Mike Isaac

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WaPo Dives Into Nightly News With “The Fold” for Google TV

It’s a difficult thing, being a bastion of traditional media. Classically print-centric institutions must innovate amid the changing media landscape, charged with changing their ways from paper-first mindsets to different digital mediums. We’ve seen this transition play out over the past few years into the Web space, and it’s moving fast.

In this light, the Washington Post is launching “The Fold,” a nightly newscast created specifically with Google TV and Android devices in mind.

It’s essentially a 15-minute recap of that day’s events, with an airtime of roughly 6 pm ET every evening, to capture the segment of the market that wants a curated summary of their news when they come home in the evening. Each show will be made up of features, hard news and analysis produced by a mix of new and existing WaPo staffers.

“While laptops and desktops are under siege because of today’s mobile-first attitude, the lean-back, six-foot experience of the TV isn’t going anywhere,” Vijay Ravindran, chief digital officer of the Washington Post Company, told me in an interview. This is why, he said, the company is first targeting the Google TV set-top device market. As an added bonus, since Google TV is powered by the Android platform, WaPo’s “Post TV” app is able to run on Android tablets, as well.

So yes, it’s like a Webcast for nightly news — only for Android. The pitch, however, is that wrapping the experience into an app allows for some nimbleness not otherwise seen in a regular Web video production. For one, each segment within the app can be split off from the entire show and shared via Facebook or Twitter, bite-sized portions made more digestible for the frenetic flow of news and status updates that fly through our streams on a daily basis.

Cracking this space is, in part, some of the mission behind WaPo Labs, the company’s experimental digital initiative, home to such products as Trove and Washington Post Social Reader, which are applications that rely on social and personalization features to deliver content tailored to users’ personal tastes or, in the case of Social Reader, the top circulating content among friends.

The problem with Social Reader is that WaPo and others producing similar apps are left at the mercy of Facebook’s News Feed for distribution. It’s an app, and, as such, that app is modulated by the tweaks in Facebook’s algorithms that determine how often you’ll see the app activity amongst your friends. Many companies live and die by the feed, and recent news that Facebook is pulling away from this “passive sharing” app model may hurt Social Reader’s distribution and activity.

“Everything is affected by the changes that Facebook makes,” Ravindran said.

So “The Fold” and Post TV are something of a hedge between multiple platforms. Break your program up into chunks that detail segments like the campaign trail and a 59-second digest of the entire day’s news, and it’s more amenable to tweeting or a status update via social streams. Push out the app on Android to reach a widely distributed platform with a rapidly growing mobile market share. Add all of this content onto WaPo’s own site to cross pollinate with the existing Web audience. And finally, attack the segment that still goes for the lean-back experience, by launching the Google TV application.

One issue, though: The Google TV audience just isn’t there yet. Data made public in February suggests that there could be fewer than one million Google TV set-top boxes in living rooms across the country. Even across the industry, connected TV devices aren’t fully taking off — while Apple has moved a few million Apple TV devices, it’s far from a best-selling product for the company.

Ravindran and WaPo director of video Andy Pergam are hopeful, saying the market is still getting its legs.

“We feel that Google TV is on the upswing,” Ravindran said. Price points are a challenge, he notes, but new products are arriving that could address this. Vizio’s $100 set-top box is available on the cheap, while LG and Sony are attacking the high end with options that integrate Google’s service directly into the TV set.

Ultimately, Ravindran and Pergam say it’s a long-term bet for the company, as are the rest of WaPo’s Labs initiatives.

“The Fold” will kick off it’s first night with a bang, featuring an exclusive interview with Dr. Henry Kissinger, and will go up on the Post TV app at 6 pm ET.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald