Don't call mobile news app Newsy a mere "aggregator." They prefer "curator," thank you very much. And now they get a bit of investor cred with which to put on airs. The Missouri company just closed a $1.5 million funding round. By recent Web investment standards that may seem like a lunch tip, but consider that Newsy is a small start-up in Columbia, Mo. partnered with the Missouri School of Journalism. Its singular business right now is creating two-minute video news clips for apps that sit on the iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices. Somewhere in this cool experiment is a glimmer of what a personalized, aggregated TV experience might look like.
Newsy is a fascinating app that curates/aggregates with video in much the same way Huffington Post and The Week magazine do in text and images. Its homegrown newscasters pull the content from multiple sources, including some video clips, and wrap them in their own talking head shot. The newscasters gather a main story usually from a video provider and then cluster around it responses and countervailing voices and angles from other sources.
The visual convention is to feature a backdrop of the commenting site or news outlet and use pop-up quotes to animate the additional voices. Calling itself multisource Video News Analysis, Newsy is bringing to video-enabled apps a digest-format that Slate.com helped pioneer online over a decade ago in its morning newspaper round-ups.
One of the cool things about these apps is their multiple output options as well as multi-sourcing. Each story can run as a video, but they are also accessible in transcript form for those cases where video playback is impractical or just rude, or where the user just wants a quick lean-in scan of highlights. Also links to the original sources of the story are available in a pop-up window. As one would expect from its J-School connection, the Newsy developers are thinking hard about journalistic integrity and proper sourcing. There are drawbacks to the format. After a while, the relentlessly multisourced stories can seem like having someone else reading the newspaper to you: borderline irritating. Third-party video sources work best to keep the curation model from getting tedious.
Newsy President Jim Spenser tells me that the business model thus far has been a blend of advertising and content syndication. They are running in-stream ads in some pieces and have banners on most pages. They work with iAds, Google, Tremor and Rhtyhm New Media. As for the $1.5 million windfall, "We are investing the money into hiring more people to help us manage our growth - a combination of editorial, development, marketing and salespeople will be hired."
If the newscasters for Newsy look a bit fresh and young, that is because many of them come from just across the street -- the Journalism School from which many recently graduated. Spencer tells me that the Missouri locale has other distinct advantages over a typical start-up's New York or San Francisco address. "Our cost of living makes producing high-quality video content far more economically viable." The 40 full -and part-time staff are producing 350-400 videos a month, he tells me. "Yes, it is a lot of work, but we have developed some great systems and hired remarkable people to create a scalable solution."
Maybe a few more bucks on the tech side? I like this app. In fact, MediaPost honored Newsy with an Appy Award for best news app. But the iPad version suffers from weird behavior. The content is organized across multiple tabbed verticals into screens of thumbnails. You drag and drop them into the playlist for continuous play. Not as easy as it sounds, because too often the screen just shifts and scrolls rather than pushes the video to my playlist. Playback, too can offer up some blank screens. In many ways the iPhone version is a tidier way to access a quick news grab, although it lacks some of the advanced personalization features.
The coolest aspect of Newsy on iOS is the recent integration of AirPlay. For the million or so people with Apple TV (and I am guessing there is a lot of overlap here with iPhone/iPad owners) app users can send the video stream of saved clips from the device to their TV for playback on the big screen.
The potential here is striking. We already know from some content clipping apps that many iPad owners save content from the Web throughout the day to peruse during prime time on the tablet. What if that habit moved to video? The second-screen tablet could become the device that collected and organized video clips that come across the transom or pique one's interest throughout the day. At night, you just toss the accumulated stream onto the TV from your phone or tablet.
Now you have truly personalized news programming in the living room. Slap a behavioral tracking engine on this thing and you have automated, individual news. Flipboard meets the TV. Of course, technically, all of this video triaging could be done via set-top boxes like Roku or Google TV, but using mobile as the connective tissue ensures that the content is always available and fully portable to use at the handiest screen.
Like the other aggregation (sorry, curation) formats in mobile, Newsy challenges traditional notions of brand loyalty and even content distribution. What is the model for major news outlets that still provide the protein in Newsy's dish? And yet, the multisource hub seems especially effective for consumers especially on mobile devices. It mimics the basic online reflex of consulting various brands. As mobile-to-TV models like AirPlay emerge, then the smartphone or tablet become that obvious link between digital habits and the living room lean-back experience.