A comparative content analysis of CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC examined the extent to which the cable news networks utilize their news crawls or "tickers" for promotional purposes. Situated in economic, branding, and promotional theory, the study revealed that two out of three cable networks utilized their news tickers for some overt self-promotion, but used them infrequently as synergistic promotional tools for their parent companies, indicating journalistic integrity within this news space for the present time. The study also provides baseline information on the nature of cable news tickers.
On networks such as MSNBC and Headline News, two or more tickers crawl across the lower fourth of the screen carrying news, stock prices, and weather forecasts. CNN has recently updated its crawl with a so-called "flipper" that serves the same purpose.1 As of late, however, it appears that these tickers often provide another service: cross-promotion of the network or other parent company media products. While the competitive, profit-driven nature of publicly held media companies may explain cross-promotional practices, it is appropriate to examine the nature and extent of such promotional messages, which may potentially raise public interest questions.
This study examines media companies' strategic management of content on a new media platform. Situated in promotional and branding theory, this comparative content analysis investigated the extent to which promotional messages appear on cable networks' news tickers to promote (a) themselves and (b) other parent company products. It provides an understanding of how the parent companies of CNN (owned by Time Warner), FOX (owned by News Corp), and MSNBC (owned by NBC Universal,2 a subsidiary of General Electric) use the ticker as a cross-promotional platform. Finally, the study fills a gap in the mass communication literature by providing comparative baseline information on the nature of cable news tickers. The study extends promotional, branding, and social responsibility theory to new media platforms, with tickers as the exemplar.
Review of the Literature
While television news tickers are considered a new media platform, their origin can be traced to the financial markets and the telegraphy-powered stock ticker.3 Cable television's earliest adopter of the ticker may have been the Weather Channel in 1982.4 Financial news and sports networks adopted the technology for stock prices and scores in the 1990s, CNN Headline News began routinely running news content in a crawl, and CNN's full-time crawl arrived with the September 11th terrorist attacks.5 Most news networks used the crawl for a period after the attacks, but cable networks have continued the practice.
Although news tickers are becoming common, the literature on television news tickers is scarce. Most takes an industry-based focus, examining their production,6 value in attracting younger news authences,7 advertising implications,8 and cognitive issues related to screen clutter.9 What has not been explored fully is the strategic value of news tickers as marketing tools.
Promotion and Branding of Content. Scholars have found that promotion and branding are no longer optional, but rather imperative strategies for media firms competing in a 24-hour multichannel, multiplatform environment.10 Promotion and branding strategies communicate a differentiation of product choices to authences by presenting various network brand images based on media content substance, a phenomenon Meech" has referred to as '"brandcasting.'"
To the extent that research indicates that multiplatform offerings result in authence satisfaction, positive attitudes, and repeat viewings of the network and its sister properties,12 branding is a critical network strategy. Brand extension - incorporating the name of the first product or program into another - is one of the most common strategies,13 with success most likely when there is good "fit" between the parent brand and extension product. …