most of the digital face of NBC’s news operations could be found at MSNBC.com, which shared a name with the cable network that was once a general-news property. The output was co-owned with Microsoft, once an investor in the outlet. MSNBC’s programming mix grew more politically tinged and farther apart from that of NBC News, however, and the split supervision of the process didn’t help.
Now, Turness and other NBC News executives described a site that would burnish not only TV standbys such as “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” and “The Today Show,” but feature original reporting and storytelling not borne of the TV operations. In a preview, Gregory Gittrich, vice president of news and product, NBC News Digital, and executive editor of NBCNews.com, showed what he called a ‘streaming storyline”: As readers surfed through a printed story about a story and came to the end, they could continue scrolling to pictures or additional material on the topic. “No dead end,” he noted.
NBC News has been working on the overhaul for about a year, and with good reason. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “fully 64% of tablet owners say they get news on their devices weekly and 37% report they do so daily,” according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Economist Group. The dynamic, Pew said in its 2013 report, is ” nearly identical for smartphone owners – 62% get news on their device weekly and 36% do so daily. Pew’s survey also found “31% of tablet news users said they spend more time with news since getting their mobile devices. Another 43% said that the device is adding to the amount of news they consume.”
NBC News isn’t acting in a vacuum. Time Warner’s CNN has unveiled extensive plans to invest in digital distribution of its news, recently unveiling a plan to use technology from a company called Dataminr to help it identify reliable information on Twitter more quickly. CBS Corp’s CBS News has acknowledged that it is in the midst of building out what it hopes to be a streaming-video news service.
At the overhauled site, NBC News intends to use new ways of presenting its stories. One idea, called “Show Me,” will rely on animated video to help explain a complex topic. Another, “Debunker,” will tilt at commonly-held misperceptions about a trending story. In an example shown during the preview, NBC’s popular “Today” weatherman Al Roker took some of the steam out of the concept known as the “polar vortex.”
Other items on the site could include stand-along photographs or video, or even tweets from reporters with a little bit of context, Gittrich explained. “We knew we could not grow if we simply cut up TV and published it on the web site or on an app,” he explained. At the same time, he added, “we didn’t want to pretend we were a wire service or a newspaper.”
For NBC News journalists, explained Richard Engel, NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent, the new digital presence “means that we can have more places to put up more material. We don’t have to wait for the television news broadcast or the morning broadcast>? We can send out photographs, quotes, tweets, experiences, and feed them back to this machine that is being created that can help” make it available to interested audiences.
NBC intends to sell advertising against the new content. Executives said they had designed new formats, including one called a “cascade” that will unfurl across the screen before closing. So-called “native” advertising, or ad units made to have a similar look to the content in which it appears.
NBC News will also focus on news of interest to Latino and Asian audiences, executives said, creating “verticals” on the site for that purpose.
If viewers feel a particular NBC News presence is missing – never fear. “Nightly” anchor Brian Williams will be featured at times on the site in “franchises that key off him and his sensibilities,” said Gittrich.