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This app wants to be the Netflix of mobile news video

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

It's no coincidence that mobile ad revenue made up a whopping 80% of Facebook's (FB) fourth-quarter earnings this week. Everyone does everything on their phones now. That includes reading the news—and a startup called Watchup hopes it will extend to watching the news, too.

Watchup presents the day's news to you in the form of a personalized digest—all in video clips. The clips are pulled from various web sites and TV news channels, most of them not longer than three minutes, and they can be teed up and watched consecutively like your own private news show.

Italian entrepreneur Adriano Farano incubated Watchup at Stanford's StartX accelerator program, and the app has been on the market for more than a year, quietly partnering with news outlets (more than 100 of them, including CNN, Fox News, Bloomberg, CBS Sports, Financial Times, The Verge, and SB Nation) for content, and with devices (like Nintendo Wii U, Xbox 350 and Kindle Fire TV) for distribution. But today, Watchup gets a lot louder: The company has launched on the new Apple TV, a platform that lets it get a lot closer to its claim of being a Netflix for news consumption.

"Think about what iTunes or Spotify did for music," Farano tells Yahoo Finance. "Think about what Netflix or Hulu did for the movie industry and film consumption. We’re trying to use that model of an on-demand, personalized experience and apply it to video news."

When you download the app to your phone, it asks you to choose news categories you care about—say, politics, business and sports. You then enter your gender and age, and the app quickly offers up a stream of short news clips from the day. You can thumbs-up or thumbs-down each video, as well as pull down a tab as you watch to see a description of where the video comes from. When one video ends, the next one in the queue plays automatically, so you could watch a bunch in a row just like watching the evening news.

If you like getting your news in the form of short videos, you'll probably like the app. Of course, not all of us want to consume their news this way—but everyone from big incumbent media companies to nimble tech startups is betting that it is the future of all content, news or otherwise.

Personalized news apps that claim to "get to know you" are nothing new. "Personalized magazines" like Flipboard and Zite (which CNN bought, then sold to Flipboard) offer up articles for you to thumbs-up or down, and supposedly get smarter the more you use them. Then there are news aggregator apps like Feedly, Pulse, Nuzzel—that's not to mention apps or daily newsletter emails from media outlets themselves, like Quartz or The New York Times (or Yahoo Finance).

Not all of these have been successful, no matter how good their product. Circa, a mobile news-reader app that was popular and praised among journalists, folded last year. If that wasn't itself ominous, now the biggest tech giants want to be your go-to place for finding news—not just social media platforms made for sharing content, like Twitter and Facebook, but Apple, which rolled out Apple News.

Amid all this competition, Farano hopes to carve out a space for Watchup. His ambitions, in fact, are even higher than that: He thinks his app could fix the "broken" world of daily broadcast news. "For generations, people have marveled at the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, all these great events in history," he says. "And they’ve been doing it in their living room, with the evening newscast. But evening newscasts are broken, because they only give you one perspective from one channel. We give you the best high-quality news channels, in one place, in one personalized newscast for you to watch."

In an election year, Watchup will be especially useful and relevant, Farano reasons. Young, tech-savvy voters will be making a major decision, and could be especially voracious viewers of short political news clips.

But just like the presidential race, news apps are battling it out in a crowded field without a clear victor yet. Watchup will need to catch on enough with news viewers to become a daily must-use, not just a nice-to-have.


Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. 

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