Getting teens engaged with goings-on in the wider world is arguably getting tougher, since they are being bombarded by a constant stream of digital distractions within their own social networks. In the war between the latest cute cat video/celeb selfie and the threat of civil war in Ukraine, we all know what’s going to get the clicks.
But all those selfie clicks don’t mean kids don’t have an appetite to be more informed generally. One barrier to teens groking more geopolitics — or indeed tech politics like the privacy debate that’s raged since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA — is that the tone of established media outlets can be off-putting to their age group.
That and the required time investment to wade through extensive column inches or watch learned discussion programs not being instantly attractive to an instant gratification generation brought up on the immediately satisfying clicks of social media.
Or so argues UK startup Clippet which reckons there is room to disrupt traditional news media delivery with a mobile first product — aka an app, starting with iOS – that’s designed by young people for young people.
Clippet soft-launched its app in the UK early last month, and has plans to add an Android version later this summer, as well as building out additional content types beyond its current focus on delivering daily news, including events coverage, opinion pieces and localized news. A full nationwide launch is pegged for September, with the potential to expand the format to other markets in future if it proves successful.
The startup is co-founded by two 23-year-olds, James MacLeod and Grace Regan, and the entire team is in its early 20s — all the better, it says, to focus energy on building a news product that’s designed to appeal to that same target demographic (18-to-28 is the bracket they cite). It’s raised some £250,000 thus far, through a friends and family round last September, to get the app and the team up and running.
The medium Clippet has chosen for delivering news to its youthful demographic is audio. Which is interesting in itself, given the current general focus on online video. But audio does offer the benefit of allowing users to multitask — so it offers its busy, distracted demographic a lower the barrier of entry to consuming news since it doesn’t require they stop whatever else they might be doing. Instead they can fit world and national news around their existing mobile social lifestyle.
Clippet has also set a time limit on the length of each of its news items — of no more than 60 seconds. So these are audio snippets. Or bite sized news items that can be consumed on the go. Each is scripted to offer a very compact overview of what can be complex issues — e.g. a piece on the current status of the Iraq enquiry — stripped of specialist nomenclature and delivered in a conversational manner by Clippet’s team of young journalists.
“Clippet brings news with a fresh approach; it’s designed to get our generation connected and interested in news again –- clippets are delivered in an engaging, friendly voice and accessible format,” says MacLeod.
“I’ve always led an active lifestyle and I can’t live without my iPod. I wanted news in a format that would let me spend as little time as possible browsing through endless websites, papers and videos – ideally one I could access through my headphones. Grace and I talked about kind of news I needed and hit on a formula that would work for our generation,” he adds.
Clippet employs 12 of its own journalists to locate, script and produce its clippets, working on a shift basis to deliver two bulletins per day: 10 clippets are available daily within the app at 7am, and a further 10 by 5pm.
The team is not doing any original reportage itself — which would of course be far more time and labour intensive — but relies on repackaging others’ content (it refers to “multiple, credible, international sources” as its news sources) into its 60-second snippets, to cover global and national issues that it believes will resonant with its target young, UK audience.
The idea of tonally repackaging news for kids is not in itself new. Kids TV programs have offered their own youth-focused news bulletins for decades, for example, as have teen magazines, and radio stations with a young audience also typically tonally tweak news bulletins – cutting them down to size and playing music over the entire segment to try to encourage listeners not to tune out, for example. There are also mainline news websites tweaking content for kids — such as Huffpost Teen.
But Clippet reckons that offering a dedicated app where kids can graze on news items produced for their age group in an entirely piecemeal fashion, letting them choose a pick n mix of micro reports to make the news work for them, takes things a step further by offering kids something even more personalised, portable and convenient.
Clippet describes Yahoo News Digest as “probably our most relevant competitor” in the app category. It says it’s also seeking to compete with traditional radio journalism and commuter (free) newspapers such as London’s Metro. But it argues it still offers something fresh vs those rivals because it says it lacks any “hidden agenda”.
“Not only is the short–form audio format an original way of keeping people up–to–date, but our style of journalism also sets us apart from our competitors. We’ve got no hidden agenda, we give our audience the ability to get to grips with a topic by delivering news in the most conversational, accessible way possible. We want to make the news relevant to our audience and believe traditional news is currently failing to do this,” it argues.
The problem with that argument is that not having a hidden agenda does not mean you are delivering agenda-less news. For instance, a piece I listened to on Clippet covering Google responding to the recent European Court of Justice right to be forgotten ruling detailed Google’s arguments against the ruling, but did not offer much in the way of the converse, about how individual privacy is being encroached upon by algorithm-powered businesses that harvest and store vast amounts of data. Perhaps kids just don’t care about that side of the argument.
That’s just one example but the point is that just because Clippet itself doesn’t have a particular agenda/world view it wants to collectively expound doesn’t mean the content its staff are producing doesn’t end up supporting one side of an argument over another. Indeed, its content probably has to adopt a relatively strong position on news items or risk coming across as a bit boring to its target demographic.
If anything, Clippet’s conversational tone currently comes across as too risk averse, treading a straight line between the sides of arguments in order to maintain that friendly tone of voice. Getting the tone right for its audience is something Clippet is likely going to have to experiment with/wrestle with, as it seeks to build traction.
While it might start out with the intention of producing content that sounds considered and conversational, it may end up having to become a bit more polemical and tabloid-esque — say, like The Young Turks — to keep its youth demographic engaged.
The point is, just breaking down the language of the news into bite-sized chunks may not, in the end, be interesting enough to drag teen’s away from other, more shouty O.M.G. distractions. Time will tell. (It’s not, of course, breaking out user numbers at this early point.)
What about the business model? Clippet is a free app, so the money will have to flow via another tried and tested media channel: adverts.
If Clippet can come up with a perfect mobile formula to encourage kids to binge on news in their own time, it reckons it will then be able to apply that formula to monetize the business via a commercial licensing service it plans to call Clippet News Managed Services. This will offer publishers and brands the ability to exhibit their content through the same short-audio format.
So it’s basically going to offer ads that don’t sound like ads, mixed in with news that doesn’t sound like news. Whether teens will buy into either en masse remains to be seen.