By: Steve Outing
Editor & Publisher’s Interactive Newspapers conference is next week (February 12-15), and a number of news and technology companies are timing announcements of new services and products for the show. In recent days I’ve been fielding calls and e-mail from companies plying the interactive news space letting me know that they’re about to launch something new next week.
One of the companies is Nando, the Raleigh, North Carolina-based new media division of McClatchy Newspapers, which on its Web site today is debuting a nifty Java applet that uses your Web browser to alert you to breaking news. Called News Watcher, the applet continuously scans Nando’s news pages and posts new headlines as they appear on the Nando Web site.
The applet can be configured to alert you, with a “ding,” when a new top story is published in one of several news categories (top story, global, stateside, politics, opinions, health & science, business, infotech, sports and entertainment). There’s also a customization feature that allows you to type in keywords for the system to watch for in news articles. Program it to watch for “O.J. Simpson” and your PC will ding each time a new O.J. story appears on the Nando news site.
If you’re working on another application when news comes in, the ding alerts you to check your Web browser for the latest news. (You also can simply check the News Watcher window periodically to see what’s happening; the applet checks the news wires and gets new headlines every 6 minutes.) If you’re cruising other Web sites, the applet works in a background window, again dinging and putting up a small headline window when major news hits. What you see when new news occurs are headlines; double-click on the headline and in the primary Web browser window the news from the Nando Web site will appear.
If the dinging starts to drive you crazy, you might want to configure it to alert you only when a new Top Story appears (or, of course, opt not to be alerted). I suspect that only true news junkies will want to be alerted every time a significant news event pops up on the news wires. (Indeed, this is the type of service that news junkies will find appealing.)
News Watcher is better suited for computer users who have a direct connection to the Internet, but is usable on a dial-up connection. I tested it out on a 28.8 modem, and although it took several minutes for the Java applet to load, once running it worked fine. Even on a fast connection, you’ll need to wait about a minute for News Watcher to load each time you turn it on. With a dedicated connection, of course, this is the type of service — like Pointcast or After Dark Online, for example — that you’ll leave on all the time.
Nando CEO Chris Hendricks says the service is designed to be free to the consumer, supported by advertising. On the News Watcher window, where you would go to check the latest headlines, an ad banner is placed at the bottom, with ads cycling through every 15 seconds. It also is a strategy to gain additional hits on the Nando server, as News Watcher users double-click on headlines to pull up Nando Web news pages, thus in theory supporting higher ad rates for a higher-trafficked site.
Hendricks says his second revenue stream for News Watcher is licensing the technology to news sites that want to run their own branded version of News Watcher and include their own news feeds and banner advertising. Pricing has not yet been confirmed.
Another option is a co-branding deal, where a publisher shares the News Watcher service with Nando. Of the major news categories seen on the service, Nando would keep at least four — thus continuing to send News Watcher users to news published on the Nando Web site — while the partner publisher uses the rest to get its own news out to users.
The two parties in a co-branding arrangement share the rotating ad slots, Hendricks says, with Nando and the partner each keeping 100% of ad revenues each generates. The partner gets priority on the ad slots, he says, and Nando places its ads on the unused slots in co-branding deals for News Watcher.
News Watcher also is going up on the Web sites of the Sacramento Bee and The News & Observer (Raleigh), both McClatchy properties.
Contact: Chris Hendricks, [email protected]
Newspapers make PC Mag Top 100 Web sites list
PC Magazine has debuted its 1997 list of the Top 100 Web sites, as determined by its editors. In the News/Views category, the largest U.S. newspaper Web sites took five of the 14 spots. The newspaper Web site winners are:
Los Angeles Times, Mercury Cener (San Jose Mercury News), New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
Other winners in the news category were: CNN Interactive, ESPNet SportsZone, Excite Live!, NewsPage, NPR on the Web, Politics Now, PopSci.com, Suck, and The Weather Channel. (Web addresses to these sites can be found on the PC Magazine Top 100 Web page.)
Free Internet access, for a price
The Internet access business is fascinating to watch. On the one hand, some Internet service providers (ISPs) are beginning to rebel against the industry standard $20-a-month, all-you-can-eat pricing model. Companies like PSI and Netcom are discovering that this strategy doesn’t work — if you want to be profitable, that is. So, they’ve adopted alternative, more expensive pricing models, in an effort to serve — and profit from — the business market.
This leaves the consumer market and $20 all-you-can-eat access to the telephone companies, Microsoft Network, America Online and others. Will it work? Can these companies make a profit giving away unlimited hours for a low price? AOL, as we know from the headlines, is having some trouble keeping up with the demand on its system since taking down the hourly fees. You’ll have to be smart to make this model work.
Now we are beginning to see companies offering “free” Internet access to consumers. The catch, of course, is that you have to be willing to receive advertising.
Smart World Communications is the latest to introduce a “free” service. You have to pay a one-time software fee of $69.95, plus a $19.95 start-up fee. This gets you unlimited Internet service nationwide (U.S.). The trick is that as you browse for Web sites, before you get to where you want to go, you’ll have to browse through Smart World’s advertisements. The company has signed its first major advertiser, Subway sandwich shops, which operate worldwide.
With price pressures sending Internet access down to zero (well, if you exclude those “start-up costs” to the consumer), you have to wonder how the $20-a-month unlimited-access services are going to survive if the “free” access providers end up forcing down prices even further.
The key, most likely, is advertising. The $20-a-month access providers can’t afford to hike prices if they want to hold on to the consumer market. So they’ll have to find other sources to fund low-priced Internet access. The point is, if you expect to pay a low price in the future for unlimited access, then expect to see advertising pushed in front of your face. In the coming years, only those Internet access customers willing to pay for premium services (perhaps paying by the hour) will be spared advertising.
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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at [email protected]
The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company