AOL to Launch Huffington Post Streaming Network in Second Quarter

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NEW YORK - AOL's Huffington Post Media Group will later this year launch the Huffington Post Streaming Network, which will offer live video featuring discussions about HuffPo stories and comments about them, company executives unveiled here on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at AOL's headquarters here a year after the Internet company acquired the Huffington Post, Roy Sekoff, founding editor of the Huffington Post Media Group who will head up the network, said it will feature live streaming video for 12 hours a day five days a week produced in AOL's New York and LA studios by a dedicated staff of at least 100 plus video on demand clips. Next year, programming will be expanded to 16 hours.

Importantly, viewers will be "a central part of the show" as "people don't want to be told the news anymore," the executive highlighted. "Our community and engagement are unparalleled.
That is why we use the [tagline] 'conversations start here'. We are taking what the Huffington Post does and taking it to another medium." He said the goal is to reach viewers on their computers at work, as well as on their tablets and smartphones.

Expected to launch in the second quarter, the network could be programmed 9am-9pm ET, but the company hasn't made a final decision on the exact streaming times yet, he told THR.

Executives described the streaming network as a never-ending talk show. A demo video that Sekoff showed featured discussions between hosts and Huffington Post reporters, with bloggers or viewers patched in via Skype and Facebook comments read by a host. Segments that were part of the reel included "Defend Your Comment," which showed a Huffington Post blogger and her critic face off via video link, "Write The Headline," which asks readers/viewers to tweet in the headline for a Huffington Post story whose writer is outlining its content, and a look at headlines from around the Huffington Post, including its celebrity and politics sections.

In a simulated breaking news segment, it was announced on a live show that it had just emerged via Twitter that someone had found a cure for the common cold. A host said that the Huffington Post reporter on the story was already on their way to the network's studio, and Dr. Oz would join the discussion via Skype.

The demo reel also featured a breaking news crawler at the bottom of the screen with clickable headlines from the Huffington Post.

While programming will be planned and produced, he said the team expects to blow up the schedule every day to react to breaking news. "We want to mirror the Internet experience," he said, describing the likely production process as "controlled chaos."

Arianna Huffington, head of the Huffington Post Media Group, chimed in at that point, highlighting that traditional TV networks would never interrupt an interview with Beyonce Knowles when news of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan breaks. But the Huffington Post Streaming Network would interrupt to share the news and then ask Beyonce for her thoughts on the news, the executives explained.
 
The network also plans to be available via TV sets in over-the-top form via the likes of Roku, Boxee and the PlayStation 3, he said. Could the Huffington Post Streaming Network ever become a cable network? "We are happy to have it happen as long as we stay true to our format," Sekoff said. "We do not want to become like everyone else."

He didn't share much detail on possible viewership and expected financial performance. Asked about possible viewership, Sekoff said his team wants "the biggest possible" audience.

Asked by THR about the investment AOL is making into the streaming network and when it would break even, Sekoff said it was "a substantial investment," and AOL chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong was a "big cheerleader" when he heard about the idea. He didn't provide further financial details.

Discusing the advertising opportunity, Sekoff said that the firm has just started going off to talk to brands and hopes to find five to six "really strong partners as founding sponsors." Beyond the traditional pre-roll ads before on-demand clips, they could be live sponsors of recurring segments, get an ad bug on screen or sponsor a top tweet or so, he said. The demo also featured a text-based discount offer for people interested in buying a product that fit the context of the show.

In its first year, the streaming network plans to create 30,000 on-demand clips, which will be posted on relevant sites of the HuffPo. "I think that's more than AOL has done in 10 years," Sekoff said.

The news of the streaming network came during a week that sees  Armstrong and editorial guru Huffington celebrating the one-year anniversary of AOL's deal to acquire the Huffington Post. Armstrong himself said Thursday that the network was an idea with "game-changing" potential. Last year, AOL's bet on the Huffington Post was "$315 million bold," Armstrong said. "This bet is going to be bolder longer-term," he said about the streaming network, adding that he did not mean the comment in terms of budget.

Before the executives' comments at the AOL Studio here, press and some AOL staff were treated to prosecco, caesar salad canapes, greek salad brochettes, mini pan bagnats, yuca tacos with shrimp and avocado and the like.

Armstrong called the day of the Huffington Post deal signing "a very special." The partners signed the deal during the half time of the Super Bowl.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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