Local TV News + Twitter’s Talking Heads = NBC’s "The 20″

If you’re reading this, there are decent odds you don’t watch your local TV news broadcast. Would you be any more inclined if it featured a dollop of Twitter?

NBC will find out. Its Local Media unit, which owns 10 stations around the country, is integrating Twitter into its programming, bringing a select group of Twitterers to chat about the day’s news within the broadcasts themselves.

“The 20″ starts this week on NBC’s Washington, D.C., and New York stations, and you can see a demo of what it looks at the bottom of the post. But it’s a pretty straightforward concept: Use Twitter to find 20 (get it?) newish, youngish talking heads to liven up the show.

And that’s supposed to set up a virtious cycle–the Twitterers that NBC features already have people paying attention to what they’re saying, so perhaps their offline followers will tune in to see them on TV, too. And exposure on TV should increase “The 20″‘s online following. Repeat.

A couple of thoughts:

  • Lots of people are already watching TV and using social media at the same time. But it’s pretty hard to effectively integrate Web/social commentary into TV news. Think of that weird CNN segment that used to feature women reading blog posts out loud, or TweetDeck’s awkward appearance on multiple TV news reports last month. And when news anchors read people’s tweets aloud on “The 20″ segment below, that seems odd, too. But the other part of the bit, where the commentators actually show up on TV, via Skype, and start commentating, is a much more promising notion.
  • NBC does seem to have done a pretty good job of finding interesting people to bring on their shows. Or at least they have by my self-interested standards: I’m already following about a third of NBC’s New York crew (congrats, Anil).
  • Regardless of how this plan turns out, it’s interesting to see NBC working to bring a younger, tech-savvy demo back to its local news broadcast. That’s a switch from an earlier strategy, where Comcast’s broadcast unit essentially gave up on trying to get Web users to pay attention to its TV news, and set about creating a local news site that more or less ignored the stations altogether.

Untitled from Peter Kafka on Vimeo.

Arianna Huffington on Her New AOL Job: "I Want to Stay Here Forever"

Tim Armstrong and company spent yesterday explaining their $315 million Huffington Post purchase to the press. Now they’re doing the same for Wall Street, via a conference call.

AOL CFO Artie Minson prepped investors for the call with a memo laying out expectations. Short version: AOL thinks HuffPo will earn about $10 million on revenue of $50 million this year (as long as you’re okay with using “adjusted OIBDA” as a proxy for “profit”). It also thinks the purchase will save it $20 million a year, but it’s going to spend around $20 million on restructuring charges when the deal goes through.

I’ll liveblog the call below:

8:02 am: Greetings! About to start now.

8:03 am: On the call: Tim Armstrong, Arianna Huffington, Artie Minson.

8:03 am: Armstrong makes a Super Bowl joke that I can’t quite follow, and I like football. But now praising Arianna, co-founder Kenny Lerer and outgoing AOL CEO Eric Hippeau.

“The Huffington Post is one of the best properties on the Internet.” Armstrong, Huffington and Minson are all BlackBerry users.

8:06 am: On revenue: This gives an opportunity to serve more brand marketers, who are “very interested” in the scale this gives us.

8:07 am: Spending next 30 days on integration. “Really synergies to be had.”

Next steps: Next 72 hours communicating with employees, talking to partners. 1,500 AOL workers on the phone this morning explaining deal to others.

“This may be the smallest disruption” internally of any deal I’ve worked on. Majority of integration done within 35 to 40 days.

8:09 am: We’ve looked at a bunch of companies, though we’re mainly going to concentrate on organic growth. But Arianna is great [many superlatives] and she “also happens to be a woman.”

8:10 am: Here’s Arianna.

8:11 am: “Amazing” how aligned two orgs are.

8:11 am: HuffPo was profitable last year. We were thinking about bringing in additional investors last year, and an IPO down the line. But this made perfect sense.

8:12 am: This deal provides a “dramatic acceleration” for the plans we already had.

8:13 am: Some praise for Patch, AOL’s local strategy.

8:14 am: Can’t wait to start!

8:14 am: Alrighty, then. Here’s Artie Minson with some nuts and bolts.

Actually, it’s some color on the deal. But a lot of it is in the prepared remarks he put out earlier this morning.

8:15 am: Again, $20 million in cost savings here. And again, we’ll have to pay up for restructuring: $20 million for cuts, and $10 million for purchase price.

8:17 am: Still basically reading from prepared remarks. Some bookkeeping talk re: compensation accounting.

