Anchors away on EuroNews

News network relies on video feeds

Imagine for a moment, just the news. No commentators. No talking points. No anchors’ desk. Indeed, no anchors.

Now that all of cable news in the U.S. pursues a variation on the same formula of personality, pseudo-news and garish nonfiction entertainment, such a bare-bones approach would present a unique alternative.

And that is just what EuroNews is hoping to export to the U.S.

Founded in 1993, EuroNews is probably the largest news network most Americans have never heard of.

Unlike the media-conglom-owned Fox News or CNN, and Al Jazeera, which is heldby an individual mogul, EuroNews is owned by 21 pubcasters in Europe that contribute video feeds with the goal of letting the pictures tell the story without on-camera anchors. The only EuroNews employees who appear on-camera are reporters, and only if they are conducting an interview.

Stories are told with minimal voiceover narration, allowing the network to be dubbed simultaneously into seven languages.

“Our viewers are people who have an interest in international news, and they like to go right to the facts without a commentator telling them how to think,” says EuroNews’ Lyon-based president Phillippe Cayla. “There is an audience for that in Europe, and we think there is also an audience for that in America.”

The network has been available on Cablevision’s New York-area systems for nearly five years, but now EuroNews is trying to expand that beachhead. It’s hoping to take advantage of an increased interest in foreign news and new entrants into TV distribution, like Verizon and SBC.

In December, the net inked a deal with EchoStar’s Dish Network, which will carry EuroNews in six languages — English, Italian, German, French, Russian and Portuguese — as part of seven international programming tiers.

Like Al Jazeera English, EuroNews is making a push for wider distribution in the U.S., and is conducting talks with Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verizon and Insight Communications.

The network reaches about 189 million homes around the world, the vast majority in continental Europe. Its five largest shareholders are France Televisions, Italy’s RAI, Spain’s RTVE, Russia’s RTR and Switzerland’s SSR, which collectively own a little more than 88% of the channel.

The remaining stakes are divvied up among other pubcasters in small nations, such as TVROM in Romania (1.6%) and RTE in Ireland (0.9%).

To anyone conditioned to the format of U.S. cable or network news, EuroNews is incongruous at first. There is no hand-holding and the pictures come rapid-fire.

Its best-known show, “No Comment,” airs images unedited with original sound and no narration.

Cayla said the net thinks of itself as a video blog, taking contributions from amateurs and non-journalists, from handicams and cell phones, provided the video is newsworthy and can be confirmed as accurate.

Those images are available as a video podcast, a service launched in January. As a video wire service, the network isn’t designed to aggregate big audiences for individual shows. Viewers tend to duck in and out when they are looking for news.

The net estimates 6.6 million people tune in at some point during the day via cable, satellite or the net’s terrestrial rebroadcasts around Europe.

Its U.S.-based distribution exec sees its opening as similar to that given new music channels when MTV and VH1 turned away from videos to lifestyle programming. Think of EuroNews, he says, as counterprogramming all those stories about Anna Nicole Smith.