NowThisNews Delivers a Premium iOS News Watching Experience

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NowThisNews — the new news-focused startup from Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer — just launched its iOS app and, with it, a brand new way to watch and share the news.

The startup’s goal is to disrupt the cable news industry. It’s tactic is to create news content that was designed to be shared and experienced through mobile. Putting news clips on mobile devices isn’t difficult. Creating content specifically for mobile devices and audiences, however, is.

NowThisNews started creating video content in earnest last month. Until now, its content has spread through its various social channels — NTN has accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr — as well as a video partnership with BuzzFeed.

With its iOS app [iTunes link], NowThisNews has a true mobile-first video experience.

I had a chance to talk to Drake Martinet, NowThisNews’s social editor, about the new app and the focus the company is putting on building for mobile platforms.

Built to Scale

The first thing to know about the NowThisNews app is that its backend is incredibly modern. CTO Theo Burry made sure the app takes advantage of core iOS 6 features such as native Facebook and Twitter sharing, the use of the most modern Facebook mobile APIs, and compatibility with AirPlay.

As a result, the app is fast and responsive. Moreover, it was built to work equally well on the iPhone 5 or older iPhone devices.

The app has a super clean interface. On the iPhone, the layout of videos is displayed in portrait, but video playback and sharing will work in landscape.

On the iPad, the app works in landscape and offers easy access to share by Twitter, Facebook and email buttons.

NowThisNews has a custom Django-based CMS where content is published directly to the app. Users can pop open the app and watch the latest content and clips.

One of the aspects of the app I really appreciate is the use of native Twitter and Facebook share sheets. The buttons for those services are custom for the app, but the experience itself is totally native. That’s a good thing as it feels natural to the experience. The same is true for email.

Another nice feature is that there is an indicator letting you know a video is loading after tapping on a story. This is especially nice if in an area with limited cell service (as is the case with New York City right now).

The video looks great — its clear and crisp — and I was pleased to have the ability to AirPlay clips to my Apple TV.

The most exciting part of the app is that — according to Martinet — this is just the first pass. Lots of features were left on the cutting room floor, with the goal of getting the best performing and most useful app out to users.

A Fresh Look at News

Looking at some of the clips from NowThisNews, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between it and MTV News circa 1992 or 1993. That makes sense too. The leadership team at NowThisNews includes members from MTV and CNN.

The tone is exactly right for the web — and for mobile. Clips are informative and entertaining. I’ve found myself watching clips and sharing them to my network almost out of reflex. A reviewer on iTunes called clips “a cross between the nightly news and The Daily Show,” and that’s fairly accurate.

While much of the content in the app today is focused on politics, that’s not always going to be the case in a few weeks. The goal of NowThisNews is to sum up the stuff that’s important and explain it in a way that is digestible and shareable.

That can include clips dedicated to the hacks or a look at some of the sillier fare on the Internet.

It’s still early and the content is already genuinely good and genuinely watchable. That might not be enough to make or break a startup, but its a good launching point.

Looking to the Future

Throughout our conversation, Martinet kept stressing how agile the team at NowThisNews is. The team is quick to respond to queries on Facebook and Twitter and bug reports and suggestions go directly to the developers.

He also relayed an interesting story, which I think is representative of the greater mission for the company. A user accessing videos via NowThisNews’ custom video player complained that he couldn’t control the volume on the player. Because he was watching clips at work, this was something he needed to do. Within five minutes of sending that feedback, CTO Burry was able to make the necessary changes.

Obviously, not all changes will be that fast, but it’s proof that the team really cares about feedback from the audience. That’s one of the reasons its members are so apt to get content out to the public.

“Before we can move to other verticals and other platforms,” Martinet told me, “we need to see what resonates with the audience and what features are important to them.”

Still, other platforms are definitely on the horizon. In addition to the iOS app, NowThisNews just launched a brand new website. It uses RebelMouse to aggregate its various social shares of images, links and video from across the web.

I get excited when I think of the possibilities for NowThisNews because it truly brings an original voice to the news business. It helps that that voice is inherently social and mobile savvy.

What do you think of NowThisNews and its new iOS app? Let us know in the comments.

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