HuffPost Live Needs Prominent Smart TV App
Arianna Huffington has proven to be a master promoter with plenty of substance. The remarkable Huffington Post arc – from a niche commentary site to the future of AOL – has turned her into a hugely valuable brand in media circles.
Like Barry Diller or Tom Freston, whatever she does creates a stir. That has again been the case with HuffPost Live, the online video network that generated plenty of coverage with its Monday launch.
“HuffPost Live is not the first web-only live production,” wrote Forbes.com contributor Michael Humphrey. “They’re just the most exposed on day one and they’ve done it in typical HuffPo style — all out. If this doesn’t work, it’s going to be a spectacular failure.”
Humphrey continued that he was rooting for the venture and offered some very positive comments about what he referred to as a “deep integration” of video and social TV.
Not particularly groundbreaking is the comment stream running alongside the live video. What is innovative is the opportunity for viewers to make an appearance "on-air" using their own computer cameras.
HuffPost Live, with 12 hours of live programming on weekdays, is what CurrentTV in its initial iteration would have wanted to be.
Surprisingly, the Huffington Post Web site hasn’t used its own real estate to excessively promote it. There are just a couple of modest-sized buttons above the fold on the home page, though “Live” was in red in one spot.
It won’t be a “spectacular failure” if it fails to take off. This is not Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. Online video gambles fail repeatedly and after attention-grabbing launches, they tend to fade from the media spotlight.
From a financial standpoint, at least judging by the production value, the investment doesn’t appear to be too onerous. So, if initial HuffPost Live sponsors Cadillac and Verizon bail, keeping the video streaming for a long while shouldn’t be a problem.
HuffPost Live's long-term success of course hinges on its online traffic. But also key is whether it can land a premium spot as a smart TV app. For online video purveyors, having both distribution avenues looks to be critical going forward.
Negotiating to gain links on various Web sites to pull in traffic will continue to be crucial, but so will talks involving the Samsungs and Sonys and Rokus.
Smart TVs are set to continue moving into American homes and their Internet connectivity offers the potential for a traffic boom. But gaining a lead spot at the gateways ruled by the TV set manufacturers and the likes of Roku is a principal challenge. Those entry points – the showrooms -- feature prominent apps from entities such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Facebook and Pandora.
Netflix will continue to derive increasing traffic from people triggering its button. Google is developing improved YouTube functionality for Internet-connected TVs, which could bring more viewership for the site's expanded long-form content.
A recent Harris Interactive Poll had nearly half of smart TV owners saying Netflix is a “must have” app and 44% labeling YouTube as one.
The tier-one door may not have closed, but it is starting to. Fortunately for Huffington Post, AOL is endeavoring to be a leader as the line-ups are set.
The company, which bought Huffington Post in 2011, said last week it would launch a version 2.0 of its smart TV app, rebranded as “AOL On.” Showing how tough it is to gain traction, AOL said the new version would be available on platforms run by Samsung, Sony and Roku, as well as TiVo. There are plenty of others.
The AOL app features video from outside sources such as the BBC, E! and CNET and owned properties such as Moviefone, Engadget and HuffPost Entertainment. Video from HuffPost Live will surely be included, but gaining a standalone app above the fold, as it were, would be a massive breakthrough.
Internet-connected, big-screen TVs are spreading. Most industry observers are saying – and the sky-high Olympic ratings have added some credence to their assertions – that traditional TV sets will remain a household centerpiece. How much people will want to consume online video (beyond Netflix) or engage in social media activity on them is still to be decided, but a hard-to-miss billboard on the highway is crucial to attract consumers.