Watchup app woos millennials with custom-curated news streaming

TV news has a problem with younger viewers: it doesn't have enough of them. That's where Watchup comes in

TV news has a problem with younger viewers: It doesn't have enough of them.

It's why some outlets have signed on with tech entrepreneur Adriano Farano, who is betting he can bring video journalism to young viewers who are growing up with smartphones, tablets and the convenience of viewing what they want whenever they want.

Farano is the co-founder and chief executive of Watchup, an app that can set up a customized streaming online video newscast using stories from established TV news outlets. "We have long-term vision," he said. "What Netflix and iTunes have done for entertainment is what we want to do for the news industry."

Consumers can download Watchup for free and then select topics of interests and news sources. The app creates an ad-supported video newscast based on the choices.

Watchup already has more than 100 national and global news-gathering partners providing content, including Fox News, Sky News, Bloomberg, PBS NewsHour and the Wall Street Journal.

The Menlo Park-based company will announce a major deal Monday that gives it access to reports generated by 30 local news operations from Tribune Media's TV stations including KTLA in Los Angeles, WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York.

Farano said there are more deals with TV station groups in the works that he expects to complete in the next few weeks and hopes to eventually cover the entire U.S.

Watchup will need as much distinctive content as it can get as established news networks are becoming more aggressive about moving into the streaming-video market where advertiser demand is growing.

CBS News and MSNBC have both recently unveiled online news services aimed at reaching beyond the audiences that find them on TV.

Andrew Heyward, a former CBS News president who advises media and technology companies, believes his old business can use the wake-up call from the digital future.

"Everything about the media landscape has changed except for television news," he said. "Watchup is trying some experiments to make the TV experience more accessible and customizable to the next generation of news consumers. It will be interesting and valuable to see which they find useful."

Tribune Media and the McClatchy Co. were included in the company's most recent round of funding, which totaled $2.75 million. Farano's pitch to content partners and investors is that Watchup can help expose their material to millennials who are not in the habit of tuning into conventional TV news but are looking at a lot of video online.

Half of the viewers who watch broadcast network evening newscasts are 63 and older. In 2014, the median age for the Fox News Channel audience was 66, while CNN's was 61 and MSNBC's was 60.

According to Nielsen, 18- to 24-year-olds watch an average of 2 hours, 28 minutes of video per week online, more than any other age group. The 25-to-34 age group watches 2 hours, 11 minutes.

Millennials also care about the news, according to a study out Monday from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute. It found that 85% of them say keeping up with the news is at least somewhat important to them, and 40% said they pay for at least one news-specific app or digital subscription.

Virtually all millennials consume "a mix of hard news, lifestyle news and 'news you can use,'" the study adds, which could bode well for the personalization aspect of the Watchup app, Users can click on icons to like or dislike reports to even further fine-tune the choices made by the app's algorithm. It also enables advertisers to better target who they want to reach with commercials that run within the app's aggregated content.

Farano grew up on Italy's Amalfi Coast, where as a child he sat transfixed watching TV news coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He's been a news junkie ever since and developed Watchup while he was an "entrepreneur in residence" at StartX, a nonprofit business incubator at Stanford University. He launched the company in 2012, and two years later, Google named Watchup one of the best apps of the year.

While still a small but growing operation with several hundred-thousand users, the company is already in talks with Apple about developing a version for the newly launched Apple Watch.

steve.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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