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ABC, NBC, Murdoch may challenge, but CNN holds a formidable lead

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TED TURNER'S CNN, which has had the 24-hour cable TV news business in the United States almost entirely to itself, suddenly finds itself with a lot of company.

Last week, ABC and NBC both disclosed plans to challenge CNN in its core market, and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch also expressed interest in launching a 24-hour news venture.

What wasn't clear at the end of last week was where these new networks might find enough viewers to be successful, or whether they would be able to find clear channels on many cable systems, especially those owned by No. 2 Time-Warner, which has announced plans to acquire Turner Broadcasting. In other words, can even these well-heeled companies compete with Ted Turner in a business he all but invented?

Jim Upshaw

Professor of broadcast journalism, University of Oregon

You're taking on a tough opponent in Ted Turner when you challenge him on his own turf. If I had to rank them now, I'd say CNN has a clear edge.

Murdoch's going to have a hell of a fight on his hands. I find it hard to believe that Murdoch can be a credible player in news compared with these other players. But everything's up for grabs and Murdoch is a hell of a character.

ABC and NBC have still got tremendous resources. The overall owners of these networks are going to have to decide how much money they're going to put in these networks.

They've got surplus product to put into new news holes, and if they clear time to go on cable channels for 24 hours, I think they can get to a ton of material in a hurry.

But it's going to be real dicey and touchy in a lot of markets. I don't think non-Turner people are going to just walk in and get clearances.

Mark Levy

Professor of journalism, University of Maryland

College Park

The typical CNN audience is not what you'd call colossal in terms of TV viewers. They pull a rating of like 1.0. You have to ask yourself: Is the CNN audience the minimum or the maximum that would be interested in a 24-hour-a-day news service?

Competition in the news business would certainly be good. Competition means more than one point of view and one voice, and ABC is clearly the first team of television network journalism at this moment.

Murdoch has a somewhat unsavory reputation among some folks, but it doesn't matter to the viewer if it's Murdoch. And he's got deep pockets.

Still, it's dicey because we're really coming to the end of traditional mass communication -- TV, radio, movies. The future of communications is this place called the information superhighway, the Web, the 'Net.

It's almost like having another species of dinosaur emerge just at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

Amy Reiben

Consultant, TeleChoice Inc., Tulsa, Okla.

The broadcast industry has forced a lot of its content onto cable systems under federal retransmission rules. These cable franchises will be somewhat hesitant to carry another network-based product, because they've had so much forced down their throats in the last few years.

Besides, I really don't know if there's public demand for another news network unless the format was a lot different from CNN.

You see a lot of the cable companies today planning to devote a lot of their expanded capacity to Internet access or interactive television.

Gary Kim

Senior vice president, Probe Research Inc., Denver

Once you get a brand name that's powerful, it's hard to get people to switch. CNN is about as dominant a name as you get in cable.

The competitors will probably try it on direct broadcast satellite (DBS) because there's shelf space. There will be six different outlets in the sky you can talk to before you ever talk to the cable operators. The DBS guys and the telephone companies are going to want them because it gives them some product differentiation.

Probably one would expect there to be room for a second player in the all-news format. I wouldn't be willing to bet that they would take over the No. 1 spot from Ted, but I think it's a nice niche to be in.

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