HuffPost Streaming Network Aims To Be The ‘New Cable News’

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February 2, 2012 – 2:41 pm

Huff PoFollowing the positively received AOL Q4 earnings yesterday, which showed trends moving in the right direction, the company's Huffington Post Media unit offered the press preview of the HuffPost Streaming Network, which is coming this summer.

The network will stream video news live 12 hours a day and will be managed by HuffPo founding editor Roy Sekoff. He added that the tablet-friendly video network will have 30,000 video clips by the end of the year. HuffPo ad execs are currently in talks with agencies and advertisers and hopes to line up five or six "premium" sponsors by the time the network launches.

"We're looking for a few advertisers to do for us what Budweiser did when it was one of the sponsors that launched ESPN," Sekoff told the 80 reporters in the room.

The presentation was positioned as a way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of AOL's $315 million acquisition of HuffPo (it was announced just after Super Bowl 2011). In her introduction, Arianna Huffington noted that there have been 170 journalists hired in the media group since the acquisition (though many freelancers left AOL and HuffPo amid the integration).

As the team gets this new video venture started, Sekoff noted that 100 current staffers will be dedicated to the operation. "And we're still hiring," Huffington said.

In the meantime, the streaming network follows through on AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's heavy focus on video as something that will attract users and major brand ad dollars. 

Keeping it premium: In keeping with that "premium focus," there is no assigned role being given to AOL's ad network in terms of filling smaller areas of the streaming network's inventory, said Janet Balis, the head of sales strategy, marketing and partnerships for the AOL’s advertising unit.

"I do not anticipate a scenario where we would not be running premium sponsorships and advertising," Balis told TVExchanger following the presentation. "The HuffPost Streaming Network represents a high-caliber experience that calls for direct partnerships. We will be filling the entire experience with ads from our premium sponsors."

So far, AOL's ad sales team has had conversations with its "top clients and agencies" and that will continue over the weeks and months to come as the company prepares for the summer launch of the streaming network, Balis said.

"We’ve gotten great receptivity," she said "The core sponsorships would involve a commitment for all of the year because we want to make sure we have the longevity and the relationship to learn together. Plus, it really is the only way to capitalize on the value of what the streaming network represents."

In defining what AOL feels is a "core experience" for advertisers, Balis said it would mean deep integration into particular shows as they stream live, as well as a substantial amount of pre-roll given that the videos will be syndicated across AOL brands, the Huffington Post Media's verticals and a variety of other partners who run AOL video.

In terms of making her point about keeping the streaming network clutter-free and premium, the only place for here is that the sponsors could use it to amplify their larger placements elsewhere around AOL's ad net. "To be clear, we’re not looking to as a solution to monetize this network." she said.

The new primetime: Sekoff told us that the schedule for the live streams have not been nailed down yet. But he's thinking it will probably be something like 9am eastern to 9pm at night. "Or, we might take a break at certain point and do a late night thing, but don't hold me to it," he said. "We're going to be looking very closely on video viewing patterns before we make a definitive decision."

While it lays the groundwork for advertisers and figures out the timing issue, there have been a few things that have been settled. Starting on day one of the HuffPost Streaming Network, the videos will be available on over-the-top services run by Boxee, Roku, Playstation 3 and Apple TV. The company may have discussions with wifi TV makers like Samsung, LG, Sony, Vizio and others down the road.

One of the things media buyers often complain about when it comes to online video advertising is that there doesn't seem to be enough premium ad inventory around video. "Having 30,000 clips will address that concern, Sekoff said. He alluded to something Ran Harnevo, the current SVP of AOL Video and the former head of 5Min, the DIY video site that company bought over a year ago, had said. Mimicking Harnevo's Israeli accent, Sekoff said. The paucity of premium video ad inventory is "a question of supply, not demand," Sekoff said. "With 30,000 video clips at the end of the year from us, that will certainly address both those issues."

Don't call it cable: Sure, video has been the fastest growing segment of internet advertising for the past few years and shows no signs of slowing. But considering the plethora of video available across the web, how can AOL really stand out and differentiate itself?

For Sekoff, it all goes back to HuffPo's "engaged" community.

"As far as the competitive advantage, I go back to our community," he told us. "We’ve had 130 million comments, 54 million comments last year, 6 million comments last month. No one else has that. These people want to be part of the conversation and I don’t think that’s happening any place else. It’s what we’ve done. If we’re not making our community a central part of this, then we’re not doing our job."

For the longest time, whenever a video channel would emerge, the thinking was when would it be ready to make the leap from the PC (or these days, the smartphone or tablet) to the TV. Sekoff insisted that there were no such pretensions for the HuffPost Streaming Network.

"We're not trying to mimic cable or broadcast -- we're internet-based and we want to mirror the speed and directness of the web," Sekoff said. "Now, if a cable network wants to run our clips, we'll certainly consider it. But we're not TV. We don't have to run a segment to fill 15 minutes of a daypart. If we're doing something, no matter what time of day, it's because our audience is interested in it. And that will also tell us how long or short the focus on a subject will be. Consumers don't make their viewing choices based on the clock. No one ever thinks, 'It's 9 o'clock, it's the time for everyone to watch sports.'"

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February 2, 2012 – 2:41 pm

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