CNN Finds Better Path For Packaging Content

In its race to keep up with the news Joneses, CNN News Group is tapping a high-tech content delivery system that will give affiliates a steadier diet of packaged news.

Using a delivery system from Pathfire Inc., CNN plans to send its edited CNN Newsource content directly to affiliate station's computer desktops, rather than via a feed to tape. In doing so, CNN can provide the spots more quickly while freeing up more space on its network feeds for live events and breaking news.

It's part of a series of upgrades for the AOL Time Warner news subsidiary that includes a new fiber optic network for content delivery. CNN will bear the cost to install the Pathfire servers in about 685 affiliate stations and is building a new center in its Atlanta headquarters to support the system. It also is making a strategic investment in Pathfire, which supplies programming delivery systems to CNN's broadcast news rivals NBC and ABC.

CNN will start sending content via Pathfire starting this fall, with plans to have the system ready by the beginning of 2003. CNN did not release how much the installation will cost, but CNN News Group executive vice president Jack Womack said, "It's a huge deployment for us."

With the sluggish economy, CNN doesn't have the spare cash to throw willy-nilly after new technology. But the Pathfire system will help the news service keep up with its competitors, making it easier for affiliate producers to get CNN's news product on the air, Womack said.

"In many stations we are not the only service coming in, and we've got to be better than the other services," he said. "This is a service that stations contract for and pay money for, and we have got to be better. If we are not technologically always looking ahead or being in at least the same boat, then in the end what kind of a business do you really have?"

The key advantage to the Pathfire system is the elimination of the rigid feed schedule for perishable CNN Newsource content. CNN can then reprogram the linear feed channel to handle more breaking news and live events.

"In today's world, we would still get that breaking news out to the affiliate as soon as possible, but in the Pathfire world, we won't be waiting," said Jack Underwood, CNN Newsource's senior producer. "If it is noon, for example, we wouldn't be waiting until 2 o'clock like we do today to send them the cut material. We may have already sent them the live feed of that breaking news, but in the Pathfire world we will send them both the live feed and almost instantaneously the cut material on that story, so they get all of their content more quickly than they would now."

It also fits into CNN's overall technology upgrade program, according to Womack.

"If you had to characterize what the overall strategy is, this is just one piece of it," he said. "I think in the years to come, when you talk about tapes to desktop, that is the ultimate goal here, where people can move files around to any other of their appliances in the newsroom."