The Wall Street Journal has unveiled "WSJ Live," a free app for the iPad and various connected devices. I downloaded it and spent some time with it on my iPad, and can report that it's quite impressive and a welcome addition to the small group of high-quality video-centric iPad apps (e.g. HBO GO, Netflix, ABC, TV.com, etc.).
One thing in particular that's very clever about the app is how it mixes live streams with on-demand choices. In its press release, the WSJ said that WSJ Live provides up to four hours of live programming each business day, which includes seven half-hour shows. These shows are augmented with tons of on-demand videos, each of which has a thumbnail image along with a time and date-stamp and its run time. The result is that it feels like there's a lot of choice at WSJ Live, which is easy to navigate by scrolling the thumbnails, using a text strip at the bottom with category headings or popping up a daily program guide. Users can also easily jump to most popular and most recently viewed categories.
I found all of the video to be well delivered, with no drops or buffering, even for the live streams. The WSJ has long employed an approach of having its journalists host and moderate its programs, with other journalists serving as guests. The journalists are subject matter experts, so the discussions tend to be sober, analytical and well-paced. When combined with the minimalist sets, basic on-screen graphical overlays and Skype interviews, the programs feel more "Charlie Rose" than CNBC.
In a twist, while WSJ has been the most successful print publisher to charge for its content online, WSJ Live is available completely free and is ad-supported, with six launch advertisers on board. My only criticism is that no matter how little or how much of a dozen plus videos I sampled, every time I started a new one it began with a 15-second spot. This felt tedious and was a disincentive to hop around. Programs also have ad breaks which make them feel familiar to TV (though fortunately the breaks are much shorter).
In addition to the iPad, the WSJ Live app is also available on Boxee, and connected TVs from Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Vizio, plus Yahoo Connected TV and Etisalat, a UAE-based service provider. WSJ Live is coming soon to Google TV, Hulu, Hulu Plus and Roku. The only major connected devices missing are the gaming consoles which aren't mentioned. Video solutions provider OneScreen built the apps for Samsung, Boxee and Yahoo along with the ad integrations for these devices.
The WSJ has long been a leader among print publishers in pushing into original video and WSJ Live sets the bar still higher. The app approach is spot on, as it gives WSJ Live a foothold in the living room to compete more effectively with CNBC and the cable news networks. WSJ Live is a perfect example of how new video entrants can credibly compete for eyeballs and ad dollars with solid content.
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