Less than two months since being reanimated by Sinclair Broadcasting, millennial-focused news digital brand Circa appears to be gaining traction with consumers. That’s not only good news for the group and its investors—it also bodes well for the rising number of broadcast groups investing in digital assets not directly connected with their TV holdings.
Circa got 90 million page and video views across platforms in the six weeks after its July 18 launch, according to chief creative officer John Solomon, a former VP at The Washington Times. With mobile apps still in the works, Circa is currently available only via browsers at circa.com and on social media.
The number of people tapping specific offerings is growing too, he said. Circa 60, the site’s twice-daily, 60-second newscast, draws roughly 60,000 viewers a day. That number has been growing by 5% to 10% each week, according to Solomon.
The site’s Humor Studio—a 12-person L.A. operation that produces at least one comedic video a day—drew 50,000 Facebook followers in its first three weeks. Solomon says he sees the success as a testament to the site’s commitment to producing content the way millennials like it (read: short) as well as being a viable alternative to more liberal outlets like Vice and Vox.
Although Sinclair has been known for its conservative leanings, Circa has no political agenda, Solomon says. “We give people the fullest range of information without imposing a point-of-view,” he says.
“We view ourselves as a modern day video television news network that is aimed at a consumer that likes to drive the news and drive the conversation,” he says. “We want to be a website for more independently minded people.”
In relaunching Circa (the original shut down in 2015 when it ran out of cash) Sinclair joins a small but growing number of broadcast groups that are trying to reach millennials by buying and building news sites that operate independently of their TV stations. E.W. Scripps owns Newsy, as well as the humor brand Cracked. In August, Univision bought Gawker for $135 million, to go with existing properties like The Onion.
Steve Schwaid, VP of digital strategies at Crawford Johnson and Northcott, says those groups are ahead of the curve in attracting young viewers who don’t watch traditional local TV.
“I think it’s the smartest thing they can do,” Schwaid says. “They are not just expanding their footprint in their markets and with the demo they have. They are expanding into a market where they have no footprint now.”
Schwaid also credits the TV groups for having the wherewithal to run the sites separately from their stations as perfecting the platforms take different skill sets.
“There’s a difference, whether we like it or not—the type of content, the turnaround on the content and using metrics to determine what people like and what they don’t want,” he says. “Don’t let people who grew up in a TV newsroom take over digital sites.”
Solomon says Circa does, indeed, produce to millennial tastes—hence, the one-minute newscasts and leaving anchors out of experiential videos.
It also involves Circa’s roughly 60-person editorial staff posting 30 to 50 stories a day, which run the gamut from meaty investigative pieces to wacky stuff. About 80% of the stories include video.
They include, for example, Seized, a 15-minute documentary on the controversial police practice of seizing cash from drivers during traffic stops. It was named the Anthem Film Festival’s top short documentary.
An investigative story filmed in Haiti investigated whether the U.S. fulfilled its promise to help that country rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Circa used virtual reality in covering Bernie Sanders’s final rally, as well as new citizens taking their Oath of Allegiance at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The site posted video from a police body cam worn by an officer who ran through a hail of bullets to save a victim of domestic violence.
On the lighter side, a video about an ATM machine that prompts users to order pizza after getting cash had 18 million views, Solomon says. The Humor Studio is run by David Zucker, best known for writing Airplane! and creating The Naked Gun franchise.
Interactive components include Facebook Live initiatives, polls and quizzes. Circa broadcast live surgery on Snapchat.
Solomon says he expects Circa’s mobile apps to launch later this year. New features will also include a native virtual-reality platform.
“We are trying take the best of television and bring it to a new generation of television viewers who say ‘Get me right to the news, don’t waste my time telling me about it, and give me a great experience,’” Solomon says. “And every time we do that, we get rewarded.”