News Brands Confront the Rise of Mobile Curation Apps

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Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel

On the internet your competition is always a click away. This has long been a reality in the news business. But now it's worse.

Suddenly media brands are facing increased competition from an array of upstart curators that are growing in popularity. These services, which include Flipboard, Feedly, Zite, Pulse and News360 (a Russian app that 's my personal favorite), curate and organize news from hundreds of sources often by topic into rich displays that are available on virtually every mobile platform. Some of these tap into your social network to make the experience even more personal. All make it easy to share.

These automated-curation tools aren't just for news in text format, either. There's also a group of services like Squirrel, TuneIn and ShowYou that are helping us find relevant audio and video content too.

Together, they are slowly doing to news what Pandora, GrooveShark, Lastfm and Spotify did to music -- further disrupting it by shifting power to the curators.

There are three underlying trends that are driving their rapid rise.

First, there's the proliferation of mobile devices. For many, smartphones and tablets are becoming the primary gateway to news and information.

Consider, for example, how news spread of Osama bin Laden's demise. Some 45,000 baseball fans at Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park heard the news via Twitter and text messages long before the Phillies started to put the live CNN feed up on the scoreboard.

Second, there's the mainstreaming of remixing technologies. Faced with too many choices and a media that 's increasingly partisan, some of the most loyal customers are building their own news playlists just as we did with music when the iPod age dawned.

Finally, there's the paywall.

Bolstered by an abundance of confidence and the realities of the economics of news, some large outlets like The New York Times are now erecting walls around their content. This comes, however, just as there are more choices than ever. This may mean that only the most loyal consumers will stick around.

To date the media has responded to these emerging players either with apathy, animosity or enlightenment.

For example, a group of publishers that include National Geographic and the Washington Post recently sent a cease-and-desist to Zite, for going too far in how it presents content. The Times allegedly protested when Pulse first hit the scene last year, causing Apple to take down the app for further review. Pulse was later reinstated.

Meanwhile, ABC News, the Oprah Winfrey Network and other media brands have struck deals with Flipboard to feature their content more prominently to new users.

As all of these trend vectors continue, however, it's almost a given that more marketers will begin to partner directly with these new curators or build their own mobile media platforms around niches they wish to own.

This may already be starting. Pulse, for example, has attracted several leading marketers, such as Intuit's Mint, as content partners.

But one example doesn't make a trend. In addition, many traditional media outlets invested in technology of their own. In the news run-up after bin Laden's death, for example, many of the leading news services, like CNN, saw increased downloads for their apps. But that bump may be short-lived.

Look for the media companies to stay ahead by buying these curators fast and then making a concerted push to begin culling content from diverse multiple sources in order to stay dominant on our smaller screens.

Steve Rubel is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
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