A bevy of big media players are eager to win a growing battle to provide consumers with streaming news, but John Heilemann has a message for them: Don’t count out smaller competitors.
Heilemann’s “The Recount,” a media outlet founded with entrepreneur John Battelle in 2019, is hiring its first chief content officer in a bid to gain new traction with streaming-news aficionados eager for smarter analysis in critical news categories like politics and sports. Ryan Kadro, the former executive producer of “CBS This Morning” and, more recently, head of news programming for the short-form video service Quibi, is taking on the role and will oversee day -to-day editorial production at “The Recount,” which features programming from Heilemann, Jennifer Palmieri and Reena Ninan, among others.
“Ryan has unique experience,” with history in traditional TV news as well as a recent entrepreneurial venture with Quibi, says Heilemann, in a recent interview. He expects Kadro to oversee a “Recount” effort to take podcasts and video aimed for social-media consumers into streaming venues.
“We knew that when we got to the end of the 2020 cycle, we wanted to expand. We wanted to do more stuff,” says Heilemann, a veteran political analyst who is known for his work on the campaign book “Game Change” as well as his appearances on Showtime’s “The Circus.” “We wanted to branch out from politics into other areas substantively, and we would move from social to encompass streaming.”
“The Recount” makes its move as all the big purveyors of video news are placing new emphasis on streaming. WarnerMedia’s CNN has announced plans to launch a new subscription-video counterpart to its flagship cable service in 2022. MSNBC has devised hybrid streaming and linear schedules for opinion hosts like Mehdi Hasan. Fox News Media has expanded its Fox Nation service beyond the realms of news and politics, adding documentary programs, true crime serials and even Clint Eastwood movies. Former CBS News President Susan Zirinsky has launched a new production studio to work in part with Paramount Plus. NBC News has launched a new evening-news show anchored by Tom Llamas on its streaming NBC News Now. And ABC News has placed new emphasis on streaming and devising projects for Disney’s Hulu in recent months.
Smaller operations are also getting into gear. Newsy, an over-the-top news service from E.W. Scripps Co., launched Monday, featuring operatives at 14 news bureaus across the U.S. providing 17 hours of daily news.
And yet, says Heilemann, no one has locked onto a model that is guaranteed to carry the business into the future. “Among younger viewers, there is a lot of frustration with the way cable news works. There are more people who don’t want news as wallpaper all day long,” the executive says. “The news business hasn’t really adapted to that in a profound way.” New viewers, he suggests, crave “an efficient, no bulls—t, non-time-wasting way to get smart fast about the biggest story of the day.”
The company is betting on Kadro, who has carved out interesting expertise in recent months. He followed up a stint as the top producer of CBS’ morning show with a run overseeing Quibi’s news programming, which included new programs from NBC News as well as the first iteration of a new version of CBS News’ “60 Minutes” for a digital generation. “Throughout my career, I’ve sought out various opportunities to collaborate with smart and dynamic talent, building brands with clear points of differentiation, and therefore, couldn’t be more excited to join The Recount team.,” said Kadro, in a statement. “I look forward to overseeing their editorial strategy and execution as they continue expanding into new areas with a fresh approach on modern day news consumption.”
Since its launch, “The Recount” has lured funding from Roc Nation’s Arrive, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group and ViacomCBS, among other backers. Battelle, who helped launch The Industry Standard and Federated Media, has cultivated a reputation over the years for creating new media outlets that aim to navigate the most current content consumption technologies.
One of Kadro’s early projects, says Heilemann, will be to take the company’s array of podcasts and create streaming counterparts for them. As that happens, “Recount” fans who like sports may be interested in “The Long Game,” a new podcast led by LZ Granderson and Will Leitch, who will dive into sports topics using the lens of power and money, and dive into topics such as gender pay equity, race and diversity, player advocacy, and mental health.
Ultimately, says Heilemann, the company hopes to devise a “product that makes sense in a much more fragmented, disintermediated, on the fly, on the go, on demand world. What does that look like? That is one of the challenges of our age.”