One more proof of Marshall McLuhan’s adage that "the medium is the message," The Huffington Post’s latest incarnation, HuffPost Live, launched yesterday. Proffering 12 hours of live weekday programming, the streaming web channel is a mash-up of hosted segments and user-generated content.
In combining the immediacy and reach of the Internet with the power of live television, the effort evokes buzz phrases like "engagement through second-screen vision." “We’re at this moment where people are much more interested in participating than they are in sitting back,” says Roy Sekoff, HuffPost’s founding editor and longtime Arianna wingman. “Engagement is more important than consumption. We decided to double down on that engagement, make it our North Star.”
Huffington introduced the live stream with the hoopla of yore suited to a cable network launch, setting forth the mission and paying tribute to itself. “Seven years ago, HuffPost disrupted the way people engage with news. And now, with HuffPost Live, you’re invited to be part of a different kind of conversation, whoever you are, wherever you are.”
Ms. Huffington was joined by Sekoff who added, “This is not a new brand that we’re trying to create. This is just an extension of a brand we hope that you already love, The Huffington Post.”
HuffPost Live aims to disintermediate traditional broadcast models through the much cheaper use of digital distribution, while maintaining display-heavy advertising dollars. Fortuitously for them, Cadillac and Verizon are signed on as “founding partners.”
So far, while the platform is clearly different, the content and milieu are not. In a studio setting reminiscent of every news channel ever built, the network’s first segment featured a roundtable on Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate, followed by a later segment on home foreclosures. Sample webcam users broadcast “live from my kitchen,” “my bedroom,” “live from my office,” “from my music studio,” and even “live from a 30-foot travel trailer in a parking lot in rural New Mexico,” all beamed up and in through Google Hangouts.
What is distinctive is the interface, featuring a video player on the left, comment stream on the right, and a “Join This Segment” button for the audience. Ideally, HuffPost Live would like viewers to stay tuned all day, keeping tabs on the conversation and popping in and out.
The launch is the most ambitious move since The Huffington Post was acquired by AOL last year for $315 million. A staff of 100 producers, on-air talent and camera operators will create 60 hours of live video each week, which editors will repurpose into 500 clips across HuffPost’s 70 content verticals weekly.
“If everything works like it’s supposed to — and the technological challenges involved are considerable — watching HuffPost Live will be less like watching MSNBC than it will be like wandering around MSNBC headquarters in the middle of a busy news day,” notes Jeff Bercovici of Forbes.
“Green Room” is the landing page for viewers who click the “Join This Segment Button” and offer themselves up as contributors. The model is evocative of call-in radio, which rarely lacks for callers and of RadioBDC, The Boston Globe’s just-launched alternative streaming radio station from Boston.com.
Staying close to traditional radio format, and eschewing a terrestrial signal, RadioBDC is betting on a crowd tethered to their desktop or those devotedly mobile-inclined and already with iPhone and Android apps to market. Launch advertisers include Miller/Coors, Anheuser Busch, and Comcast.
RadioBDC gets prime billing on Boston.com. On its dedicated page, a banner ad and button launch a radio player and widget. Nieman Labs explains: “By default, RadioBDC pops out into a separate window, making it meant for hanging out in the background during the work day. If you’re the type of person that wants to hear Elvis Costello, Weezer, or R.E.M while you work, you can now hear the music you love while clicking through Red Sox news or updates on the Massachusetts senate race.”
While quite different from HuffPost Live, “they’re both counting on a similar audience: the bored-at-work crowd, desk jockeys looking for something other than an Excel spreadsheet to pay attention to…TV and radio originally brought the news and music live into people’s living rooms. Now HuffPost and Boston.com want to bring news and music live to your computer, tablet, or phone during the day, probably at work. Think of it as the earbud audience,” concludes Nieman Labs.
The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are also pursuing the earbud audience, vying for share as live sources of video content. Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer has invested in live video start-up code-named Planet Daily.
“Now that almost everyone in the country is watching online video, it just makes sense that some people would want live programming, too,” said Mike Vorhaus, digital media analyst with Magid Advisors. “Of course, with the Web, it will be recorded and replayed forever.”
The multi-million dollar question is – who will be watching/listening next week? After the first half-hour, Vorhaus said the experience on HuffPost Live “didn’t give me much other than a talking head in a box and a stream of Tweets.”
The success of second-screen apps remain a distant second to social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter. “Television is social,” says Elizabeth Shaw, an analyst at Forrester Research. “We’ve always talked offline with others about what is going on in our favorite shows. Now it’s moved online. Networks know this and are trying to figure out how to move these conversations to their own Web and mobile properties.”
If any body can figure out that elixir, it will surely be Arianna Huffington, blessed with abundant resources and undimmed second-screen vision, as she launches her latest eponymous offspring.