AP Internet Writer Reviews Online Video News Offerings

By: ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer

(AP) Online news video is plentiful: NBC, ABC and CBS all have Web editions of their evening news, and CNN recently launched a four-channel broadband network carrying feeds mostly unavailable on its U.S. cable channels.

Best of all, most of it is free.

ABC and CNN offer more through subscription packages, but unless you’re a news junkie you’ll do fine with the free offerings from both networks, along with CBS, NBC and Fox News Channel.

The bigger question is whether you have the time and patience to watch.

Laurels go to ABC for offering a Web edition of the evening news hours BEFORE the TV newscast. CBS’s version appears shortly after the East Coast broadcast while NBC, through MSNBC.com, simply runs the TV version minus commercials hours later.

All three also break the news shows into segments available on-demand.

Beyond the newscasts, free original video is rather limited.

MSNBC updates news and business highlights all day, while CBS correspondents appear online long before their dispatches air on television. CBS also sometimes offers longer versions of interviews shown on TV. Fox has clips on lifestyle, travel and fitness as part of iMag, its Internet magazine.

And you can often find live webcasts of press conferences and other breaking events for free throughout the day. In recent days, I got plenty on the coal mine tragedy.

But for around-the-clock feeds, you have to pay.

CNN’s $25-a-year Pipeline offers four live feeds exclusive to the Web (considering that CNN International, one of those feeds evenings and weekends, is available to only 4 million U.S. cable households). One feed is anchored, the other three generally raw footage.

Following a seaplane crash off Miami Beach last month, I got two or three simultaneous feeds of local television coverage, all of which differed from CNN cable. At the same time, another feed came from the Senate floor.

But more isn’t always better and some feeds came across as fillers.

The other day, I got lengthy live video on Pipeline — no audio — from one spot overlooking New York’s Central Park. The news peg? Preparations for New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square about a mile away.

ABC charges more — $40 a year — for ABC News Now, the network’s digital answer to cable channels like CNN and Fox News. (It’s free for paid subscribers of America Online, Comcast, SBC Yahoo or a number of other services).

The ABC offering feels much more like television, with scheduled programming interrupted now and then by breaking news as well as commercials.

The subscription also gets you previously broadcast “Nightline” and “World News Tonight” (the Web preview edition is free) and additional on-demand clips. CNN’s subscription gets you its archived, ad-free versions of the free video and longer interviews shown only briefly for free or on TV.

I’d go with CNN if you enjoy raw footage, ABC if you prefer news in a package.

For all sites, video quality was tolerable, but television it is not.

The screen is small, clips can take long to load and video stutters — the picture freezes, and the sound cuts in and out.

My office Internet connection could be at fault; video performed better at home, though that was during the low-traffic late evening period.

I couldn’t get MSNBC video to work on Apple Computer Inc.’s Macintosh computers. Error messages direct me to version 6 of the Internet Explorer browser, even though Microsoft Corp. never developed a version past 5.2.3 for the Mac.

And on Microsoft’s Windows computers, MSNBC’s video generally fails on the competing Firefox browser.

Microsoft happens to jointly own MSNBC.com with NBC. Hmmmm.

(I should note that Microsoft and The Associated Press are planning an advertising-supported online video news network early this year, using Microsoft’s technology.)

Video from the other four networks worked on the Mac and on Firefox, but only CBS made its video explicitly available for both Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and RealNetworks Inc.’ RealPlayer.

CBS and MSNBC both let you build your own newscast by adding any number of clips to a “to play” list. CBS’s was slightly better, particularly on IE.

CBS also lets you watch some clips from within the Web page, without opening a separate window for the video player. The featured clip changes as you move from section to section, story to story.

ABC, CBS and Fox were best in sorting items by both category and news program; CBS, CNN and MSNBC let you search by keyword.

Overall, CBS’s offerings were the easiest to find and use.

That said, I thought CBS promoted too much entertainment-related news segments within its player — namely, the “Early Show” concerts and interviews with reality show castoffs.

And CBS, along with Fox and ABC, also weren’t as good about labeling their clips. MSNBC and CNN both stamped items with dates — time of day would have been nice, too.

Overall, I ran across many interesting clips, and it’s good to know the video is available when I want it.

But I didn’t find any of it compelling enough to set aside time from my already busy day.

Nor do I see any clear-cut winner among the free offerings.

The beauty is you don’t have to stick with one.

The Internet is all about personal choice — including the choice to tune out if you lack the attention span for online news video.

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