John Roberts

The news division of CBS, which once flirted with the idea of merging with CNN, has expanded its website, CBSNews.com, into a 24-hour news service for Internet users with high-speed connections.

It isn't a "linear" news network where an anchor sits at a desk reading news and introducing video packages, says CBS News president Andrew Heyward. It's going to be your job to pick and choose what you want to see. It won't just be reports that have already aired. CBS News will continuously post its reporting on the site, and some of the coverage will be live. And if a correspondent has something to report before the CBS Evening News airs, you'll see it sooner on the broadband channel.

Heyward says the on-demand aspect of the service means CBS News doesn't have to be "live for live's sake" and to fill up time the way cable news channels do. It will offer an online version of the CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer and regular original features, such as having White House correspondent John Roberts and others answer viewer questions.

How many people are going to watch TV news on broadband? CBS Digital Media president Larry Kramer says the target audience is the 45 million people who have broadband access at their jobs. "Daytime is prime time" in the broadband world, he says, while cable news networks draw their smallest audience in those hours.

And don't think doing work will get in the way of watching video news on broadband. According to a poll conducted by America Online and Salary.com, the average person spends about two out of eight hours in the office each day doing something other than work. Surfing the Internet for personal use ranked first among time-wasting activities, named by 44.7 percent of those polled.

ABC News, which also missed the boat when it came to doing a 24-hour news channel, has been offering a live broadband news service for about a year. It also offers original reporting and video-on-demand content from its news shows. But CBS is keeping its service free, while ABC users pay a fee either to Real Networks or AOL.

In addition to taking care of the news division's digital future, Heyward says he's also been thinking about what's next for the CBS Evening News, where Schieffer has been interim anchor since Dan Rather stepped down in March. The news president said the focus lately has been more about new ways to present information than about who the permanent anchor should be. Producers will be doing some off-air "experiments that are a little different," he said. The importance of a new anchor may be overstated, according to Heyward. Although in the last year evening-news anchors left both CBS and NBC (and with Peter Jennings out indefinitely at ABC), the programs' competitive positions haven't shifted significantly. (ABC and NBC are still fighting for first, and CBS is a distant third.)

"It hasn't been as serious a shift as you'd expect," Heyward told the Biz. "It suggests that as mighty as icons the evening-news anchors are, the content may be more important."