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As the recession continues to hurt major media organizations, many news outlets are having to shutter their regional bureaus due to budget cuts, even though the prospects for local content — and advertising — online are growing. But that is leaving room for companies that specialize in local content to flourish.
This summer, MSNBC.com purchased EveryBlock, a company that feeds crime reports, restaurant health inspections and other data to news organizations' Web sites, while AOL Inc. recently acquired local-news network Patch.
Another local company flourishing right now is Outside.in. This week, the neighborhood newsfeed announced the close of a $7 million Series B round of financing, led by Union Square Ventures. CNN is also an investor, and will begin displaying feeds from Outside.in on its newly revamped site early next year.
Outside.in aggregates news from blogs and news media sites into feeds of specific neighborhoods. The company currently services 57,830 neighborhoods and feeds neighborhood information to the websites of several major news organizations, including Tribune Co.'s Chicago Tribune newspaper, The New York Post and Dow Jones & Co.'s local newspapers.
After a year that included adding over 100 media companies to the Outside.in For Publishers platform, bringing traffic to the Outside.in Network to nearly six million monthly unique visitors and add more than 4000 local bloggers to its roster, this brings Outside.in's total funding to over $12 million.
I caught up with Mark Josephson, the company's CEO, to chat about why local content is so hot right now, if it can save the newspaper industry and what Outside.in has in the pipeline for 2010.
Why are people so obsessed with local content right now? What is making local such a hot area of development online?
Everyone is obsessed with local now because finally the stars are aligned so one can build a really big business in local. The cost to create and distribute the content has dropped significantly and the number of advertisers targeting local audiences is increasing every day. The technology now exists to aggregate and organize content down to an incredibly targeted level. And consumers are demanding more specificity and personalization of their content.
Is this a recent phenomenon or is it just easier to deliver local content on a widespread basis than it was a few years ago?
The desire for local content isn't a recent phenomenon, but the volume of local content, number of reputable bloggers and local news sources, and platforms to connect and deliver it at scale have grown dramatically in the last couple of years. The news landscape is fragmented and the amount of sources for information can be overwhelming, making access to local news, events and information a more difficult task. Outside.in’s platform helps connect all the major players of the news ecosystem — media companies, bloggers and users — to ensure local information is well-organized, easily accessible and widely available. As for the market opportunity around local content — the focus is definitely here to stay. Increased usage of mobile devices for news and information will be an important factor here too.
Can local news feeds help save newspapers?
Outside.in's Neighborhood News Pages can help local newspapers (and TV and radio stations) by solving a few key problems for them: extending their editorial coverage to a more granular, neighborhood level with no additional headcount; automating the content syndication and network relationships with local bloggers; the geographic organization of their own content and the creation of more high-quality hyperlocal ad inventory. This is where the local media companies have a huge head start.
As for saving the newspapers, there are two parts of the newspaper business — the printing and distribution business and the media business. The former is what is in danger. But the media business is still exciting and thriving, and hyperlocal is one way it will continue to evolve.
Do you think that newspapers will increasingly need to seek outside content to make up for cut budgets and bureaus?
Yes, but we don't think about it as "outside" content. The new model for local is really much more of an ecosystem. The big guys in the market have a relatively large audience and longstanding sales relationships. Local bloggers have the content that the big guys need. We are focused on being the platform that connects the two to their mutual benefit.
How has Outside.in grown its reach 500% in the past year?
Since we launched, more than one hundred media partners around the country have started using the Outside.in For Publishers platform, including the New York Post, Dow Jones Local, Media General and Chicago Tribune. Traffic to the Outside.in Network has grown to nearly 6 million monthly unique visitors and more than four thousand local bloggers use Outside.in's distribution, geo-tagging and mapping tools. We've built a complete ecosystem of media companies, local bloggers and sources, and audience members, all of which benefit from their involvement. So each participant has contributed to the success of Outside.in by growing their own traffic and offerings.
Is the hyper-local news space getting crowded? What sets Outside.in apart?
There is certainly an intense interest in the space right now and that's because of the factors I mentioned above. What sets us apart is our focus on the ecosystem and creating a platform that helps all participants — consumers, advertisers, bloggers and publishers.
Where does advertising fit into all of this? Do you plan to keep expanding the advertising on your content?
We get paid everywhere our data runs. We target ads to the hyperlocal audience or we get paid a license fee by publishers. We expect advertising to play a larger role in our plan as our audience continues to grow.
Do you anticipate any customer rejection of advertising on local content in the future?
Consumers don't mind relevant ads. When targeted correctly and users get ads that they are interested in, there is no rejection. Hyperlocal ads have the opportunity to be some of the most targeted and relevant ads ever and that bodes well for their success. The forecasters agree — interactive local ad spend is expected to reach $32.1 billion by 2013, according to BIA and The Kelsey Group.
What can we expect from Oustide.In in the coming year?
You can expect us to keep advancing the platform. Expect more tools and value for consumers, publishers, bloggers and advertisers. We're just getting started.