Push...Back? An Old Technology Teaches Content New Tricks

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Don't laugh. One of the most maligned delivery systems from the early days of the over-hyped Web is ready for its second act…and this time it wants to pay its own way. Push, the technique of streaming near-real-time news and information to a user's desktop throughout the day (yeah, we're talking PointCast, here) enjoyed an unexpected boost in 2002 with the surprise success of always-on weather monitor WeatherBug and copy-cat desktop clients from Weather.com and AccuWeather. A year ago, a number of major media brands (CNN, USAToday) launched push-oriented products. And everyone is sniffing around the mobile carriers to see what sort of alerts, headlines, games, and scores mobile users will want, nay pay, to have shoved onto their next-gen cell phones. Is push being pulled back into the digital delivery mix?

Push is making a comeback because now it may have a model to recommend itself. The LATimes.com's NewsDirect feed charges $5.95 a month, while CNN's push product Newswatch is $45.96 a year and USA Today's NewsTracker is $4.95 a month. PointCast descendent Infogate is the technology engine behind all three, and the radical reorientation it took in early 2002 symbolizes the new thinking behind push. Despite having 300,000 active users for its free news service, which aggregated thousands of information feeds, Infogate shut down the model and launched a private label format in March 2002. "The reason we went from free to fee is simple," says Clifford Boro, Infogate's chairman and CEO, "we were losing a fortune." Now he licenses the technology to major media players who charge for the service and split the fees with him.

While the early-in content providers are reluctant to disclose subscription numbers, Boro insists that: "the abstract lesson so far from this experiment is that the underlying metrics are very encouraging." About 10% of those who download free trial offers from his partners convert to paying customers, and retention is over 90%. Usage is also very high, with 70% using the product everyday and keeping it on their desktop for an average of 6 hours. That's the kind of stickiness content brands only dream about.

By offering personalization, by aggregating over 3,000 feeds along with the featured content provider, and by providing a unique televisual experience on the desktop, Boro thinks he is adding the kind of value content needs to sell itself more effectively. "These are the three things we stake the consumer proposition on that makes it good enough to pay for," he says.

"We're starting to gain quite a bit of momentum," adds Allen Wille, CEO of Serence, a Canadian service whose KlipFolio client can feed to the desktop headline updates and links to partners such as SportingNews.com, RocketInfo, and German news providers Tagesschau and Heise. Serence claims 100,000 active users, with 250 signing up daily. For now, most of these partners use Serence as a value-add to drive traffic and maintain brand loyalty, but like Boro, Wille wants push to drive fee-based models. "The whole industry is gravitating to subscription services, but no one has figured out what the value add is. Is it just content or content plus a service," he says.

While SportingNews.com now only dabbles with Serence's KlipFolio client, online marketing manager Jason Stone, eventually wants to sell a version of the Serence feed to his real "content junkies," the fantasy sports league players who "have to have their information in front of their eyes at all times," he says. Which is exactly what Wille is hoping to hear. "We want to entice and educate content providers that there is money in this game by either up selling to subscription services or perhaps focusing on the enterprise to provide information services that are valuable to business," says Wille.

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