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Programming Politico's Future With Video

The political site made Beltway journalism fresh and engaging. Is streaming news its next big play?

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Last January in Iowa, Politico’s tireless Mike Allen sequestered himself under fluorescent lights in a room with a laptop and his omnipresent BlackBerry and talked for well over five hours as Caucus results trickled in. There was no music, just raw politics. Believe it or not, this is pretty much exactly what makes Politico Live’s broadcasts work.

Since Allen’s first run, Politico Live has come a long way, adding garnishes of production value and beefing up its on-camera presence with embedded Politico reporters. The result is an obsessive, wonky and intelligent broadcast that is much like its print and Web counterparts. One possible hint about its ambitions was a recent job posting for an executive producer with extensive live TV experience. With a niche to fill, Politico, which was founded in 2007 as a disruptive voice for Beltway journalism, might be poised for its second act: a robust video presence that could give cable news a reason to worry.

The broadcast has increased in scale and quality and has an agreement to broadcast livestreams on C-SPAN, but the barriers to cable entry are many. According to comScore figures for March, Politico had 168,000 unique video viewers while at the other end of the spectrum, MSNBC.com boasted more than 18 million. The comparison is an uneven one, but there’s no question: A focused site like Politico has a long way to go.

While some signs may indicate a push to television, Politico co-founder and executive editor Jim VandeHei isn’t going to force it. “I would hope a couple years down the line that we are producing a huge amount of video programming,” he said. “Whether that is a network or a block of programming—we don’t know what it will be yet, but the focus now is on doing a few things really well.”

Can—or should—Politico take on cable? “A 24/7 TV channel would be a stupid and expensive waste of time,” said Bernard Gershon of GershonMedia. “There is no more beachfront property for emerging cable networks.” Gershon, a former ABC News exec who launched ABC News Now, the Internet’s first 24/7 streaming news network in 2003, sees online video as a space the site can own. “VOD opportunities are great for Politico as they have a high-end product and their audience is very valuable to advertisers.”

David Rittenhouse, media director at Razorfish, agreed that Politico is better suited to the Web. He thinks it could offer a fresh alternative to all the highly partisan political coverage online and in so doing could particularly appeal to young viewers. “It’s possible millennials will look for something new this election, and they will look for it online because that is where they’re comfortable.”

VandeHei seems excited about video. “TV feels today like the newspaper business felt in 2006—just right on the verge of a massive disruption.”