Stream Job: Huffington Post Bets Big On 12 Hour News Feed

The HuffPost Live Newsroom. (Photo credit: Shao-yu Liu)

The HuffPost Live Newsroom. (Photo credit: Shao-yu Liu)

When HuffPost Live launched last summer, the plan was for a constant live stream on which Huffington Post reporters, bloggers and editors would appear regularly, giving viewers “a real-time sense of what is happening on verticals all across HuffPost,” according to a press release.

The idea for HuffPost Live originated not long after AOL bought the Huffington Post for $315 million in early 2011. Arianna Huffington had taken charge of all of AOL’s editorial content, and informal conversations began at lower levels about how to start a video network.

“We felt that whatever it was, it had to be real-time, because that is so essential to what Huffington Post does,” said Gabriel Lewis, a co-creator of HuffPost Live and head of AOL Studios.

In May 2011, Messrs. Sekoff and Lewis presented their idea to Arianna Huffington and Tim Armstrong. And aside from a few name iterations, the final product has stayed pretty faithful to their original conception.

The site launched with a staff of 100, including 10 hosts/producers. Abby Huntsman (daughter of Jon Huntsman), Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, who came from Al Jazeera, Janet Varney and Marc Lamont Hill, a veteran of Fox News and MSNBC, were among those hired to become the first faces of HuffPost Live.

There are no scheduled shows, just a constant stream of segments. And even community members—a k a commenters—can volunteer to go on air via an interactive button. (They go through a light vetting process before being cast, not unlike how one gets a blog on one of the Huffington Post’s many verticals.)

“I wanted a new audience and a new opportunity to do something ambitious that would be kind of like radio, kind of like TV, but more importantly bring new voices and diversify who is a media personality and who is a credible voice,” said Mr. Shihab-Eldin, who hosted The Stream on Al Jazeera and is an adjunct professor of digital journalism at Columbia’s J-School.

In addition to the commenter volunteers, many guests are Huffington Post bloggers and editors, or reporters from other outlets. They lend their expertise to segments that range from international politics and gay rights to Justin Bieber’s mom and the recent “Britney Spears In Bikini.”

Having hundreds of editors and writers just one floor away doesn’t hurt when it comes to booking guests for the show. After all, 12 hours is a lot of airtime to fill.

“We have the upstairs at HuffPost, which is filled with experts,” Mr. Sekoff said, pointing to the site’s vast newsroom. “If you’re the editor of a HuffPost section, you better be the most informed person on that topic, or you shouldn’t have that job.”

And beyond the ready-made guest list, it’s not for nothing that HuffPost Live has the backing of one of the most sprawling sites on the Internet.

“We wouldn’t have launched something this big if we didn’t know that we had HuffPost and AOL as great fire hoses of traffic with a lot of people coming to them, right?” Mr. Sekoff said. “We knew that we had a sort of built-in audience that we could hopefully attract to what we were going to do.”

The numbers seem to bear this out. Last November, they got 17 million views, according to comScore. By March, they claimed to be “trending towards” over 48 million views, although those figures comprise both clips displayed throughout the site and the live stream itself. They’ve had over 7,000 guests and garnered almost a million comments.

HuffPost has clearly invested a considerable sum in the venture. “When we first launched, there was something out there in terms of how much we cost, and we did not cost that much,” Mr. Lewis said of the $30 million figure cited in some early reports. “That’s as far as I will go.”

Still, hiring 100 staffers—many from established outlets like CNN and Al Jazeera—getting hip architects to design a New York City studio and newsroom, and developing a new, site-specific CMS (not to mention an L.A. bureau) can’t be cheap. It’s an investment that, one media observer pointed out, should speak for itself.

So while it remains unclear whether HuffPost Live is actually making money, for now that may be beside the point.