Things have been going well for Now This News since a spate of stories in September announced that the video news service was creeping onto the scene with some impressive hires. The mobile and social-focused startup, founded by Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer with former HuffPo CEO Eric Hippeau and Bedrocket’s Brian Bedol, rolled out its app, targeted at 18-34 demographic, on November 2, just in time for the elections.
“Cable network demographics are getting older and older,” managing editor Katharine Zaleski said. “There’s a whole generation coming up who want their news social and mobile. That’s an inevitable change that’s happening right now.”
Zaleski described the format as “MTV meets Daily Show meets CNN.” She stressed that Now This does not have a website. The company uses RebelMouse to showcase some of the content that is originally hosted on Buzzfeed, Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. Instead of building up a Web presence, Now This is focusing on its app — in sharp contrast to that other recent startups vying to replace cable news, like HuffPost Live, and other mobile-first services like Quartz, the business news startup from The Atlantic. Quartz and HuffPost Live are both hosted on the open Web.
On election night, the Now This team of 25 staffers produced 27 videos for its new app users, including “Election Night Poker,” a VJ segment explaining swing states, and “The 3 Meme-Tastic Moments of the Presidential Debates,” with MTV-style graphics. Outlets around the world are picking up the videos, from The Telegraph and the Guardian in the UK, to the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, among other places.
The Now This app allows users to select verticals on a toolbar at the bottom of the screen or scroll downwards through the day’s video stories. Twitter and Facebook icons encourage users to share content from within the app. And at the moment, all of that content is embeddable, for free. General manager Eason Jordan said that the company is hoping to earn revenue beginning next year, and staffers are currently looking at distribution deals and creative advertising. For now, as reported by BetaBeat in April, Now This (then called Planet Daily) is running off of $5 million in funding from undisclosed investors.
Aside from adding revenue sources, Jordan said Now This intends to grow staff from 25 to 35 in the next year and shift content to include entertainment, tech, and trends (currently, the app has a vertical dedicated to the teenage Pakistani protester Malala Yousafzai). So far, because of the election, 80 percent of Now This traffic has been politics related, Jordan said.
Now This is still in beta, and there has been no launch party and no big press push to announce its quirky videos cut together from television footage and bookended with illustrations and music. Instead, the videos are being rolled out on social media and Buzzfeed (a major distribution partner). That’s part of the point, said Jordan, who was with CNN for 23 years, scooping up Emmys and Peabodys before he resigned in 2005. He was among the top-level journalists announced as part of the Now This team in September — joining other hard news reporters including ed-in-chief Ed O’Keefe, former head of digital news at ABC, and Zaleski.
“We’re trying to produce in a way that engages the user directly,” said Jordan. “It’s akin to the early days of MTV and the VJs they had — we have VJs who speak directly to users, instead of preaching the news. Pre-launch surveys show our average user is 30. We’re hitting the audience we’re trying to reach.”
Disclosure: Now This News founder Ken Lerer is on CJR’s Board of Overseers, but he has no influence on our content.Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield.