Gannett Co. Inc., which put USA Today on the nation's newsstands three years ago, is now sending a similar digest of the news to the nation's computer screens.
The Rosslyn-based media conglomerate has quietly begun offering USA Today Update, a compendium of information generated by USA Today, Gannett's news service, wire services, trade magazines and other publications, in a videotex format for primarily business subscribers.
Gannett's venture into videotex comes at a time when many other distributors of similar services are reevaluating their positions after finding that the market for news-by-computer has not been what was expected.
"The lack of success of consumer videotex is well-documented," says Edward J. Atorino, a media-industry analyst at Smith Barney Harris Upham Co. in New York.
But Gannett feels it can succeed in the new venture by targeting it toward specific business markets and avoiding, at least for now, the general consumer market sought by many other videotex services.
"It's my personal belief that if you can focus the content toward business . . . and if you can find a niche market within that business, we think there's a strong possibility of success," said Larry Fuller, president of Gannett's New Media Services division, which includes USA Today Update.
Many analysts have seen videotex as a logical and easily adaptable extension of the USA Today format, with its quick-read, easy-to-digest view of the day's news.
"It's obvious that they're trying to capture every single opportunity," Atorino says.
Gannett's foray into videotex is an outgrowth of the company's "Project S" committee, a group of executives formed several years ago to think up new ventures for the company, which in addition to USA Today publishes dozens of other newspapers and has extensive broadcast and billboard holdings.
A subcommittee of Project S, of which Fuller was a member, considered cable television, direct broadcast satellite services and teletext before settling on videotex. USA Today Update debuted, with little fanfare, last December. It is available to subscribers of Compuserve and several other major computer information services.
Fuller oversees a staff of 35 that digests material from a variety of sources, including USA Today, to prepare the Update's daily reports.
Subscribers can choose from a menu of general news stories and information on more specific topics, including the real estate, insurance, technology and energy industries. The service costs $40 per hour of connection time, but is designed to be read in a few minutes.
The more general reports are updated hourly, with "special report" features, in question and answer form, on about a half-dozen of each day's major stories. The "executive summaries" on more specialized fields -- taken from trade publications and technical journals, in exchange for credits of the source -- are updated daily, giving it a newsletter-like format.
"We say, 'These, Mr. Manager, are the most important things that have happened in your profession in the last 24 hours,' " Fuller said.
Fuller won't say how many subscribers the service has, in part because it is too new to get really accurate figures.
Gannett began a marketing push for the program in February, and Fuller says it has so far been successful. "The reception we're getting when we go out and make the sales and work with the people is very positive."
But Fuller emphasizes that Gannett is still finding its way in the new field.
"What we're trying to do is get a feeling for the best market," he said. He doesn't rule out a future attempt to market the service to general customers, but says it is more likely USA Today Update will add technical-information fields.
"Generally, we tend to be in financial services and technical areas, and that's where I suspect our emphasis will continue to be," Fuller said.