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Online News Studio Zazoom Grows by Digging Behind the Headlines

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In 2011, Tim Minton walked away from what he calls “a significant mid six-figure salary” as an on-air news reporter for WNBC-TV in New York City to start an online video business. Was that scary?

“It was absolutely scary. Are you kidding?” Minton says.

Minton wasn’t an online video veteran, and he didn’t know a lot about technology. But he did know news, and he could see that what his local station was doing didn’t reflect the news stories that people cared about. He brought his idea for a different kind of news video to his bosses, and while they agreed there was a new market online, they believed they could satisfy it by repackaging broadcast content.

Minton owes those bosses a big thank you, because without them he would never have quit, and Zazoom would never have been born.

Online News for a New Viewer

Minton started Zazoom because he saw two trends in broadcast news: First, audiences were shrinking, so advertising was shrinking, so budgets were shrinking. Second, because of budget cuts, a smaller crew of reporters didn’t have time to research and report complicated stories. Instead, they needed to rush simple stories on the air to fill time on the evening newscast.

“You come in at eight o’clock in the morning and whatever great idea you have, the question that the managers have for reporters is, ‘Can it be on television tonight at five o’clock or six o’clock?’’ Minton says. “If the answer is yes, great, we love it. If the answer is no, then more often than not the next line from a manager is, ‘Well, here’s one you can do today, and by the way we want you to be finished at 1:30 because we need you to not just do it for television, but we need you to do it for the screens in the train stations and we need you to do it for the website and we need you to do it for the phones and so on.’”

Investigative news stories have changed from long-term investigations to simply bringing a camera out to a local business and asking why it hadn’t given some irate customer a requested refund. Reporters often have to write two stories a day, Minton says, making real reporting nearly impossible. Crime stories are taking over local news, he adds, because they’re easy to produce, even though that’s not the kind of news people care about.

Tim Minton walked away from his job as an on-air reporter for New York’s WNBC-TV to start Zazoom in  2011.

Minton’s radical suggestion to his bosses was that there was a need for news and information on topics viewers cared about, available whenever and wherever those viewers wanted to watch. This content should add value to the headlines, something lacking from the Facebook updates or news alerts people are already seeing. Great idea, the bosses said, we’d like other staffers to work on it and we’ll meet that demand with repurposed video.

“That was not my vision,” Minton says. “I think that the last three years have borne out the reality that the customers, the people who are watching, don’t agree that video which started on television is worth watching when it shows up someplace else. They don’t want to see a minute forty-five; they don’t want to see snippets of news coverage; they don’t want to see raw video. What they want to see is a compelling, entertaining, informative product that’s told by hip people who get the way people are consuming information today.”

To answer that need, Minton and colleagues Jay DeDapper and Philip O’Brien, two other TV news veterans, left their jobs and started Zazoom. Viewers were going to consume more video on more devices, they believed, and that demand wasn’t being met. Further, they saw that traditional media companies weren’t going to adapt quickly to satisfy demand.

Creating News in Small Spaces

Zazoom’s first office was in Minton’s mother-in-law’s dining room. The three founders worked there for 3 months on creating a business model, until they moved into their first studio in April 2011.

The goal for Zazoom was to create short-form online video segments that didn’t simply give viewers the headline, but also said something smart or funny or edgy about the story. It’s not just the first line at the water cooler, Minton says, but the second and maybe third line as well.

Zazoom launched with just under $700,000 thanks to some early investors who saw the value of what the three founders proposed. The company’s first studio was only 250 square feet in Tribeca. The studio space mixed with the business space and the newsroom space. When anyone needed to record a story, they yelled, “Quiet on set, recording,” and then anyone on a call needed to whisper for 2 minutes.

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