Commentary

Newsy Gets The Big Picture, In The Living Room

There can hardly be a weirder time for news organizations. They are damned by the president and the people who support him, and at the same time, they are experiencing a burst of popularity by consumers who can access them everywhere.

For a place like Newsy, the comparatively small Scripps-owned video news outlet that presents on Monday at NewFronts, the up cycle in news comes as viewers discover over-the-top delivery services.

“To say news is a crowded space would be an understatement, obviously,” says Blake Sabatinelli, the general manager at Newsy.  “We have a pretty wide group of people we consider our competition.” Newsy points its efforts to those OTT users, where there are fewer really entrenched news sources.

“On the digital side, we’re competing with the Vices and Voxs of the world. If you look at Roku, the most-used news app is CBSN,”  part of a large news division, but not the news source people are buzzing about.

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Last year, Newsy said viewers stayed on the platform an average of 25 minutes. This year, that’s up to 37 minutes, including OTT platforms and a new offshoot onto cable systems in some places. On Roku, Sabatinelli says, Newsy is the 13th or 14th most-added-on app of any sort, entertainment choices included.  

Though three quarters of its views come via mobile phones, Newsy targets those OTT and linear cable operations, the “lean back” kinds of views that may seem most familiar to Cincinnati-based Scripps with its roots in powerful newspapers of the past and TV stations. Also unlike most presenters at NewFronts, Newsy is not very Facebook dependant. It likes control of its turf.

Some of that seems to be working, with 1.3 billion monetizable views, Sabatinelli claims a 74% year over year gain in total views delivered.

But he’ll be the first to tell you Newsy is not the place to go for bulletins.

“We’re probably not focused on breaking news,” he says. “It’s kind of a race to the bottom in our opinion -- a ton of networks trying to beat each other to be first on Twitter or TV. [For Newsy to try to do the same] we’re not really providing any real value. The battle over breaking news -- that’s a battle that’s been won by a couple of news organizations that are significantly larger than we are.”

Newsy has grown a lot in a year, from 35 staffers to more than 90. While on any given day, many of it news stories use file art and video, now up to 20% of ifs news content are videos it shoots on its own.

The staff is still young and not always polished. Many are recent grads from the well-regarded University of Missouri, where Newsy began in 2008 before Scripps bought it three years ago. It’s still based in Columbia, Mo., but with bureaus in New York, Chicago and Washington.

It's lack of slickness gives it a special appeal. Sabatinelli lauds his young staff, but there is no Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper or Lester Holt at Newsy. On news stories, Newsy news readers tend to be straightforward, heavy on video overlays and light on deep analysis.

It is a news style that is extraordinarily light on the kind of snark that has become routine in the digital realm. That sometimes makes news reports seem kind of antiseptic, but it’s also an efficient, just-the-facts journalism.

 “The War and Money Project” a series about the massive military budget, laid out spending so clearly it won an Edward R. Murrow prize a couple years ago. (Watch it now, and you may wonder why the Trump Administration wants to vastly increase the military budget.)

Longer pieces, like the current 12-minute report called "Ukraine On The Edge" don’t provoke controversy. Instead, they supply background you probably don't know. It’s not unusual to see clips from other news networks on such Newsy stories, used to give a sample of the vox populi.

At a time when cable news networks almost have official political affiliations, loud, aggressive pundits and graphical garnishes that can drive you to distraction, there’s something good about news without a lot of noise. Given its devotion to reaching the technically over-the-top consumer, Newsy is style-wise, the least over-the-top place you could imagine.

Newsy, in the end, lives up to it name.


pj@mediapost.com

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