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Flipboard TV wants to save the news from YouTube

Amrita Khalid
By Amrita Khalid

Tech reporter

Flipboard, the popular news aggregation app, wants to curate the news you watch, as well as the news you read.

The company today (March 6) unveiled Flipboard TV, a $2.99-per-month service that features videos from more than 100 news publishers, including Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and Variety. Along with Quibi, the soon-to-launch subscription mobile video platform from Dreamworks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, Flipboard TV seeks to cash in on what’s been clear for a while: People are on their phones a lot, and it’s mostly to watch videos.

Nearly 60 percent of mobile traffic came from video in 2019, according to a study by Ericsson. To capitalize on that, Quibi is trying to be a Netflix for your phone, offering 175 original series and 8,500 individual programs in its first year—including daily news shows from the BBC, Telemundo, NBC, and CTV News in Canada. Flipboard TV, on the other hand, won’t offer original programming; instead, it’ll serve as a home where you can watch ad-free news videos from its partners.

Which begs the question: Will people be willing to pay $3 per month for an app that curates news videos that are already available online? Even if you’re not actively seeking it, the news has a way of coming to you in 2020, whether it’s a Democratic debate recap teasing you from your Twitter feed or a local news clip auto-playing as you scroll through Facebook.

According to Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, that’s exactly the problem. The internet is over-saturated with videos. “There’s so much video out there, and a lot of people just never discover it,” said McCue in an interview with Quartz.

Meanwhile, news publishers have invested millions in churning out video journalism, a move that dates back to the “pivot to video” experiment—encouraged by promises of returns from Facebookthat began in 2015. From recipe tutorials to high-budget mini-documentaries to three-minute explainers, there’s a wider range of news video content than ever.

Just where do all these news videos go? For the most part, to the same four places: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the news organization’s own website. McCue thinks that deciding where to publish a video is “one of the most vexing problems” that news publishers face. “If you put your video on Facebook or YouTube, you lose the relationship with your user,” he said. “They run the ads, you don’t run the ads. They might write you a check, but it’s not for very much money, so there’s not really an incentive for […publishers] to put very much on Facebook or YouTube.”

Not to mention that most people don’t appear to go to YouTube for news. On the world’s largest video platform, The New York Times has to compete with the likes of PewDiePie and The Ellen Show for eyeballs. Ellen and PewDiePie will win, every time. The most popular YouTube channels in the world right now, according to Digital Trends, include 5-Minute Crafts, WWE, as well as those belonging to the Indian music label Zee Company, Brazilian music video producer Kondzilla, and the musician Justin Bieber. Even Buzzfeed’s highly popular video vertical has fewer YouTube subscribers than Ninja, a prolific Fortnite streamer.

On Facebook, the top-ranked video publishers, according to data from Tubular, include the LADbible Group, which focuses on viral videos for young men, and Tasty, which churns out recipe videos.

McCue believes that a curated video platform can offer news organizations a better home for their videos than Facebook or YouTube. Flipboard, which has a total of 145 million monthly active users, already has an audience that values premium journalism. It seems natural that they would want a similar curation tool for news videos.

In an age where YouTube and Facebook have become delivery mechanisms for propaganda and misinformation, a dedicated platform for news video has another advantage: Users can trust the content they’re watching comes from legitimate news organizations.

Flipboard’s algorithm excludes publishers that don’t meet its criteria for quality, thus reducing the risk you’ll see them at all. McCue says that stories by the website Brietbart, for example, fall under Flipboard’s category for hate speech. The company plans on following the same standards for Flipboard TV. “We don’t want to put fake news in front of them. We don’t want to scare them about the coronavirus. We don’t want to create scenarios where people believe in rumors about political leaders,” said McCue.

For now, Flipboard TV is only available on the new line of Samsung Galaxy S20 phones, which also go on sale today. But the eventual plan is for Flipboard TV to expand to more devices, and perhaps introduce a free, ad-supported version as well.

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