Skip to main content

ABC Involves Viewers

Two years after Peter Jennings introduced ABC’s News Now at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, the 24-hour news and information channel is looking to ramp up its programming base with a regular show based on viewer-generated content.

Beginning on a weekly trial basis with the long-term goal of providing at least one hour per day, Seen and Heard offers viewers the opportunity to interact with news experts and guests by sending in text and video comments. The way it works: ABC will post questions on News Now one day in advance of the program, then viewers can send text or video files back as e-mail attachments, with the requirement that all content is relevant and appropriate.

“It’s a digital electronic daily conversation with viewers,” said ABC News Digital executive producer Michael Clemente. He compared the show to an old-fashioned town meeting, but with the advantages of harnessing new technology to connect people all over the country. “It takes away the barrier. You don’t need to know anybody; you just need to be informed and care.”

To date, ABC News Now, which has limited linear distribution on Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS TV, overbuilder Sigecom, Cablevision Systems Corp. and some small cable operators, has used this open forum format for major events like the State of the Union, the Inauguration, and the London bombings, but now the goal is to post features every day at 12:30 p.m., seven days a week.

Clemente plans to begin by focusing on the top five stories of the day, be it the Space Shuttle launch or the latest from the Middle East. There will also be an entertainment portion of the show with the same open forum format. One difference between ABC’s approach and other user-content venues such as YouTube or Current is that Seen and Heard narrows the scope to a one-hour discussion on specific topics.

Another major difference is that the show will also provide a venue for viewers to interact with the news, as opposed to simply providing a place for viewers to broadcast themselves. The goal here is to involve them in discussing the news with experts and policymakers. Clemente likened it to panel of talking heads in which only a few heads are widely recognizable.

“Everybody’s broadcasting out, some are listening in, but no one’s really making the users’ comments and questions important as we are doing,” the producer said.

ABC News Now is also available through broadband and via cell phones. As a broadband channel, the service is free to Comcast Corp., AOL, BellSouth Inc., SBC Yahoo and Verizon subscribers, or by ABC subscription for $4.95 per month ($39.95 a year). For mobile subscribers it’s available from AT&T Inc., Verizon, Sprint-Nextel Inc., Alltel Corp. and Midwest Wireless Holdings LLC.

“If we’re not the leader,” said Clemente, “we’re among the leaders in filling those spaces — we’re in every one.”