A company called NewsON launched today, offering cord cutters and mobile consumers access to local news with an app that works on iOS, Android, and Roku devices. The service, which is financially backed by a cohort of TV stations, claims to offer local news coverage across 75 percent of the U.S., including video content from a total of 118 stations in 90 markets.
The launch comes at a time when more consumers are dropping their cable and satellite TV subscriptions in favor of streaming services and other over-the-top offerings, like those from Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Amazon, for example. But when you cut the cord, one thing that often goes missing is the extensive news coverage you had previously through pay TV and its many channels.
Various companies are attempting to solve this problem in diverse ways, whether that’s news brands offering standalone news apps they built in-house; news brands partnering with streaming services, like VICE did with HBO; subscription services like Dish’s Sling TV bringing live cable TV news to customers; startups offering their own video aggregators that work on mobile, like Haystack TV or Watchup; DVR makers that record over-the-air programming captured by antennas, like TiVo; and so on.
But while many of these competitors can help deliver news, accessing local news can still be a challenge. (Perhaps that’s why we see a handful of news stations experimenting with Twitter Periscope streams of their programs?) The closest competitor is Watchup, which claims partnerships with 9 local broadcasters, totaling 150 local media outlets in 100 markets. Watchup additionally streams national and world news from 100 more brand-name sources.
NewsON, meanwhile, offers live and on-demand local newscasts and clips from a station nearby a user’s current location, whether that’s their home market or one they’ve visiting. The stations can be located from the app’s interactive map, and while viewing the video content, users can also use an included timeline tool to zero in on the portion of the program they want to watch – like business, sports, or weather, for example.
The app additionally has an interactive element, as it offers the ability to view and post real-time tweets about the news coverage.
In theory, NewsON sounds like a nice addition to a cord cutter’s lineup, but in practice, the app suffers from poor design and a cumbersome user interface. Navigation isn’t well thought out – it’s difficult to find the features like the map, or know how to move around in the app, despite the introductory tutorial. And if you’re looking to use the app in an unfamiliar market while traveling, it’s not obvious which stations from the list on the right side (accessed via a swipe) are actually in the city itself versus being in the surrounding region or state.
Still, at the end of the day, NewsON is a way to watch local news on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, or your Roku or Roku TV – even if you don’t have an antenna or a pay TV subscription. And that may still appeal to some, despite its flaws.
Founded in June 2015, NewsON is backed by an owners group of founding stations, including ABC Owned Television Station Group, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television, Media General and Raycom Media. It also just added Hubbard Broadcasting as a member and investor, and it offers video from stations like Graham Media Group and TEGNA, who are not owners.
NewsON declined to say how much funding the owners have put into the business to get it off the ground.
The company is currently run by CEO Louis Gump, who was the former CEO of mobile media and advertising company LSN Mobile. Gump also previously oversaw mobile businesses for The Weather Company and CNN.
While NewsON is free for consumers, the app itself has plans to generate revenue in a couple of ways, he says.
“NewsON has a dual revenue model, from both consumer-facing advertising and also monthly fees from the TV station affiliates,” explains Gump. “For purposes of consumer use, the NewsON app is free and ad-supported, and the bulk of revenue will be generated.”