Fresh from closing on the Hachette Filipacchi Media deal, Hearst Corp. this week opened the Hearst App Lab, a “think tank” for digital apps.
The lab, on the 41st floor of the Hearst Tower on Eighth Avenue and 57th Street, is a corporate initiative, but it's Hearst's magazines, which have already spun off a number of replica-style and utility apps for mobile devices, that are expected to be its heaviest users. David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, said the idea was to have a place where employees can learn about the tablet market, develop apps, and brainstorm ideas with advertisers and ad buyers. Hearst will also use it to test its apps with focus groups.
“It really demonstrates our commitment to the app world,” Carey said in a call from Ann Arbor, Mich., where he was visiting the offices of one of Hearst’s newly acquired titles, Car and Driver.
The lab has some custom-built features, like a video wall where apps can be demonstrated and notes can be “scribbled” on the screen. “One of the challenges you have with apps is, when people come and pitch you, it’s kind of clumsy if you want to try and demonstrate an iPad app or talk about one that’s in development,” Carey said.
There’s also a Ladibug, a high-def camera that will be used to project images of apps on the video wall. And there are lots of tablets that employees can try out.
New York firm And Partners, which designed the lab, put in customized furniture that can be switched around to create different looks, depending on the number of people using the room.
This may be the first example of a publishing company dedicating a permanent space to develop and showcase apps, but others have been moving forward digitally as they try to replace declining print dollars with digital revenue. Condé Nast, for one, has opened a new division, Condé Nast Ideactive, to help clients with custom content in areas including social media, app development and experiential marketing.
If the App Lab sounds like a lot of flash, Hearst executives insisted there’s plenty of substance there, too.
“There is a real business function,” said Avi Zimak, advertising director for tablet media at Hearst Magazines. “We can bring in the ad community to have a physical space where we can collaborate to assist our partners and our sales.”
That aforementioned video wall, for example, has a custom social video feature that pulls data from multiple sources, including Facebook and Twitter, and displays it on charts. Hearst can use it to show advertisers what consumers think about their product in real time and customize an ad message accordingly.
“We can analyze who’s saying what about their brand throughout the globe,” Zimak said. Based on weaknesses the analysis turns up, he added, “We can help craft their creative to address these various areas.”