Cable news channel CNN, which had tucked its online video content behind subscription screens for several years, began offering free access to video clips this week. CNN (www.cnn.com) is offering the free online video in 14 categories of news and sports, in addition to two-minute updates of the latest breaking news.
CNN.com is showing its free online content in a wide-screen format, not the postage-stamp-size view that many people have come to expect from most Internet video. The free service released last week is sponsored by advertising that precedes some of the video -- as of Friday afternoon, all the promotional spots seemed to belong to Xerox -- and also appears on banners throughout the site. Chase and General Motors have also signed on as "presenting sponsors" for the launch of the free video service.
CNN offered free streaming video when the site launched in 1995, but the Atlanta news network put its video content behind a subscription-only wall in March 2002 and began charging $4.95 a month for access. The company would not say Friday afternoon how many takers it had for that pay offering, but the news sites of competitors, such as MSNBC and CNN archrival Fox News, feature free, ad-supported streaming video.
Susan Grant, executive vice president of CNN News Services, said via e-mail that the site made this move because more Web surfers have high-speed Internet access and because the cost of providing streaming video had "dramatically decreased."
CNN.com, which gets about 23 million unique users a month, is one of the top Internet news sites. According to ComScore Media Metrix, the site held the No. 4 slot for May, behind MSNBC, Yahoo News and AOL News.
CNN.com is planning a new Internet video subscription service in the fall. The company was mum on its cost or what extras subscribers would get beyond access to the network's video archives and some customization options.
MSN Maps Out New Searches
Microsoft released a trial version of its new local search and mapping service, enhanced with overhead photography, on Tuesday. You can test it by clicking the "Local" button at the top of the MSN home page or visiting the site's local search page. Using the site, Web surfers can plot out local pizza joints or rug stores on a map, then view an aerial photo with their locations highlighted (in each case, we found that these graphics didn't scroll as smoothly as those on Google Maps). The satellite views here are pulled from Microsoft's TerraServer-USA Web site; Microsoft said it will add more detailed photos in the fall.
Web Dictionary Debuts
The Web has another free, advertising-supported reference site, eager to compete with the popular Answers.com. TheFreeDictionary.com spits out results culled from a dictionary, encyclopedia and thesaurus on the same page. But this reference site, created by Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based Farlex Inc., seems to value advertising over information, judging by how much prominence it gives ads on its search result pages. While the content displayed seems useful, its marketing-heavy presentation pales in comparison to the cleaner layout of information at other reference sites -- even though many of its articles come from the same open-source encyclopedia, Wikipedia.com, relied on by Answers.com.
E-mail Leslie Walker at email@example.com. Mike Musgrove contributed to this report.