NBC’s “iCue” is smart strategy

NBC is announcing the creation of a new online business that’s the coolest idea to date using the web to bring a network’s news brand to young people. According to the New York Times, the network is spending $10 million to develop “iCue,” which is intended as a supplement to Advanced Placement high school courses in three subjects: American history, government and English.

“We recognize when we look at our broadcast platforms that teenagers don’t get their news from there,” said Adam Jones, chief financial officer for NBC News, who has helped lead the project. “They’re either online or they watch Jon Stewart or ‘The Colbert Report.’ We’ve always talked about trying to find new ways to reach our future audience.”

The project will have its detractors, including those who will say that NBC is not the type of organization that should be teaching our children. The subjects chosen will bring out the critics, because they deal with politics and government.

In a conference room at NBC News headquarters yesterday, a consultant, Alex Chisholm, co-director of a game and education research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave an online tour of a prototype of the site. It included a segment from “NBC Nightly News,” reported by Pete Williams, about the detentions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The segment was then used to supplement discussion of the Geneva Conventions, an element of an A.P. course.

There was also black-and-white film from NBC archives of firemen turning hoses on civil rights protesters, and video of Tom Brokaw late on election night in 2000 explaining it was anyone’s guess who had won the presidency. Students and teachers would be provided with discussion questions and opportunities to share their answers through the site’s social networking forums.

“Selfishly we’re looking to create a long-lasting relationship with these students,” Mr. Jones said. “Philosophically, though, we realize these are the voters and decision makers and employers of tomorrow.”

That just won’t go over well with conservatives in the U.S., who already think public education is too liberal and that NBC represents a liberal point-of-view as well.

The network promises there will be no ads during school hours, but the plan is to offer advertising otherwise.

Despite the potential problems for NBC and various school boards around the country, I think this is a smart move by a media company to create a heretofore unthinkable project well outside its core competency. While some big newspapers and magazines have worked with schools in the past, this is a first for television.


  1. Will NBC benefit from the brand exposure? maybe, ..a little bit. Kudos to them for trying something a little different, but once the kids get out of the classroom / high school do you really think they’re logging on to iCue (or NBC.com, MSNBC, etc…) from home?

    At the end of the day, it’s traditional news delivered in a new way, that’s still *drumroll*

    Look at the audience traditional news reaches. If anybody should know it’s those of us in the broadcast business: simply streaming video of the same stuff we put on television online doesn’t exactly set the world on fire now does it? (…but we sure congratulate ourselves enough when we do it!)

    Adam Jones cites the internet, but also makes two other very important citations in Stewart, Colbert. Which network do they report for again? (It’s also interesting that Adam Jones assumes they’ll be his future audience.)

    In the end, it’s Cable in the Classroom on a laptop screen.

    I will give them even more kudos for trying to monetize the long tail …trying to milk the Educational system for a subscription service like this is going deep for revenue!

    (PS, this just cracks me up from the NYTimes article:
    “Imagine Tim Russert introducing a classroom history lesson about the Articles of Confederation, or Brian Williams describing the reverberations of the Stamp Act.” .…Wow! Everything I dreamed of, Russert or Williams intro’ing a history lesson!)

  2. Adam Jones is a brummie , a big boring brummie boy -

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