8:18 am: Remember, display ad growth coming will finally start showing up second half of this year.

8:19 am: Q&A:

Q: Talk about content strategy. Does HuffPo become hub for content going forward? Does it replace Seed? And how long is Arianna’s contract?

A: “The press” has been talking about our content strategy, so let me be clear–we’re focusing on premium content. Things like Seed and StudioNow are platforms–you can do whatever you want with them, different quality levels, at different types of scale.

And then the other thing that is important about those platforms is the ability they give us to work with advertisers.

One of our main interests in HuffPo is their technology and publishing system. So now we have multiple systems [which he is saying is a good thing]. “Our content strategy hasn’t changed.” The “stuff that was out in the press about the AOL Way” was just one way of doing things. [This is not very convincing]

Arianna, tell us how long you’re going to stay.

8:24 am: Arianna: “I’ve told Tim I want to stay here forever. I want this to be the last act of my life.” Anything I want to do I can do here.

[Sorry, missed next part but it was a defense/explanation of content strategy.]

8:26 am: Armstrong: Arianna has a multiyear contract, but it’s open-ended.

8:27 am: Arianna: By the way, we’re going to bring back commenting to AOL stories, and socialize them.

8:28 am: Q: Why buy instead of partnering? Were there other bidders? Also, how will HuffPo politics affect AOL?

8:28 am: Armstrong: We do partnerships where there is “limited upside to those arrangements” so ” we can really spend time on the areas we want to win”–i.e., we don’t care about sports, we do care about women.

“Arianna is somebody we’d rather have inside our building than outside our building.”

“If there were or weren’t bidders on the other side,” I think we got the right price.

8:30 am: Arianna. “As we’ve said, again and again, Huffington Post was not for sale….Nobody was in a hurry to cash out, everybody believed that we could do an IPO down the road.” It’s just that Tim gave us a great offer. [hrrrm.]

On politics–we used to be all about politics, now we’re not. Just 15 percent of our traffic. We have a divorce section now.

Talking up AOL’s “college” section.

8:33 am: Q: For Arianna: More on Patch, please. What do think about what AOL’s done with it, and what you can do with it?

8:33 am: [Every time Arianna says "local level" I think she's saying "locker level." It's happened at least twice, maybe more, on this call.]

There’s a “greatest person of the day” feature we have, and I think Patch should use that. [Or maybe vice-versa, sorry.] I also like their five percent “giving back” rule, cause marketing, etc.

8:35 am: Armstrong: Again, we can do national and local. That’s important. NFL rights are important, and so are local news stories.

8:36 am: Q: Who’s going to sell what? And can you talk about pricing disparity between AOL and HuffPo?

8:37 am: Armstrong: “We would like to maintain all the people from both sales forces [except for Greg Coleman!]. I think we will end up with a large-scale, large-property organization–I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, though.

On sell-through rate: Slightly lower at HuffPo, because they’ve been ramping up traffic, and sales force. On CPM, same story. So we can bring up sell-through rate and CPM, and have a larger sales force. [This is pretty much the best argument for the deal that Armstrong can make.]

[BTW: Good back-channel discussion on Twitter right now about AOL's SEO skills, and the people behind it. None of that coming up during this call right now.]

[Sorry, I meant HuffPo's SEO skills, much of which stem from blueprint BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti set out.]

Q: Why not use equity for this deal?

A: Because our equity is priced too low, essentially. But HuffPo employees did roll over 25 percent of deal consideration into AOL options. So as that equity gets more valuable, they’ll get upside.

8:45 am: Q: In your statement, you talked about OIBDA growth in 2013. More on that please.

Minson–probably going to stick to my prepared remarks on that one.

8:46 am: Last Q: Your acqusitions have been about toolsets or content. As you think about others going forward, what else do you want?

Armstrong: We have long-term vision. On plumbing: We’ve wanted to get platforms and plumbing straightened out, and we’re doing that now. Think about the bones or foundation of a very large property. That’s why we’ve been doing infrastructure, like with video–5Min and GoViral and StudioNow.

Going forward, we’ll be doing infrastructure. And we’ll continue to look at “media properties and media brands” that fit our strategy. [Remember, Web site owners: HuffPo just got 10x revenue.

8:50 am: Minson: But we're very price sensitive and we've walked away from deals.

8:50 am: Arianna: And we like women!

8:51 am: Armstrong sums up: Success "in the Internet space" requires vision and execution. That's this deal. And remember, content and brands become more valuable as tech gets faster, more advanced. And "expect us to stay on strategy and on point" going forward. "We're going to overcommunicate" with both sets of employees as we integrate. [You've been warned!]

