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Thursday, June 28, 2007

MSNBC Skips Social News Trend, Focuses on Visual News


Standing out for your online news offering is rapidly becoming almost impossible for publishers.  After all, as we each get smarter about using RSS feeds to only get the content we want, the old "news portal" sites of several years ago are becoming less and less important.  Add to that the rise of "social news" and the idea that user ratings on stories are a new replacement for the front page editor, and you have a media environment where online news providers are very right to be worried.  Combating this, many are taking new approaches to presenting news in a blog-like format, such as what AOL News has recently done.  Ultimately, this is an evolution rather than a revolution (though a very good one for AOL).  MSNBC is trying a different approach with their Newsbreaker online game, Spectrum TV spots , and Newstream Screensavers (all part of the "Fuller Spectrum of News" campaign).  The idea is simple - portraying all the different news stories as colours of the spectrum (which, by the way, relates perfectly to NBC's longstanding peacock logo).  It's a smart branded campaign executed to help MSNBC break out of the online news category and (perhaps accidentally) lead the way into a new category of visual news.  The elements of this campaign work for several reasons:

  1. Lets people think in colours - Colors are how people think, and this is a simple truth but one MSNBC uses extremely well with features that let you categorize your news on the screensaver by colors.  In addition, there is an affinity for using colours to group categories of information because there is a heritage of others doing that for many years (Trivial Pursuit, Libraries, Filing Systems, etc.)
  2. Uses the multitasking trend - As people move faster and consume media simultaneously, letting them get their news while something else is happening is vital.  To date, that has meant making news content easy to port from one place to another so we can control where we read it.  With the Newsbreaker game and screensaver, MSNBC takes the news content out of it's usual cycle and puts it into a format where we can consume it while doing something else - like eating lunch, or walking by a desk, or playing a game. 
  3. Fosters the forgotten art of discovery - When it comes to news, many people are forgetting the pleasures of discovery.  That moment when you come upon a story that you might never have seen, tear it out of the paper (or bookmark it online) to save for later is rapidly disappearing.  With RSS feeds, the casuality of convenience is discovery.  We filter out the unexpected and miss the chance to see it.  MSNBC brings that discovery back with Newstream and Newsbreaker, and make users realize how important it really is.
  4. Offers strategic value for NBC and fits the brand - The entire campaign and approach of producing a "fuller spectrum" is perfect for NBC because of the logo and brand mark mentioned earlier, but also because there is an increasing amount of scrutiny targeted at bias in media.  Presenting a "full spectrum of news" seems to indicate, but it's nature, that the news will be free from bias.  People may disagree with whether MSNBC lives up to this ideal, but there is no arguing it as a smart brand positioning and place they would want their news to be.

The only thing missing from Newsbreaker is a quick button to hit that pulls up an Excel spreadsheet if the boss is walking by and sees you playing what seems to be a game.  Luckily for me, playing that game could probably be considered part of my job.  Now all I need is for the folks from MSNBC to make this into a game for the Blackberry.  Hours of waiting at airports and riding in Taxis is making me desperate for a new game other than Brickball.  I hate when bricks are all the same colour.


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I think you've pointed out at least three good points about this MSNBC feature...

The one I particularly agree with is discovery. Often, I think news tries to force sell the news, saying, "This is important. Now read it!"

I think users, generally, are smart enough to self-select and surf through what they believe to be important. Give them a fishing pole and teach them how to cast it....

See these StellarMediaWorks videos:

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