NBC is shuttering Breaking News, the Twitter-fuelled newswire it acquired in 2011

Just as Twitter has struggled to find the right business model to grow faster and make profits, so, it seems, have some of the business ideas that have been built on the platform. Today NBC said that, effective December 31, it would be closing down Breaking News, a social media newswire service that (surprise) delivers breaking news headlines, best known for its rapid-fire Twitter account but also delivering its content on a site and a mobile app with further links.

The news was first broken publicly by Cory Bergman, Breaking News’ co-founder and GM, appropriately enough on Twitter.

He went on to say that “We’re true believers of news that isn’t designed for clicks, but a service that helps people and companies make smarter, safer decisions…[but] As we discovered, such a model doesn’t fit with advertising, and despite a surge of interest in our premium data, the money has run out.”

We have contacted NBC, which confirmed the news to us. We also have an internal memo from Nick Ascheim, SVP of Digital for NBC News, that notes that the staff of around 20 will stay on with NBC until late January.

“We will be using the time between now and then to try and find new roles for each of them, in News or elsewhere at NBCU.  We will also be working with Cory and team to incorporate the best of Breaking News’ features into other NBC News products,” he notes. The full memo is below.

It’s a tough time for the news business overall, with new platforms, like Facebook and Snapchat, and new outlets spawned by the rise of digital media, such as Buzzfeed and Vice, competing with an older guard of publishers for the same ad dollars and audience.

An earlier iteration of that bigger trend is partly what spurred NBC (and specifically MSNBC) to pick up Breaking News in the first place in 2009 and 2010 (Twitter handle and domain, respectively).

It sounds like Breaking News had been trying out different revenue models, for example working with business clients to provide tailored information.

But that is also a challenging space, and if there is an actual market for such a service, it might have been hard to prove defensible. Other companies like Dataminr (strategically backed by Twitter) offer similar services, but with larger, big data and predictive analytical twists.

At the end of the day, NBC, like many media companies, still struggles to fit into a tech company hoodie.

It was never officially disclosed what the financial terms of the deal were for NBC when it originally acquired Breaking News, but the service definitely grew in users, if not revenues. Today, the Twitter account has 9.43 million users. It had a “whopping” 1.5 million when it first made its acquisition jump.

The Twitter-based service was first started in 2007 by Michael Van Poppel (who is not at NBC) with the premise that it could use social media both to source and spread breaking news. “From thousands of news organizations to millions of ‘accidental journalists’ armed with smart phones, breaking stories are screaming for your attention every minute of the day. It’s increasingly hard to keep track of it all—and know what’s real. Our goal is to make breaking news matter again, instantly alerting you of the stories you need and want to know,” the site notes. “No screaming, no fluff, no rumors—just news.”

Its team sourced news itself, and also relied on tips from a group of 300 news organizations (not unlike Techmeme‘s role in the tech world). In cases where it linked to stories, it drives an average 200,000 clicks a day per link, it says.

Full memo from NBC below.


I have just let the Breaking News staff know that we have made the difficult decision to close down Breaking News.  As you know, Breaking News is a suite of digital products — including a site, mobile app and well-followed Twitter feed — that deliver smart and fast alerts, and has been supported by NBC News Digital for nearly 5 years.

Breaking News has built up a large following among journalists, government workers, industries whose success depends on accurate and fast news, and news junkies of all types from around the globe.  Unfortunately, despite its consumer appeal, Breaking News has not been able to generate enough revenue to sustain itself.  We have therefore made the hard decision to close its operations so that we can re-invest that funding into NBC News’ core digital products to help us achieve our ambitious goals for those businesses.

Breaking News will cease operations by the end of this month.  Cory Bergman and his incredibly talented team — in Seattle, LA, Chicago, New York and London — will remain with the company until late January, and we will be using the time between now and then to try and find new roles for each of them, in News or elsewhere at NBCU.  We will also be working with Cory and team to incorporate the best of Breaking News’ features into other NBC News products.

I want to thank Cory and his team for all of their impressive and hard work, as well as their unyielding dedication to their craft.