Do Instagram users care about news? Lerer-led NowThis News wants to find out

Instagram is known for showing us pictures of people’s food or beautiful sunsets, as well as newsworthy events as captured by journalists and citizens around the world.
But a new mobile video site is testing whether Instagram users might also be interested in consuming video news through the app — short explanatory videos about events like the Pakistani election and U.S. drone legislation — all narrated by bouncy VJs.
NowThis News is the brainchild of Huffington Post founder and VC Ken Lerer, former HuffPo CEO and Softbank Capital VC Eric Hippeau, Oak Investment Partners Managing Partner Fred Harman, and TV veteran Brian Bedol. Its C-Suite has former execs from CNN, Vice, Washington Post and NBC Universal, and it has raised nearly $10 million over two years, with both Lerer Ventures and Softbank Capital contributing funds.
The 40-person company (roughly equally mixed between production and business) churns 18 to 25, mostly minute-long, videos a day. Each story is available on the company’s app for iPhone and Android, or online. They vary in topic — from explainers on the Arab Spring and exposes on nutrition to clips of a white Bengal tiger cub and Korean star Psy — and their tone is breezy and upbeat.
NowThis News is the news in your pocket, and what that means is that it goes where the audience is — it doesn’t make users find it,” says NowThis News Editor in Chief Ed O’Keefe, who was a veteran of ABC New Digital before leaving for the new platform in 2012. “We want to find platforms that can sustain news and build a native experience to those platforms.”
Since the launch of its first segment last November, NowThis News has produced more than 5,000 videos, and it seems to be having some success building an audience through its YouTube channel and its app on iTunes and Google Play. According to the company, the app and the YouTube channel  combined have roughly 20 million video views per month, and its users watch the app for roughly four to five minutes a session — well above the average time of about a minute.
NowThis sells sponsorships around its videos — here is an example of a video series it did on cosplayers at San Diego Comic-Con, which included a brief ad for InDemand at the end of the piece and some text wrapped around it about the making of the series.
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The company is also testing the potential of videos targeted to specific social platforms, and that’s where Instagram Video comes in. While most publications use platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn to promote the same content over and over, NowThis News is trying something different: Every one of its videos — whether it’s four minutes or one minute or 15 seconds — is a unique video to the platform. Instagram will get different videos than YouTube, rather than the former comprising of clips from the latter.
“Today, for instance, we’re doing multiple pieces on the scandal of [baseball player] Alex Rodtriguez,” O’Keefe says, “By the end of the day, you can see how we did it on the app, on Instagram, and even on Vine. It’s the same story done in three entirely different approaches based on the platform.”
The goal of this experiment is to find out whether there’s a business producing custom video content for different platforms. On Instagram Video, the company creates 15-second clips that it thinks suit the burgeoning platform. As with its mobile coverage, NowThis News produces a variety of content, from harder news to recipes and entertainment clips.
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Although it’s only been a week since the company started producing clips for Instagram, O’Keefe says there have already been some lessons.
“The more in-the-field news pieces we do tend to do a little bit better in both likes and comments,” O’Keefe says. “We’re not totally surprised by that, because we shoot live and in an environment that’s more natural to the story.”