NBC Buying Web Service to Stream Phone Video
When a plane crashes or a protest turns violent, television crews speed to the scene. But they typically do not arrive for minutes or even hours, so these days photos and videos by amateurs — what the news industry calls “user-generated content” — fill the void.
Those images, usually found by frantic producers on Twitter and Facebook, represented “the first generation of user-generated content for news,” said Vivian Schiller, the chief digital officer for NBC News. The network is betting that the next generation involves live video, streamed straight to its control rooms in New York from the cellphones of witnesses.
On Monday, NBC News, a unit of Comcast’s NBCUniversal, will announce its acquisition of Stringwire, an early stage Web service that enables just that. Ms. Schiller imagined using Stringwire for coverage of all-consuming protests like those that occurred in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
“You could get 30 people all feeding video, holding up their smartphones, and then we could look at that,” she said in an interview by phone. “We’ll be able to publish and broadcast some of them.”
Such a vision fits neatly into the future many academics predict. That future has fewer professional news-gatherers but many more unpaid eyes and ears contributing to news coverage.
Stringwire is embryonic. What NBC is really acquiring is Phil Groman, who developed the technology while a graduate student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University.
Such “acqui-hiring,” in which a start-up is bought primarily for its talent, is normally associated with technology companies like Google and Apple, not television networks like NBC. But that is partly the point of Monday’s announcement, Ms. Schiller said: to send a message that the network news division wants more entrepreneurs like Mr. Groman.
Mr. Groman, who graduated from N.Y.U. in May, will become a product lead, based at the NBC News Digital Group’s office in San Francisco, where he will finish building Stringwire. The service works by tapping into the multitudes of people who send Twitter messages when they witness a news event. Those people will receive a Twitter post that asks them to click a link and point their camera at what they are seeing. Without any special app, the service will start streaming live video to NBC. The video submissions will be vetted just like any other material the network uses, Ms. Schiller said.
“Wherever you see a swarm of eyewitnesses on Twitter, that’s the sweet spot for Stringwire,” she said, citing the July 6 crash-landing of an Asiana jet in San Francisco. That day, photos from a passenger and a short YouTube video from the terminal were the primary images on television until a local news helicopter arrived.
Ms. Schiller said Stringwire could have also helped coverage of the hunt for the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, when the movements of reporters were restricted. Several times during NBC’s coverage in April, local residents were interviewed via Skype from neighborhoods that had been cordoned off.
Generally, during news events, “we might have reporters there, but they may not be in the right places,” Ms. Schiller said. “They may not have the kind of access that eyewitnesses do.”
Clay Shirky, the N.Y.U. professor who introduced Ms. Schiller to Mr. Groman, said that by having reporters reach out to witnesses, “you don’t get the Pulitzer Prize-winning shot, but you get real information about life on the ground.” He said Mr. Groman’s insight was in applying “multiple sources and editorial judgment.”
The acquisition is the first by NBC News since its Web joint venture with Microsoft was dissolved last year. Their joint Web site, msnbc.com, has become NBCNews.com. The strategy now involves “building things in-house and placing a lot of bets,” Ms. Schiller said.
While Stringwire will initially be used by the news division, she said she thought the service had “great commercial opportunities,” suggesting that it could be licensed to others, creating a new source of revenue for NBC.
A version of this article appeared in print on August 12, 2013, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: NBC Buying Web Service To Stream Phone Video.
Source : Nytimes