On the second night of the Republican National Convention in August, veteran journalist Larry King sat down at an unfamiliar desk bearing his trademark silver radio-era microphone. Though the convention was taking place in Florida, King was set to deliver his first live broadcast since leaving the Cable News Network at a completely new studio some 3,000 miles away from the event.
It was just after 8:00 p.m Pacific Time.
“It’s exciting, huh?” King said, the 78-year-old broadcaster’s first words transmitted in real-time on a platform that appeared completely alien to him.The newly-built, freshly-painted studio by which King is coming to you live from that night is housed on the Warner Brother lot. Paying the rent for the studio space is a new company called Ora TV, a startup King co-founded with Mexican business mogul and entrepreneur Carlos Slim (frequently called the world’s wealthiest man by Fortune and others).
Ora TV (“Ora” being Italian for “now”) is hoping to tap into “Generation Later,” consumers willing to give up watching their favorite programs aired in prime time on traditional television for the flexibility of watching those same shows on the platform of their choosing, like smartphones and gaming consoles, at a more-convenient.
King’s latest venture, “Larry King Now,” embraces the idea of “shoot now, watch later, available anywhere.” The half-hour web program is reminiscent of King’s hour-long CNN program with some subtle differences — most notably, King’s show foregoes the traditional television medium for computers and smartphones. As for the format,, King occasionally interacts with his guests (on a recent show, Seth MacFarlane showed the interviewer how to draw the cartoon character Stewie Griffin; on another, King and his guest Betty White handed out lemonade to tourists), diverting from the hard-news interview style of the former 60-minute program he hosted for 25 years.
King also ditches the legendary phone calls from viewers in places like Butte, Montana for the concept of reaching a more global audience through social media, though King admits — despite his large following on Twitter — he doesn’t know how to tweet.
“I don’t type it, but I dictate it,” King recently told a guest on his web show. “I wouldn’t know how to do it.”
Maybe he doesn’t have to learn. Ora TV recently hired reporter David Begnaud away from KTLA-TV to be King’s social media correspondent during their election coverage. The company is also aggressively hiring staff away from traditional television news outlets, such as CNN and CBS News, to fill roles for both King’s program and other web shows that will be launched in the future.
One such show, currently in development under the working title “NewsBreaker,” will start production later in the year. The show, which will be presented by Begnaud, is being developed as a daily 30-minute on-demand newscast. On top of the daily newscast, the show will produce short video clips whenever breaking news warrants, distributing the clips on various social media platforms.
Begnaud recently hired two people to help produce the new show: One worked on CBS News’ mobile video product in New York, and the other is a college graduate from Seattle. (Disclosure: I was approached by Ora TV for a position similar to these and declined the offer; instead, I recommended a different individual who was later hired by the company). Additional staff is expected to be brought on over time, according to a person familiar with the product.
CRAWLING STARTBegnaud was recently introduced to Ora TV’s web audience during a special live broadcast of King’s show following the second night of the Republican National Convention. The show coupled post-convention political analysis led by a panel King moderated with Begnaud dispatching social media opinion from Twitter.
That broadcast, streamed on YouTube, didn’t hit the ground running. Cameras were occasionally in the wrong spot, or being switch to prematurely. Microphones would, at times, catch staff members whispering notes to other crew and at other times weren’t active when they should have been.
Democratic strategist Tanya Acker and radio show host Andy Dean, the inaugural panelists on King’s live broadcast, didn’t distract from the glitches. Tapped to provide balanced political insight for the program, Acker and Dean set aside decorum and instead interrupted each other with partisan talking points and rhetoric that brought uncomfortable tension to the show.
Ora TV’s audience that first night was stagnant, drawing around 225 viewers at its peak according to a real-time counter on YouTube. Currently, both parts of the archived program from that night have a total of 700 views altogether. The panelists made Ora’s first live broadcast feel less like King’s legacy CNN interview program and more like a toned-down version of the HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Perhaps that’s what Ora TV is after — unconventional programming on an unconventional platform. Ora TV is not the first to try to tap into the Internet as a broadcast platform — the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the Huffington Post are just a few of the legacy newsrooms that have looked to the web as a platform for video distribution, either through podcasts or in real-time. And, like King’s live broadcast on Ora, “TimesCast” and “Reuters TV” didn’t hit the ground running either (disclosure: I work for Reuters).
But Ora TV has made it clear — from the company’s recent hires to its mission statement for the future — that they don’t want to be just another company distributing video. Ora TV wants to produce breakthrough news and entertainment programming for a global audience through as many platforms as possible.
As far as news is concerned, “Larry King Now” and “NewsBreaker” won’t necessarily worry about flying correspondents to the scene of a breaking news situation. Instead, Ora TV hopes to tap into the power of social media to help tell stories for its news products — scouring through user-generated content for photos and videos to help tell a story — a kind of informal collaboration journalists at traditional news outlets have tapped into over the past few years.
That type of informal collaboration is just one part of what Ora TV hopes will be its recipe for success. Another part is more-formal partnerships with already-established services distributing content online. The company currently distributes King’s 30-minute show on tablets, smartphones, computers and TV sets through Hulu, and distributes live broadcasts through Google’s YouTube. Ora TV is currently in the process of solidifying partnerships with other companies for distribution and promotion, including a partnership with the microblogging website Twitter, according to people familiar with the product.
Aside from “NewsBreaker,” Ora TV has yet to announce any other web shows that are concepts or in development.
King and Begnaud will continue post-convention analysis during the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday.