Craig McCaw bets on the news
Wireless pioneer backs news aggregator 1Cast. Can the Web video site reverse his losing streak?
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- If there's one major obstacle to the success of news video online, it's the lack of a central, organized place for viewing. A new company backed in part by wireless pioneer Craig McCaw hopes to change that.
Start-up 1Cast, which has ambitions to become the Hulu of news, has been in beta since last November, but has already signed agreements with CNBC, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, the Associated Press and Reuters to broadcast their content online.
The premise behind 1Cast is simple: Let's say you're sitting in front of your computer and you want to watch a news report on AIG (AIG, Fortune 500). You might go to the websites of CNN and the New York Times and browse their Web video selection. Or you might try your luck on YouTube. But there isn't one go-to site that collects and organizes video segments that also offers personalization. Yahoo News, for instance, collects video segments, but users have limited control over what they're seeing.
At 1Cast, news videos are listed by their headlines. Clicking on one of them will prompt a video to play, with a list of related videos waiting in the queue. Videos are delayed about 15 to 20 minutes from their original broadcast time.
1Cast also offers a customizable experience in which viewers may select topics of interest and 1Cast automatically updates a personalized newscast.
With so much news to wade through on a daily basis, 1Cast is counting on the idea that viewers need a central repository to select what they watch. "People simply want more control over content they consume," says 1Cast president, Anthony Bontrager.
1Cast hopes a revenue-sharing plan will entice news companies to partner with them. Bontrager also notes 1Cast's ability to extend the shelf-life for their content.
"News by definition is perishable," he says. "Once they [the news gatherers] put it on their websites, it's a pretty precipitous fall in terms of monetization. With 1Cast they can extend that monetization period."
1Cast will only become popular, however, if people want a site that aggregates news videos for them rather than settling for one source. It's not clear yet that consumer behavior will trend in this direction for video. "On Hulu, there's a very clear difference between the shows '24' and 'Heroes,'" says Forrester analyst Bobby Tulsiani. "Between Reuters and AP doing stories on the economy? I'm not sure the more brands of news you have the better off you are."
In the non-video news universe, an appetite for news aggregators has been demonstrated on sites such as AOL, MSN and the Huffington Post. As Tulsiani points out, those sites have also found an audience in part because they've developed signature voices.
Bontrager says the company is at the midpoint of its beta stage, and the site will be commercialized around the third quarter. It is currently focused on gathering feedback on the user interface. 1Cast's own comparison to Hulu will only work if the site can offer a similarly flawless experience for users, one that makes them seek out 1Cast before browsing CNBC's home page.
1Cast has a high bar in many ways, including clearing the highs and lows of backer McCaw's record (it is actually McCaw's Eagle River Holdings that is the primary backer). McCaw, who built his reputation on the success of McCaw Cellular in the 1990s, has lately seen failed ventures including the satellite company Teledesic and XO Communications. It remains to be seen whether Clearwire, where McCaw is chairman, can launch mobile WiMax technology into the mainstream. But 1Cast, with its slick interface and unique approach, may have a real shot. Says Forrester's Tulsiani, "They're carving out an important category that is poised for growth and there isn't a dominant leader."