Food for Thought: A New Online Video Provider for Newspaper Sites

Who knows what will happen to daily newspapers? It seems to me that the entity with the least clear-cut idea is the newspaper industry itself.

But big daily newspapers, first of all, aren’t so big anymore, and secondly, are increasingly not even daily either. So online is their last, best hope. From what it looks like, although they’ve had some time to figure it out, they’re still pretty much clueless. What, they don’t read?

Some places, especially The New York Times and The Washington Post, are boldly mixing their traditional print excellence with new, significant efforts in video. But most newspapers aren’t doing it much or doing it at all. Which is where the Media Program Network wants to enter the picture?

MPN is offering papers really sharp online videos, mainly recipes and food-related material, that newspapers can run for free. While MPN gets up and running, it’s not getting rich,  but Joe Langhan, the president, thinks within six months it will have enough clients to begin selling pre-roll and becoming a real business. It will keep about 70% of the ad inventory. The papers can try to sell the rest.  

MPN offers something more: It gives publishers a print story version of its videos, and still photography, that papers can run in their print product. “It allows papers to have a food page again,” Langhan says. That’s true. It provides some copy.  But it doesn’t provide any print ads.

Papers also get banner ad possibilities online too. Today, the Princeton (Ind.) Daily Clarion Website is running MPN’s video for making a pork shoulder with an ad for the local IGA market. MPN is running on about 20 newspaper sites. You likely have never heard of them, but Langhan, based in Massachusetts, is confident more will be coming on board.

“Basically, we feel that in the future of digital, newspapers are going to have a big role,” Langhan says.  “We’ve had a lot of positive reaction.”  Also, though, he says some papers have just said that thinking about video online is not on their front burner.

(I’ve been wondering: If I moved into town and met the newspaper publisher and asked, “What’s the best way for me to receive The Daily Blowhard?” would that publisher even have an answer? “Let’s see.  The paper is thin and on life-support and the Website, well, is underfinanced and ill-conceived. So take your pick.”)    

Langhan knows a thing or two about food.  A long time ago, he worked for the Providence Journal and its cable company, and came up with this thing called the Food Network, which took a while to become what it is today under Scripps, but was pretty hot in its own smaller universe.

“One of the big things was getting recipes to people. Back then, you had to send in a self-addressed stamped envelope. At one point we got 23,000 a week. It got out of control,” he recalls. When the Internet came around, Langhan remembers thinking, “This is going to be really big.”

Media Program Network, which has 600 videos in the can, has the financing to go for a while before looking for a second bunch of investors, he says. And there are a few other players in this space, but not as many as you might think.

He doesn’t think most papers will do much on their own because for them a video investment takes too long to pay off.  In the meantime, MPN hopes to branch into other back-of-the-book/lifestyle areas ( “All the logical ones,” he says) and spread the recipe network all over the country, so, he jokes, viewers aren’t getting a barbecue recipe from a cook with a New England accent.

“People love authenticity, the local flavor” he says.  If only newspapers had capitalized on that when they had the chance.

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