Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I Am Newsbot ... Please Insert Copy ...

Over the past six weeks, WHO-TV (an NBC affiliate serving the Des Moines, Iowa market) has turned to the web medium for a creative way to promote its broadcast product.

Visitor's to the television's website (during business hours, Monday-Friday) are greeted by 'Newsbot 13,' a digitized rendition of WHO-TV anchor Erin Kiernan that offers visitors a look at the day's top headlines, updated periodically through the day. Read "The Animated Anchor," Alison Romano's
COMPLETE REPORT , at Broadcast & Cable online.

The technology is nothing new ...
Oddcast characters are showing up on even the humblest websites. But, this particular application of an Oddcast v-host IS something new.

Most of you probably know that the "non-compete clause" has become almost standard in the contracts used nationwide by television stations and their on-air talent. It's a response to the practice of stations identifying a competitor's top performers, and trying to hire them away .... nothing new there, watch Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" sometime.

But those arrangements, it's been pointed out, do not extend to the Internet. So, until Actual Erin will be allowed on the station's broadcast, Virtual Erin will get plenty of exposure on the station's website ... which, reportedly, is enjoying a measurable increase in new traffic since Newsbot 13 was unveiled.

I suspect that we can look forward to the broadcasting industry reviewing and re-writing non-compete clauses in future contracts.


Eric said...

I'm not saying it can't or won't be done, but I suspect that it will take several iterations before the lawyers get an ironclad non-compete that applies to animated caricatures of real people.

Resemblance is in the eye of the beholder. However, even under this argument, WHO-TV seems to be skating on thin ice by having the v-host state her real name.

In fact, the more I think about this, the less I'm willing to stand by my initial statement. While it would be hard to prevent the use of a digitized animation, it should be relatively easy to draft a non-compete that precludes the use of the person's voice and name in a web-delivered medium. That would significantly reduce the effectiveness of the animated talking head being used by WHO.

However, in the end, I view this whole v-host thing as a temporarily attractive oddity. I suspect that once the newness wears off, the typical reaction by the public will be "so what?" "Oddcast" is a good name for the service; it's just too odd to be viable in the long run.

Jeff said...

Eric, I think one of the best points you make is at the very end, when you say, "... in the long run."

Much of the appeal in WHO-TV's Newsbot, and the buzz it has generated in the industry, may be due to it representing something new in the promotion of a a television station's product ... and, it may only endure for a short while.

And it does provide an example of how a news organization can produce broadcast and web products that complement and promote one another and - it is hoped - help one another to grow.