Peter Kafka

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Video News Start-Up NowThisNews Taps MTV Pioneer Judy McGrath for Advice

judy mcgrathNowThisNews wants to be the CNN for the generation that grew up with Facebook and iPhones. Or, at least, their MTV News.

So here’s a good person to ask for advice: Former MTV boss Judy McGrath, who has signed on as an adviser for the video start-up.

McGrath gets a lot of credit for turning MTV, and later MTV Networks, into a cultural and commercial powerhouse for Viacom. But she left the cable giant in 2011, after a 30-year career. So she had some time available when NowThisNews backer Ken Lerer asked her to take a look at his new project this fall.

Now McGrath will offer her advice on a more formal basis. She says she’ll weigh in on stuff like on-air talent and presentation. “I find the whole project kind of relevant and compelling,” she said.

Meanwhile, you can play armchair adviser, without getting paid: NowThisNews is up and running, and you can watch the start-up try to find its footing in real time, as it produces 10 one-minute clips a day.

For the last month or so, the start-up, which has a couple dozen employees, has been all over the map with the stuff it produces — sometimes it sends a camera crew out to document destruction in the Rockaways; often it uses a gum-snapping, OMG! tone to summarize both hard news and click-bait ephemera.

So far, the stuff that seems the most successful, both editorially and in terms of views, is stuff like this Petraeus scandal explainer:

The other interesting note so far from NTN’s early efforts is about where you’re likely to find them. While the company has a bare-bones Web site — it’s produced via Rebel Mouse, another Lerer-backed start-up — it really wants users to watch the show on iPhones, via a dedicated app. Or on the Web, when it’s embedded/distributed on other sites, like Facebook or BuzzFeed (yes, another Lerer project).

For the time being, at least, they’re even forgoing YouTube, which seems like an odd choice for anyone who wants people to watch their video. But the NTN guys insist that there’s a method to this, so we’ll see.


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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google