The Recount made a big bet on politics news, but the media startup has a plan to keep viewers around post-election
- John Heilemann and John Battelle's news startup The Recount is expanding its coverage from politics to areas like technology and culture as it looks to grow its short-form video journalism.
- But The Recount faces competition from other video-focused outlets like NowThis and Vox that also summarize the news.
- The startup, whose revenue is in the low millions this year, plans to up its focus on advertising next year.
- It is also exploring new formats like podcasts and newsletters and mulling long-form video content that could be sold to streaming services.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Last year, veteran media entrepreneurs John Heilemann and John Battelle launched a video startup called The Recount.
With $13 million in backing investors like Fred Wilson's Union Square Ventures, their goal was to change how video news is made on the fly and distributed to platforms — starting with politics. Its quick takes on politics have amassed more than 485 million video views this year.
But the election is winding down, and The Recount faces a tough environment with advertisers because of its relatively small size and focus on political news.
Now the Recount is expanding into new areas of coverage including technology, culture, and finance with new formats like podcasting and newsletters. The Recount also has waded into events, starting with virtual ones that were sponsored by Comcast.
It also plans a bigger focus on advertising sales. To that end, Battelle is moving from CEO to an executive chair role while president and CEO Kenny Miller moves into the CEO role.
"This is our process of getting to the table," Miller said. "In post-election, the story is not who is going to win but how do we rebuild."
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Wilson, an investor as well as cofounder, told Business Insider earlier that he thought The Recount could be a $200 million business in seven years.
But it has a long way to go. Battelle declined to say what The Recount's exact revenue for 2020 is but said it is in the low millions.
The Recount, with 40 staffers, also competes with bigger, more established video-focused news publications like Bloomberg's QuickTake, with 100 staffers and Group Nine Media's NowThis, which had 716.19 million on more than 2,700 videos on its Facebook page between August and November, according to Crowdtangle.
And The Recount's platform-heavy distribution model has proven to be an unreliable revenue source for both news startups and established players.
"This is a very complicated media environment — not just for a new company trying to rethink how video works — but an environment that has proven hostile to new news startups and established companies that are trying to figure out how to make money in a world dominated by platforms," Battelle said. "We didn't want to get too far over our skis in the first year on an advertising model that might drive us out of our core goal — to address and attack a problem that we saw that there was not high-quality, short-form journalism in video."
The Recount leaned into Twitter this year to capitalize on the interest in political coverage and monetize its content through a revenue-share program where advertisers like Bank of America, Levi's, and Disney promote The Recount's content.
It also launched three podcasts in September and has a partnership with iHeartMedia that sells ads into the shows.
The Recount plans to expand to areas outside of politics
Next year, it plans to expand its coverage to other heavy-hitting subjects like tech, culture and finance to broaden The Recount's audience and appeal for advertisers, said Miller, adding that The Recount is in talks with 20 brands about advertising.
Heilemann said viewers can look forward to stories about big sports organizations like the NFL that has a big influence over American culture and pieces on misinformation in tech and the regulation of social media platforms.
"We knew that there would come a time when we would get to the end and the election would come," Heilemann said. "What's interesting about politics is that it's where power resides in our society. The natural extension of having built around politics was to take that conceptually and [see] where else power resides."
The Recount is also interested in making longer-form news programs that can be sold to streaming services.
"Suffice to say that we have ideas that will certainly fill 30 to 60 minutes of time that may not look like a traditional TV experience," Battelle said. "We're not trying to be CNN or traditional linear television."
In his new role, Battelle plans to meet with advertisers, media execs, and execs at platforms to talk about new distribution models for The Recount.
"We figured something out about context, relevance, driving conversation," he said. "We want to take that knowledge over the past year and apply it to other platforms, but we need business models that help us do that without losing money."
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