CNN Bows Paid iPhone App for Live Video News Feeds

NEW YORK CNN today launches the CNN iPhone App, which could potentially bring live news footage to millions of mobile devices, for a small fee.

The new app is now available within Apple’s App Store for $1.99, making it one of the few applications launched by a traditional media company that carries a dual revenue stream. (For example, MSNBC.com’s app, launched in June, is free.) CNN has signed Lexus and Chevron as its launch sponsors.

But unlike many free news applications, CNN’s app will stream live video via the Web-based CNN.com Live service, providing iPhone and iTouch users an in-your-pocket means to stay connected to what’s happening in the world, particularly during breaking news events.

In addition, CNN executives are touting the app’s customization features and iPhone-friendly functionality. For example, users can personalize the app to focus on their favorite topics or local news. And the app’s headlines will be unique to the iPhone rather than repurposed from the Web.

“We’re starting to get to a place where we have mobile-only editorial,” said K.C. Estenson, general manager and svp at CNN.com. “That’s part of what we think is the value we bring. It’s truly customized, and the experience is more immersive. There is a level of personalization and customization [with this app] you can’t even get on CNN.com.”

Beyond customization, CNN has also weaved in social media features to let users share content with their Facebook and Twitter circles via a few simple finger taps. They can also elect to clip and save stories for later consumption, even when they’re in areas with no cellphone service — such as on airplanes or in subways.

But are those offerings enough to get people to pay for mobile news content, when iPhone users can so easily surf the Web, including CNN.com?

Estenson said that the low price point, coupled with the comfort so many iPhone owners already have with purchasing items in the App store, should make paying more palatable. “If you put out a great product into the market, people will pay for it,” he said. “The barrier is much lower…and  iPhone is a trusted provider.”

Estenson said he doubted that CNN.com would start charging for access to content on the Web. But the iPhone is a special case. “It’s not like we’re blocking your access [to CNN.com]. You’ll still be able to access CNN 100 different ways. This is a premium product,” he said.

On the advertising front, Estenson said the goal was to have the ad experience mesh with the app’s clean content and slick design. For example, the banners will appear within a series of articles that users might flip through via the app, rather than at the top of mobile Web pages. Similarly, for video, display ads are delivered briefly during downloads, rather than as pre-roll units.

Plus, when users click on ads, they don’t need to launch a Web browser and leave the app. “All of the issues that bug us about mobile advertising, we tried to eliminate,” said Estenson.

Nielsen Business Media