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Whole New Ball Game

The first decade of E-business was not an unmitigated field of dreams, but some companies are once again ready to take the field.

The lessons of MLB.com and the Kodak EasyShare Gallery are “to look at who you are and what you have to sell, and then allow innovation to kick in,” says Patti Freeman Evans, retail analyst at Jupiter Research in New York. “Unfortunately, innovation — in terms of monetizing the Web in exciting new ways — is not given high priority at many companies. Great ideas remain just that.”

Adam Sarner, a research analyst at Gartner Inc., agrees: “Companies need to take a page from 3M — every day they give employees a couple hours of free time just to think up new ideas. That culture just does not exist at many companies. There’s no process liberating free thinkers to innovate.” (For a related story, see “Building a Better Workforce.”)

Boundary Breakers

But MLB and Kodak do have company. Corporations as diverse as The Home Depot Inc., CBS News, and Nike Inc. are thinking more broadly these days with respect to their E-business strategies. CBS News, for example, is betting its future in large part on the Internet, creating a 24-hour, multiplatform digital news network that bypasses cable television in favor of broadband. “This is the first time anyone has committed a traditional news organization to the Internet,” says Larry Kramer, president of San Francisco-based CBS Digital Media,which comprises CBSnews.com, CBS.com, SportsLine.com, and UPN.com.

Part of the strategy hinges on tailoring the content to technological capabilities. On CBS.com, for instance, reality TV gets even more real: subscribers can watch the popular “Big Brother” TV show live, ogling the stars 24 hours a day as they go about their lives. “We provide four camera views for $12.99 a month,” says Kramer. “On TV, you get the edited version. This is the whole thing as it happens.” Other popular CBS reality shows also are slated for the site.

But the bigger change affects CBSnews.com. The revenue model is traditional — advertising — but the content is not. Viewers get breaking news, original reporting, commentary, and analysis. The site features the blog “Public Eye,” which offers candid dialogue between CBS news journalists and the public. Users can build their own newscasts, choosing from exclusive Web content, the current day’s CBS News broadcasts, an archive of more than 25,000 news pieces, and even video that has yet to be broadcast. Most extraordinary is the integration between CBS News reporters and CBSnews.com editors, who are now committed to 24-hour news delivery.

“Throughout the day, CBS news correspondents around the world file, update, and expand their stories on the site, continuously enriching the editorial content by providing more insight and context,” says Kramer. That’s very similar to the online versions of newspapers (and some magazines), but of course it taps the Internet’s ability to deliver sights and sounds as well as text. “The Internet,” Kramer says flatly, “is where the news business is headed.”

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