Rethinking Video Journalism, NowThisNews Blitzkriegs SXSW With Coverage And A 6-Second Pitch Competition

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The TV news soundbite is about to get a lot shorter.

NowThisNews, a New York-based startup that’s looking to reinvent video journalism for the Facebook and smartphone era, is hitting SXSW with an exclusive channel on its mobile app plus a six-second startup pitch competition using Twitter’s Vine.

While we haven’t really covered the company before, NowThisNews is the brainchild of Huffington Post co-founder Kenneth Lerer, former Huffington Post CEO Eric Hippeau, and Bedrocket founder and CEO Brian Bedol. They’ve assembled a veteran team of journalists who have held senior positions at ABC News, CNN, Washington Post and The Huffington Post with $6.5 million in funding from investors including Lerer Ventures.

The startup’s basic premise is this: because smartphones and tablets are eating into the time people otherwise spend watching TV, the old cable and evening news formats just don’t work. On top of that, news spreads in a different way — through social networks like Facebook and on Twitter.

Clips have to be short (as in less than three minutes) and super-catchy so they grow virally. Here’s an example that’s about the history of the SXSW conference itself.

With a little more than 20 editorial employees, NowThisNews is pumping out 18 to 25 videos a day on everything from U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East to the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to a Cribs-like video on what it’s like to live on the International Space Station.

The iPhone and iPad apps have been out for about five months, but the company isn’t sharing stats on the number of users they have or the number of viewers they have per day yet, said social editor Drake Martinet. The company’s reliant on more than the app for viewership though.

“I would say there are three big buckets for us,” Martinet said. “There are obviously the app users. Beyond that, there’s referrals from outside sites and then replays on social channels like Facebook.”

The teams that make these NowThisNews clips are lean. At SXSW, they’re putting two small production teams on the ground with two dedicated VJs. The goal is to help establish more of a tech audience beyond coverage of politics and entertainment. That ties into NowThisNews’s goal of reaching the 18-34 demographic that is tuning out of traditional broadcast or cable news coverage.

“SXSW gives us the opportunity to showcase our incredibly agile teams that can make beautiful videos on the fly and publish that content out to mobile devices,” said managing editor Katharine Zaleski, who came to NowThisNews from The Washington Post.

They’re launching a six-second startup pitch contest using Vine and the hashtag #6secondpitch and covering the Startup Bus competition that hatches new product concepts on a roadtrip to Austin ahead of the festival.