A year after it was acquired by AOL, The Huffington Post is set to shake up the Web video world, and possibly even the TV news businesses, by launching the Huffington Post Streaming Network, which will stream 12 hours of live programming five days a week starting sometime this summer.
When AOL acquired HuffPo last February, CEO Tim Armstrong said he promised founder Arianna Huffington that AOL brought with it “guns, money and steel.” Huffington Post Streaming Network will require all three. The network will employee 100 people in HuffPo’s New York and Los Angeles offices, and the plan is to produce 30 million clips this year, according to HuffPo founding editor Roy Sekoff, “as much as AOL has produced over the last decade." By 2013 the plan is to stream 16 hours of live content each day. Armstrong for one called the venture a “game-changing-type idea.”
“We think this is new, different and bold,” said Armstrong.
It’s hard to argue with the bold part. In a demo presented to reporters on Thursday (Feb. 2), Sekoff, along with co-founder Arianna Huffington, showed just how different the Huffington Post Streaming Network aims to be. While there will be regularly occurring segments, the network will not have a strict schedule. Hosts will interrupt segments for breaking news, and viewer commentary will frequently be weaved into the content. Some commenters will make appearances, or even defend their comments in debates conducted via Skype.
Users will be able to stream the network via their PCs, tablets and phones—and eventually via TVs through over-the-top devices like PlayStations and Rokus. Viewers will also be able to click on headlines featured during the network's broadcasts, bringing up the relevant pages of Huffingtonpost.com alongside their video player. Besides the live broadcasts, viewers can watch archived clips on demand, in some cases minutes after they air.
“This has never been done before,” said Sekoff. But when asked about other Web publishers that have taken to streaming live news content, like The Wall Street Journal, Sekoff cited HuffPo’s audience engagement as a major differentiator. “We probably get more comments in a month than the Journal gets in one year,” he said. “We’re not really worried from a competitive standpoint.”
The numbers would seem to back him up. According to Huffington herself, the site generated 54 million comments in 2011, and more than 6 million in January alone. “It’s about engagement, engagement, engagement,” she said.
Advertising wise, officials said that the Huffington Post Streaming Network concept has only just been presented to marketers. The hope is to land five or six core sponsors, who will run classic pre-roll ads and also some form of brand integration. Sekoff compared this strategy to that of ESPN, which got off the ground in 1979 with a key sponsorship deal with Budweiser.
But there’s where the analogy ends. HuffPo wants to be on TV, but it wants its network to be off the Internet. “We’re not going to be a cable network," said Sekoff.