Meet Network News Service, the ABC-, CBS-, and Fox- owned cooperative that brings you the same canned local news, no matter where you live or what network you’re watching
May 1, 2013
If you’ve ever seen the video above, or this one or this one, you’ve probably wondered just how it happens that local news stations on different networks around the country report the same stories… in exactly the same ways.
Wonder no more, because the lone pamphleteer did some digging and and came up with some pretty interesting dirt on the Network News Service (NNS), a “pioneering" organization formed in 2000 by ABC News One (owned by Disney), CBS Newspath, and Fox News Edge with the goal of cutting costs for all three networks by pooling resources and sharing footage. Over 500 affiliates of the three networks were members as of 2005, meaning they receive the prepackaged footage, soundbites, and scripted leads to which the local stations could add their own original spin.
To get around the appearance of colluding (and presumably to avoid criminal liability for anti-competitive behavior) NNS doesn’t allow the same footage to flow to two competing affiliates in the same city, although affiliates of each network could play the same footage at the same time as long as they are all in different cities.
Much of this information comes from a very revealing CBS blog post about NNS from 2005, which relates the obvious reasons for why all three networks would want to enter into this deal. They only have to set up one camera at events, for one, and they all tend to voluntarily share with each other “because of the cooperative nature of NNS”— “they know they must participate in order to reap the organization’s benefits.” And, of course, it gives the three networks a competitive edge over NBC and CNN.
Three of the largest American media conglomerates cooperating in the production and distribution of news sounds like a great business plan to me, but doesn’t that violate Federal Communications Commission rules about competition and monopoly? It probably would have before the FCC deregulated the telecommunications industry, first under Reagan, and then further under Clinton following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Now, as this chart demonstrates, a handful of massive corporations owns and controls most of our media, from initial production to final distribution— and with little regulatory oversight. And, lest you think we might start correcting this dangerous course soon, this just in: Obama’s new pick for FCC chairman has been a top lobbyist for the cable industry since 1979 (and more recently for wireless companies), probably championing a lot of the policies that led to such drastic consolidation.
In an even more dystopic twist on its business model, NNS began employing what appears to be robots in 2008 (or earlier). Generation Technologies Corporation (GTC) provides NNS with its “next generation network newsroom and affiliate content management system. The system known as NIM™ is based on GTC’s Newsroom Information Model.”
[GTC’s products] include software and hardware for all aspects of managing a network television newsroom from the assignment desk to the contribution and distribution of video clips and news wires. GTC provides industry tested bundled solutions using a standards-based, open-architecture framework.
If you can figure out what that means, let me know.
Unsurprisingly, in 2010, TV Newser (slogan: “And Now the News… About TV News”) reported that NNS was laying off a number of (living) employees as part of a series of “’sensible adjustments that reflect the partners’ needs as NNS evolves,’ and that new IP transmission technology changed the needs of the organization.” I think that means computers took over the production and distribution of the news, but I could be wrong. According to another press release,
Generation Technologies will use a combination of NIM ‘n-tier’ newsroom technology, Microsoft’s NT and Microsoft’s SQL replication technologies and will provide the main Fox News Edge, CBS Newspath and ABC NewsOne affiliate newsrooms with full metadata replication. Generation Technologies will be interfacing to NNS’s high end Montage video servers.
Again, let me know.
I’m not quite sure what to make of my newfound knowledge about Network News Service or the murky underworld of corporate news manufacturing that it reveals, but it certainly deepens my distrust and skepticism of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, it looks like the Koch Brothers are about to buy up the Tribune Company, which would include The Chicago Tribune, The L.A. Times, and The Baltimore Sun. I bet that’s one headline that won’t be syndicated ad nauseum on the news tonight.
-The Lone Pamphleteer