Usually, these are the rather dry one-world descriptions of What’s Next, items on to-do lists for anyone serious about building new digital businesses. Add “Social,” and you’ve got a trifecta.
Getting the words transformed from whiteboard to lively product is another undertaking entirely.
1Cast, a still-beta mobile video product, manages to do that.
I found 1Cast in my ambling around the News section of the iTunes Apps store.
It’s a remarkably simple idea – and one that many a news company should be thumping its head about: why didn’t we think of that?!?
1Cast – now available for the iPhone and Android, and coming soon, I believe, for the Blackberry – answers an old question in a new way: “What’s On?” And then makes coverage easy to share on Facebook, Digg, delicious, StumbleUpon, reddit or by e-mail.
What’s on in this case is news, glorious, up-to-the-minute news. So far, most major producers of news video have signed on, willing to take a budding ad revenue share, as usage increases.
Among the news sources: AP, Bloomberg, CNBC, Reuters, and the Dow Jones brands – WSJ, Barrons, Marketwatch and AllThingsD from the US; CBC, from Canada; BBC from UK and AFP from Europe.
Anthony Bontrager, 1Cast’s president, tells me more (national and local broadcast) sources will be announced within a couple of weeks and then still more as the company – started stealth in 2006 – comes formally out of beta in August.
The iPhone experience is intuitive. First screen: top headlines. For the last couple of weeks, you could click on Iran Protests and get more than a half dozen up-to-date (and in this case we’re dealing with 24/7, follow-the-sun coverage) video segments. The Iran coverage answers the question on many of our minds: What the hell is happening in Tehran, best as the constrained global news sources can tell us, with pirated video and voiceovers. At our fingertips.
You can pick and choose your way through top stories, or pick by news network or do some initial customization and favoriting. Bontrager says that the sports channel will soon be joined by others, like business, lifestyle, music and comedy.
When I ask him who the competition is, he tells me that only Veoh and Hulu approach as competitors. They’re not really direct competitors of course, because they don’t concentrate on news video. Hulu, a smart if nascent aggregation play, of News Corp, NBC Universal and, soon, Disney, plays itself as a YouTube counterweight, and is still searching for a business model meaty enough to sustain three sharp-elbowed media heavyweights. Those owners produce lots of news, but Hulu considers “news” as a subset channel of entertainment, one of 18 channels on the site.
Veoh, Truveo, Blinkx and YouTube itself, offer lots of news video, but finding it is a crazy-making exercise, mixed among much amateur video, job training sessions and dancing iguanas.
1Cast “was born of frustration,” says Bontrager, an IPTV telco veteran. “How can we get the information we want? We saw news to be an underserved market.”
Wow. News people talk endlessly about glut and commoditization, and here’s a telco guy talking about “under-served markets.” Talk about a disconnect.
Do new consumers really want a news video portal? I think so, and I think that 1Cast’s initial experience will bear that out.
Bontrager says 1Cast was launched in beta as an online site and on the iPhone in November. He figured that a mobile app would be a nice accompaniment, an add-on. Now, in a few months, the mobile site is drawing 60% of the visitors and the website only 40%. He quotes usage stats that he himself says he finds unbelievable, but says 1Cast has double-checked them thoroughly.
The stats: 4-5 sessions a day among users, with 8-10 minutes per session.
Having used the mobile app – but not yet the website – I can see how those numbers may be possible, but do seem impossible to believe. Divide them by five, though, and they’d still be interesting.
Mobile news video is the ultimate three-minute time-killer/updater; when offered it, people are taking quickly to a "need" they never would have expressed in a survey.
Why did it take a small, 10-person, Craig McCaw (of cellular innovation fame) Seattle start-up to come up with an idea that should have been obvious to anyone in the news industry? That’s the kind of head-scratcher that afflicts our times. In sharing ad revenue with its news sources, 1Cast is building its client roster, advertiser by advertiser. Characteristic of early video, I’ve been exposed to the same Infiniti car ad dozens of times. Bontrager says other advertisers are coming on board, and that direct ad sales are producing $25 or so CPMs, with network ad partner Yume providing $15 CPMs "at the top end."
1Cast has a first-mover advantage, which may turn into something big or may just be a model for latecomers to build on. Still, as we hear so much talk about “paid content,” and see the tremendous appetite for mobile video – AP tells me that it serves 500,000 mobile video streams a month – it’s astounding to see a stealthy non-news company be first with a stunningly simple news product.
To mobile, video and social, add the other key word, here: aggregation. It’s the way of the web, and 1Cast is building a smart business on those four words, stitched together into a simple quilt.