Way back in the early 2000s, while broadcasters were still trying to figure out the internet, Louis Gump already knew that mobile would be the Next Big Thing. He devoted roughly a dozen years to getting CNN and the Weather Channel distributed on mobile platforms.
Today, as CEO of Atlanta-based NewsOn, the free, advertsing-supported app that streams local TV news, Gump is still spending his career at consumers’ fingertips. Less than a year after NewsOn’s launch, 167 TV stations in 107 markets reaching more than 80% of the U.S. have signed on to the venture, which delivers local newscasts live, on-demand and through breaking news alerts regardless of where viewers are.
Gump spoke with B&C about the benefits of providing local news on the go, whether television news plays well on mobile and whether consumers really care. An edited transcript of his conversation with B&C contributing editor Diana Marszalek follows.
Between cord-cutting and the array of video available online, how are you going to get people to watch local news on their phones?
Conditions are ripe for people to consume video on their phones—the networks are faster, the phones are more powerful. We also already know that people care about local news. We are just trying to be where the market is and to show people something they have never seen before. Our biggest challenge right now is people don’t know who we are. But we know we can’t buy our way to an audience. If you don’t build something people love, it’s always going to be a niche product.
What about the growing belief that traditional TV news doesn’t play well on digital?
People who are saying that are ignoring segments of the marketplace. Saying there is an opportunity to develop products that complement broadcasts has some merit. At the same time, the broadcasts are thoughtfully constructed to cover a bunch of topics in a relatively short time, and there are millions of people who want the news in that way. I am not saying there isn’t an opportunity to innovative. I am just saying the formula really works.
Then why does local news often get a bad rap?
Local TV isn’t perfect; there are a lot of ways we can improve. One of the reasons I wanted to focus on local TV is local news has a lot more value than people appreciate. There’s a reason broadcasts [have been] produced the same way for a long time. For every down side of local news, there can be something that’s really positive.
Did you foresee mobile being this big?
When I was at the Weather Channel, we felt like the smallest kid in a family of 10. We would be in the back of the room and say, ‘We are here to say we think mobile is going to be big someday.’ Sometimes the answer from the big brother would be, ‘Shut up, runt. We have business to do.’ But when we launched our first text messages and people in Oklahoma knew about the tornado before it arrived instead of after it flattened their house, or when people could watch their weather report even though their lights were out, we knew we had something.
Are you first and foremost a news guy or a techie?
I am deeply interested in connecting communities to the news. And if there is any one label, it’s that I am a business builder. We do this because we think local really matters. But my motivation is building something that is mobile, has value and connects people and the community.