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An Over-the-Top News Guy With a Pipe Dream and Green Screen

2/25/2013 12:20 PM

What do you get when you cross-breed the Huffington Post, Time Warner Cable’s NY1 news wheel and Pandora?

If the idea works, you might get Sii.TV, the brainchild of former New York Times tech reporter Saul Hansell.

Hansell, who more recently ran AOL’s short-lived content farm, is trying to bootstrap what he’s pitching as the first over-the-top TV news network. Sii.TV (as in "see TV") would combine syndicated content from multiple Internet sources -- say, AOL or the BBC -- stitched together into a no-nonsense, on-demand package that’s personalized to your interests and available on a range of devices. He’s banking on “Internet economics” to pull it off.

“We are going to be able to start a news network for 1/100th of what Fox did 10 years ago to start its network,” Hansell told me. (Actually, Fox News Channel debuted 16 years ago but you get the idea.)

Continued Hansell, “I can do a lot with very simple equipment. For the Internet, it’s a different aesthetic. We don’t have to build a set that looks like a spaceship -- I’m doing really interesting things with green screens... We’re thinking like bloggers.”

New York-based Sii Media plans to soft-launch the service in a closed test within a month, with a public launch by midyear if Hansell gets funding lined up to hire more staff. At the end of Sii.TV’s first year, he expects to have about a dozen people; today he has four full-timers.

But hold on a second. Isn’t general-interest news -- especially on the Internet -- already glutted? How is Hansell going to compete with the likes of, or Huffington Post or

Sii.TV’s vision is to produce a “smart” half-hour newscast updated throughout the day that will let you skip through stories as you wish, Hansell said. Here’s how he puts his editorial philosophy in the job listings section of his site: “Sii.TV is a growing group of people passionate that TV news doesn’t have to be a vast wasteland of vapid happy talk, punctuated only by ranting ideologues and tabloid excess.”

“We know there is a big market for 30-to-50-year-olds who want to watch TV at home and get the get-smart-fast version of the news,” he said. “It’s a big market, one that is not being served.”

And unlike text-based web aggregators such as the Huffington Post -- which get accused of leaching off the reporting of other news organizations -- Sii.TV will have revenue-sharing agreements with its video syndication providers, according to Hansell. (He declined to name any Sii.TV may be working with.) “If I play a BBC clip, if there is an ad the BBC gets ad revenue,” Hansell said. “There’s a much more equitable video ecosystem... And compared with text [content sites], ad rates on video are damned good.”

Is Hansell’s project more than just a pipe dream? Does the world really need or want an Internet TV version of CNN, except with lower production values and a "skip" button? Whether or not it pans out, what's cool is that the technology exists to make even it possible for someone to think he can reinvent TV news.

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