Digital Hollywood, May 6, 2008–At Digital Hollywood, I also met up with Jeff Litvack, director of global product development at Associated Press, which just launched a mobile service through its digital cooperative. I had a chance to ask Jeff about the details of this service which is available .”It’s about creating a single access portal for the mobile user to get news.” The impetus for the service came from the iPhone which, Litvack noted, has no “news” button although it’s got buttons for stocks and weather. According to m:metrics, half of iPhone users use the phone to get news; 34 percent access financial news, 40 percent access entertainment news, 79 percent access sports; and 85 percent access new and information in general.
There are already plenty of ways to get news on the mobile platform. Why do we need AP’s mobile service?
They can get national news on-deck and off-deck, but good local mobile information doesn’t exist. Our view was that users were looking for news but Apple and other carriers couldn’t present it in a format that was comprehensive enough. So we set out to build that portal on AP Mobile News Network. We want to own that news button.
What are differentiating features between AP and other mobile news?
We want a single user experience, to stay on one site. It’s a WAP and web app, and we’ve optimized it for the iPhone. We’re going after smart phone users in general, We believe that in five years, everyone will have a phone similar to the iPhone in some shape or form.
How does the user get local news?
You put in your zip code and based on that, we’ll supply local news, branded by a local broadcaster or newspaper. We’ve signed up over 107 partners in the initial launch. Right now, they’re all newspapers. We launched with newspapers but will add broadcasters.
Why wouldn’t the broadcasters want to do it on their own?
They should all broadcast on the mobile platform. This is another distribution platform and it simplifies it for the carriers. To work with every individual network is a lot of work to ingest all that information. We’re acting as a clearing house or middle man to ingest all that content and bring it out onto multiple platforms. Mobile is just one effort we’ve targeted for our digital cooperative. Another one is online.
But why would a broadcaster subsume the individual station brand? They don’t – their brand is upfront and forward. The AP Mobile News Network brand is at the bottom of every page. It’s like a mobile news network powered by the AP.
What is the digital collective?
We have been a cost-side cooperative for a long time, where we help to reduce the costs of our members by collecting the news. Through the digital cooperative, we help our members find new revenue opportunities. To become a part of the cooperative, members provide their feeds, we ingest the news and then do a number of things: provide it back to the member with metadata attached which makes it more easily searched on their own sites. Second, we will open up opportunities, the first being the mobile news network. Another opportunity is “information bites,” like gathering together all the wine reviews of different members and bundling them together. That creates a new asset class. Another potential revenue opportunity is content exchange – members selling information to each other.
Does that mean you only need one music critic for 50 newspapers or stations?
I hope not. This is about making it more readily available to consumers and other digital networks.
If, for example, NBC’s O&Os were to do something similar. Would they share in both opportunities? Isn’t that diluting the brand?
It’s another distribution outlet. Executives have gotten more comfortable with finding as many different places to be in front of the consumer. And this is an opportunity for the executives to own the portal rather than cede control to other entities.
Who decides what content gets on the network?
We formed a Business Rules team, made up of business executives from seven different newspaper companies, and we work with them to develop the rules for content and advertising. The newspapers provide us the stories they want to. It’s about the user who decides what content will be there. Today, they do it by zip code. Tomorrow, they’ll be able to go for the brand they want, by choosing which newspapers or stations they want information from.
Can the user customize the news network?
Yes, I can customize by topic. I can select sports, news or election coverage, entertainment, photos, videos, wacky news and so on. In the future, you’ll be able to get alerts based on keywords. You’ll be able to rate stories and share them with friends.
Do you have partners in the social networking or sharing space?
We’re in discussions on how to move forward in the social networking space.
What are you doing to build a robust video network on mobile?
We are partnered with Verve Wireless, and they’re primarily our content management solution and delivery platform. The other partner is Transpera, which is our mobile video provider. They have an ad-serving platform for video as well as an on-the-fly video delivery platform. The Achilles heel at the end of the day is ingesting all this content and working with the content management systems of all our members, having a format to bring that in. We’ve been working on this for three years. Our focus is not on a single video platform and the initiative is bigger than mobile, so we made the necessary investments to make this happen.
I take it the content is free to the user and it’s ad-supported?
Yes. The Business Rules team talked about advertising and it was unanimous that this was the best model. It’s not just for national advertising but also local advertising, which will be a critical component to our success.
How do you handle local ads?
Verve’s platform has an ad platform with the ability to link into and work with a variety of different ad platforms, local and national. We’re in the process of working with members to define best practices and develop the next generation of ad tools and opportunities from a local perspective.
It’s the members who sell the ads not the AP. We’ll tap into their local ad forces, and share the revenue across the content owners and advertising division of the newspaper or station. It’s a 50-50 split.
What does the AP get out of this?
We will have our content on the network as well. We’ll make our money based on our content. We’re doing this because it makes sense for the industry and the consumer.
Since this is a larger digital initiative, why was the first platform mobile and not broadband?
One word: the iPhone. It showed a new way of accessing and consuming news and information, and the limited size of the screen drives one to work together as a cooperative. You won’t have 20 news buttons, You’ll have one news button.