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Online News Studio Zazoom Grows by Digging Behind the Headlines

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With only a small staff, on-air presenters had to set up their own shots and then hit the Record button on the camera. There was no studio manager to schedule time. After the presenter yelled, “Cut,” the others could exhale and go back to work. But that small space offered advantages, too. Other people would overhear a report in progress and interrupt with their own suggestions, pointing out another way to make a point or offering a way to make a funny part funnier.

Zazoom had work from the start thanks to launch partner Dailymotion. An important part of validating the concept and helping raise funds, Minton believed, was having the support of a well-known company that thought the idea was a good one. Dailymotion was strong in Europe and looking to make a splash in the U.S. Zazoom offered it a way to get U.S. content that was of premium quality and also offered a fresh take on the news.

“Within a few months we expanded considerably. The next company to do business with us as a professional arrangement was YouTube. We weren’t just uploading videos like the cats in the tree that anybody can put up, but we had a professional partnership. And then AOL arrived in August,” Minton says. “The timeline is we start in my mother-in-law’s dining room January of 2011. We open the doors at the end of March 2011. The first employee who’s not a founder comes to work April 4, 2011. Our first content is produced April 8, 2011. Dailymotion comes online May 23, 2011. We had our first story published there. YouTube comes online in June. AOL comes online August of 2011. At that point we were then off to the races.”

Today, Zazoom has 16 partners and creates videos in Spanish and French. New partnerships could have it creating videos in Portuguese, Italian, German, and Mandarin. The workload had grown well beyond what that 250-square-foot studio could manage. Besides using that space, the company rented overflow space in the same building, as well as in two others, spreading its employees out over three locations. Seeing that work was going to keep increasing and that it needed additional production capacity, Zazoom moved into a larger space shortly before this interview. It also celebrated its third birthday and rebranded as Zazoom Media Group.

Reporting Facts With Perspective

Minton attributes the company’s success to its unique take on news. Zazoom delivers content quickly, while the subject is still being talked about, but it doesn’t take the same approach as the news channels.

“We don’t compete with CNN. We don’t compete with Fox News, MSNBC, or local news on breaking stories,” Minton says. “We’re about fast -- when we have an idea, we turn it around quickly and that is a differentiating factor about our company and about our studio and it’s one that our partners love -- but that’s not the same as when there’s breaking news at Fort Hood. Do we need to jump on that and compete? No, it’s not our thing. What we do sometimes is a story that looks at reaction to the big story.

“For example, when David Letterman announced he was retiring and everybody jumped on that, we didn’t do David Letterman’s retiring. We did celebrities reacting to David Letterman announcing his retirement, which they did through tweets, press releases, a couple of them went on camera in different places, and that was our coverage of David Letterman’s retirement.”

Zazoom has outgrown its 250-square-foot studio in Tribeca, but its new space still encourages interaction among reporters and writers as they work to bring their stories to the screen.

The common element to all of Zazoom’s coverage, Minton says, is finding a unique take. He describes the content as fast, informative, entertaining, and different. It’s that model that’s earned the company around 500 million views, he notes, on more than 7,000 reports.

It all started with a leap of faith and the bravery to walk away from that significant mid-six-figure salary. Back then, Minton had tough discussions with his wife about how much of their retirement accounts they were willing to let go to make this venture work.

“Back then we had no assurance that the results would turn out. We had no assurance that we’d be in business a year later,” Minton says. “When we had our first anniversary at the studio we left behind a few weeks ago, one of the things that we discussed as a staff was how few startup companies -- much less media startups -- are around to celebrate a first anniversary. Now, we’ve had three.”

This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as " Zazoom Grows by Digging Behind the Headlines."

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