At a press conference in New York Thursday afternoon AOL’s Huffington Post Media Group gave a preview of a new streaming network that will launch later this year.
Founding editor Roy Sekoff, who will be leading the network, described the programming as a series of live and interactive clips covering everything from entertainment to politics.
To start, a production team of 100 dedicated employees will operate the newsroom 12 hours a day, five days a week from studios in both New York and Los Angeles. By 2013, the coverage will expand to 16 hours per day. “There’s something about doing it live that gives you a sizzle that you don’t get from taping a show,” said Sekoff.
The segments will be planned and produced, but will not be confined to particular time slots, and there will be a cache of videos for viewers to watch any time if they miss the live stream. To make the experience more like the Internet, the network will allow viewers to browse between music videos and breaking news as they please, and will also transcribe the programs in real time to make them searchable by keyword. (Closed captioning will depend on which devices the content is viewed.) The news articles will be integrated with the videos, with clickable headlines streaming on the bottom of the screen. “We want to capture that beautiful, controlled chaos,” said Sekoff.
Part of that chaos involves the viewers. “People don’t want to be talked to,” said Sekoff, “they want to be talked with.” There will be a program called “Write the Headline” where the reporters give details on an emerging story and ask the viewers for help choosing an angle. And in a program called “Defend Your Comment,” certain readers will be chosen to appear on the show to share their opinions with the author of a particular news article face-to-face.
Sekoff told Social Times that there will be a five-second delay in case the conversation goes off topic, and that the guests will be screened using the same gaming functions that push the more active – and relevant – readers’ comments to the top of the list. “Become a pundit, become trusted,” Sekoff said, referring to the Pundit badge that readers can earn for consistently contributing good commentary.
There will also be a live stream of comments posted on Facebook, Twitter and the website during the shows. According to president and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington, community members have posted 6 million comments since the site launched in 2005; 54 million of those comments were posted last year alone. “In my wildest dreams – and they’re really wild – I could not have [hoped] for anything else,” she said.
Sekoff believes that community engagement is one area in which the Huffington Post has an advantage over other news organizations, even over the Wall Street Journal, which recently launched a YouTube channel. “No offense to the Wall Street Journal,” he said, “but we got more comments this month than the Wall Street Journal got last year.”
The Huffington Post’s video content will also be available on its YouTube channel, but the network’s home base will be on the main website to avoid an exclusivity contract. The videos will be viewable on multiple screens including smartphones, computers, and television sets through the Xbox and other gaming consoles. Sekoff said he would entertain the idea of cable companies picking up the content, but stressed that the Huffington Post is “not going to become a cable network.”
For advertisers, the network is looking for five or six founding partners who will be able to sponsor a segment, purchase a top tweet, or use other promotional tools that don’t interrupt the flow of the programming.
AOL’s other entities, like TechCrunch, will also be able to get in on the action. The Patch sites, for example, are working on generating content on a local level with a “Greatest Person of the Day” series. Said Sekoff, “We’ll promote anything in the AOL/Huffington Post universe.”