And we’re done. Thanks for reading.

[Photo credit: Arianna Huffington]

Rupert Murdoch Gives Guests a Sneak Peek of Tomorrow’s "Daily" Tonight. Here’s What They’ll See.

The Daily makes its official debut tomorrow morning, at a press event at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

But a select crowd will get to see the iPad newspaper tonight, at an equally notable Manhattan location: Rupert Murdoch’s apartment, where the News Corp. CEO is hosting a “low key” cocktail party.

Although News Corp. owns this Web site, my email invite to tonight’s pre-launch launch event hasn’t arrived, and I’m told it never will. The company hasn’t offered me a peek at the Daily, either.

But at this point I’ve still got a pretty decent sense of what Murdoch’s guests will see this evening, and the rest of us will see tomorrow: A newspaper that’s both old-fashioned and cutting-edge.

People who have gotten up  close to the the Daily describe a digital paper where many of the news stories look just like news stories you’d see anywhere else.

Others will look more like iPhone apps, featuring interactive graphics or videos, or photos you can swipe, pinch and zoom–with perhaps almost no text at all.

And there’s more! There’s no 3-D video yet, though it’s on the agenda. But there will be an audio feature so you can have stories read aloud to you. And there’s a crossword puzzle! And Sudoku!

A Daily-watcher who thinks the thing is amazing compares it to the Daily Prophet, the magical newspaper read by Harry Potter and his wizard pals.

More jaded observers tell me it’s more or less what they’ve seen in existing iPad magazine apps, particularly Hearst’s Popular Mechanics and Condé Nast’s Wired. The big difference is that those magazines come out monthly, and the Daily will get beamed to your iPad… daily.

Still, the most striking thing about the Daily has nothing to do with any technical bells and whistles. It’s Murdoch’s insistence that he can sell a digital newspaper app to consumers trained to expect that digital news is what you get on the Web, for free.

The Daily is almost defiantly anti-Web: It will have a free site, with a grudging sample of perhaps 10 percent of the newspaper’s stories, but that’s it. While Web news sites increasingly focus on aggregation and filtering of other people’s content, the Daily will focus on making its own stuff, even though plenty of other people are already doing it.

And while News Corp. officials have tried to argue that the Daily isn’t a newspaper but something else, it is most definitely produced using a newspaper model: Six sections, written once a day–the Daily team is particularly excited about its sports coverage–and delivered in the wee hours of the morning.

The Daily will allow for some midday updates, but it’s really designed to land with a digital thud on your virtual doorstep, just like the newspapers Murdoch has loved all his life.

Murdoch will charge 99 cents a week for a subscription, and he’s certainly going to get some takers at the start, especially since the Daily will be free for the first two weeks after tomorrow’s launch.

Which will be a noisy one. The press will give it plenty of free promotion, and News Corp. will augment that with a digital ad campaign, in addition to offline marketing donated and/or bartered from other Murdoch properties. Perhaps there’s a way to mention it once or twice during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast on Fox.

Much more important will be the endorsement from Apple, which is using the Daily to roll out a new “push” subscription feature.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was supposed to appear onstage in San Francisco with Murdoch to bless the launch, will send content boss Eddy Cue to New York tomorrow instead.

That’s still Apple’s seal of approval, though, and I can’t think of another time the company has so conspicuously blessed a single third-party product. That alone will be enough to prompt an enormous number of people to try it out.

Remember that Apple already has a customer base of  some 125 million iTunes users–if you do want to buy this thing, you won’t need to pull out a credit card. A few button clicks will do.

The real question, of course, is how many people are going to pay for the Daily a month down the road, when the buzz is gone. And there’s no way to guess at that when you get your first look at the thing. No matter when that happens.

Tiltview Aims to Be CNN for Cord Cutters

Here’s a question we’re frequently getting ever since we launched our weekly Cord Cutters web series: If you cancel cable, how do you get your news? A new site called Tiltview is trying to provide an answer to that by mashing up news clips from a number of networks, giving viewers a leanback experience optimized for watching on devices like Google TV.

Tiltview users can skip over a news clip as well as hit the pause button on any video — but that’s about it, as far as interaction goes. The site automatically selects news sources and individual clips, making the experience very much like watching a 24/7 cable news program.

Tiltview’s developers told us that the site is using an algorithm to rank videos based on source, time published, view count and other factors to evaluate their newsworthiness. “Once you start watching the news, the list of what you are watching is updated in real-time,” they explained via email, adding: “High ranking news can be inserted into the list while you are watching. There is no need to refresh the page to see new contents.”

Similarities to CNN & Co. are no accident: Tiltview’s developers told us that they got the idea for the site after canceling cable and scouring news sites for videos. “Choosing which videos to play and clicking on each one made (us) realize there should be a better way to watch news online,” they said.

The mashup is based on clips found on YouTube, and some of the sources queried include YouTube accounts of news networks like Al-Jazeera, France 24, the New York Times and Russia Today. However, the site also seems to add clips from more partisan political outlets, such as Breitbart TV and Think Progress. Tiltview’s developers said they hope to add more videos from sites other than YouTube soon.

The advent of connected devices with integrated web browsers like Google TV and the Boxee Box has led to a number of Leanback-style mashups in mind in recent months. However, some of these sites have run into issues with rights holders. Listandplay.com, for example, recently shut down its MTV-like music video mashup because of potential music rights liabilities.

However, playing by the books can be tricky as well. The personalized news service 1Cast tried to offer a news feed similar to Tiltview with licensed content, but failed to get off the ground and recently shut down.

Related content on GigaOm Pro (subscription required):

News Corp.’s Daily iPad Newspaper Launching "In the Next Few Weeks"

The “Daily,” the iPad news app News Corp. was supposed to launch last week, should hit the market “in the next few weeks,” according to James Murdoch. That’s not technically news, since it confirms what I had heard last week, but it’s the closest a News Corp. official has come to announcing an on-the-record launch date for the subscription service. So: Noted!

Murdoch, who runs Europe and Asia for his father Rupert’s company (which also owns this Web site), offered up the quasi-launch date during an onstage interview at the DLD conference in Munich.

As far as I can tell from the coverage, Murdoch didn’t reveal any other details that haven’t been reported–he confirmed that the service will cost 99 cents a week, etc.–but Staci Kramer at paidContent seems to have a good summary. You can watch the chat yourself here.

Meanwhile, I can offer up one tiny morsel of news about the Daily. And granted, it really is tiny. But: Here’s something you won’t see when the app launches, but will eventually–3-D video.

People familiar with the Daily tell me plans for future editions of the app include a gee-whiz feature that will allow correspondents to offer readers a 360-degree view of whatever they’re talking about.

It’s easier to show than to tell, and I can’t embed a sample here, but you can see one on this YouTube page. Most of the applications we’ve seen for 3-D Web video so far involve music videos set in party scenes. But you can imagine how much more interesting this might be if it involved someone reporting from, say, Tunisia.

Cablevision Complains (Very Quietly) About News Corp.’s Web Blackout

Over the weekend, News Corp. briefly pulled down Fox shows from Cablevision customers’ Web browsers.

That’s an unprecedented move in the ongoing fight between cable providers, broadcasters and networks over programming fees. And the news was a big deal for the digerati and people contemplating the future of video.

But it doesn’t seem to have registered in the broader world, and you have to work hard to find any mention of the story in old-media news outlets. And even Cablevision, which uses any ammo it can in the PR fight against Fox and News Corp. (which also owns this site), hasn’t said much about it.

Here, for instance, is Cablevision’s newest message to its customers. If you fast forward to the 1:35 mark, you’ll find a two-sentence description of the Web blackout. But hard to believe many Cablevision customers will be sticking around to hear this one:

At the very least, blacking out part of the Web sounds scary. So why is Cablevision so (relatively) quiet on this?

Two theories, which are not mutually exclusive:

  • It’s not worth complaining about because this stuff doesn’t really resonate with consumers–at least, not in the way that losing access to NFL games and play-off baseball does. No one spent Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon in a bar because they couldn’t watch “Glee” on Hulu.
  • It’s not worth complaining about because Cablevision and News Corp. are actually on the same ideological page when it comes to this stuff. Neither side is really that happy about free TV shows on the Web. The only real difference the two sides have is about money: News Corp. wants to get more of it for its programming, while Cablevision wants to pay less.

On a related note: I still don’t understand why News Corp./Fox backed off so quickly on Saturday, once news of the blackout got out.

There’s no official reason, but there were mutterings about the technical difficulty of cutting off access to Cablevision TV subscribers while leaving Cablevision’s Internet-only subs alone. But hard to believe that News Corp. didn’t think that one through in advance. Same goes for any “optics”-related reason–the whole point of a move like this was to generate publicity, right?