The challenge before cable news today appears two fold. The first is how to grow in the future, now that potential new homes for the news channels are reaching a saturation point. The second is whether, a few years from now, we will look back at cable news as a transitional technology, which peaked between the age of broadcast and the age of Internet.
Each of the three cable news channels has established an important identity. MSNBC is a critical part of NBC News’ multi-platform strategy, and has positioned itself, along with MSNBC.com, CNBC and other channels, to deliver news in multiple forms in multiple media. CNN continues to have the largest economic engine in cable news and the largest cumulative audience, though not the highest ratings. Fox has become the No. 1 destination for breaking news by aggregating in particular Republican viewers and by becoming a place for lively talk on television.
The issue is what happens to these brands now against competition from newer technology.
Cable replaced broadcast television as the destination of first resort largely because it was more convenient. It was on when you wanted it and when things were breaking. In the new media world, a news web site could become a better destination for breaking news. People could see streaming video, read stories, watch packages, ask questions, and more-without having the inconvenience of having to wait for the story they are looking for to come up again, or to channel surf until they find the conversation that interests them.
The cable channels may be well positioned to create those web destinations, but at the moment they are far from leading the way. The journalism on their television channels often lacks the depth and complexity necessary for the Internet.
The answer, it appears from here, lies in content-and in the courage of the cable channels to invest money and reputation in experimenting. The record, to date, leaves some question over whether that will happen.