Everybody Wants To Get In On Cnn's ActRichard A. Melcher
Keiji Shima, Japan's most powerful broadcast executive, doesn't want to take it anymore. As chairman of Nihon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), he is increasingly concerned about America's domination of global TV news. This message was driven home during the gulf war when Japanese broadcasters relied heavily on Cable News Network for footage and analysis.
Shima isn't just sounding off. He joins a growing list of international broadcasters who are attacking the Atlanta-based TV network's virtual monopoly on 24-hour international news coverage.
'BIG APPETITE.' Determined to present an alternative to the "American" view of the world, broadcasters from London to Tokyo are gearing up to capture a share of the global audience (table). "What the Middle East crisis has shown is that there is a big appetite for news from around the world," argues Paul L. Mathews, deputy chief executive of Britain's Independent Television News.
The British Broadcasting Corp. is launching the most serious challenge. With revenues from its new commercial arm, combined with $12 million in loans, the BBC is planning to offer up to 18 hours of news and entertainment programs to cable and satellite operators around the world. This spring, it will start with a 30-minute news program for its 7 million European subscribers.
The BBC has an edge over non-English-speaking competitors. If CNN was the doyen of television during the gulf war, no one could match the BBC's World Service radio, which reaches 120 million people worldwide. U. S. Marines first heard of Saddam Hussein's withdrawal orders on the BBC, while Iraqi troops tuned into its Arabic service. The BBC will now rely on its far-flung corps of radio correspondents to file TV reports. "CNN was a fascinating pioneer," says Christopher Irwin, the new CEO of BBC World Service Television, "but the BBC strikes back."
Concerned that CNN plays too strong a role in shaping public opinion, 10 state-owned European broadcasters are pooling resources to spearhead "Euronews," a 24-hour, multilingual news program. In late February, they appealed to the European Community for $10 million in aid toward their budget of $81 million, with the aim of reaching 24 million homes in 1992.
The prospect of state channels banding together is sending chills through private broadcasters. The Euronews plan could jeopardize a proposal by French broadcasters TF-1 and Canal Plus for a French-language all-news station. It could also set back UFA, the film and TV unit of German publisher Bertelsmann. Along with other German publishers, UFA is considering an all-information channel for German-speaking Europe.
NHK, Japan's public network, is not about to be left out. Public broadcasting stations in the U. S. are already airing three English-language programs produced by NHK, and Chairman Shima is now considering an eight-hour international service.
LUKEWARM. But few executives expect there will be room for everyone. "It's a good way to lose money," says ITN's Mathews. The cost of building an international news operation is vast. For ITN, the coverage of Operation Desert Storm cost a hefty $7 million. At the same time, European advertising has yet to take off. Now that the war is over, many viewers could also lose interest in 24-hour news programs. In the end, it will be difficult to match CNN's performance during the war, when it added 1.1 million new cable users to its European base of 5.1 million.
Ted Turner, CNN's founder, is fired up. Gathering his troops in Atlanta, he said recently: "It's full speed ahead. Let's not lose a step while we're hot." CNN is opening bureaus across the Middle East and developing programming for the overseas market. But in the battle for global TV viewers, Turner may find that the war is just beginning.
THE NEW ENTRIES IN GLOBAL TV NEWS BRITAIN
BBC WORLD SERVICE TELEVISION 18 hours of news and entertainment for European viewers debuts this spring
RUPERT MURDOCH'S SKY NEWS Flogging its 24-hour, London-based news channel to European satellite and cable companies
TF-1 AND CANAL PLUS Planning 24-hour news in French
BERTELSMANN Considering all-news station for Germany, Switzerland, and Austria
NHK May add 8-hour global news service to news and business programs sold in U.S.
EURONEWS Europe's state-owned broadcasters team up for 24-hour news service