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How NowThis’ new channel plans to tackle climate in a crowded video ecosystem

October 8, 2020 | By Evan DeSimone – Independent Journalist @Media_Evan

When you’re launching a new brand amidst multiple global crises, it helps to hone your focus and target audience. That’s part of the thinking behind NowThis Earth. The new channel from Group Nine Media’s mobile-first news publisher NowThis will address the impact of human actions on the Earth’s climate.

NowThis Earth launched in partnership with a coalition of climate-focused non-profits, research organizations, and NGO’s. The new channel will offer daily coverage of science-based coverage of the changing climate, as well as stories that focus on sustainable living. According to NowThis President Athan Stephanopoulos, climate change is a topic around which the NowThis audience is already highly engaged.

Mobilizing the brand

That’s one way in which NowThis differs from some legacy publishers. Many have struggled to find a way to cover climate change comprehensively. They cite limited consumer appetite for science-based coverage and the risk of fatigue with the sometimes-dire stakes of the issue. Attitudes toward and interest in the issue has started to shift among the public at large. However, Stephanopoulos is confident that NowThis’ young audience, primarily composed of Millennials and Generation Z, is more than ready for a sharper editorial focus on the issue many see as the defining challenge of their age.

“When we’ve covered issues of climate and sustainability in the past we’ve seen those stories over-index in terms of engagement, particularly with our younger audience,” says Stephanopoulos. In fact, NowThis viewers are five times more likely to engage with climate and sustainability content than with any other topic. This engagement has produced a reported 600 million views across NowThis’ existing news and politics channels. Clearly, its native audience is ready to see the topic take center stage.

Audience engagement

Of course, even with signs of growing consumer interest, launching a new mobile-first news channel in a crowded ecosystem presents challenges. That’s why NowThis is leveraging some of its existing assets to give the new brand a boost. NowThis Earth will take over the channel previously occupied by NowThis Future, a science and technology vertical that was one of NowThis’ most frequent homes for sustainability-driven content. Taking over an existing channel with a built-in audience will give Earth a leg up as it aims to break into an increasingly competitive mobile video market. NowThis can seamlessly connect new brand’s content directly with the segment of the audience most primed to receive it.

The channel also enjoyed a boost from science educator, climate activist, and occasional NowThis collaborator Bill Nye. He gave the launch a boost with the introduction of a live climate tracker. The new channel is open to partnerships with relevant voices in the climate conversation. However, Stephanoulos stays that bringing Nye into the launch has more to do with foregrounding future collaborations with the brand than a concerted influencer strategy for the channel. “It was mostly about the fact that we’ve done work with Bill in the past. And we’re talking about things we can do with him now under the NowThis Earth umbrella.”

Strategic partnerships

The new channel will also leverage an array of non-profit partnerships that will play a key role in informing its editorial coverage and helping it to connect with new audiences. NowThis has teamed with the Global Commons Alliance, a coalition of climate-focused organizations including research, business, and philanthropy. According to Stephanopoulos, the partnership will help NowThis Earth to identify stories on the frontlines of climate coverage. IT will also provide access experts who can provide additional context. GCA member organizations will also contribute local reporting from journalists and NGO employees involved in conservation efforts around the world.

The Global Commons Alliance will also help support the new channel through funding that will allow it to remain, at least initially, ad-free. In the near-term, the focus for Stephanopoulos and his team is on building an editorial brand that can motivate its viewers to take the kind of actions that help to address the global climate crisis. This could be by donating to preferred causes, following tips for more sustainable living, or engaging in activism.

NowThis has successfully partnered with commercial brands in the past. However, Stephanopolous thinks it’s important to avoid any potential conflicts at launch. He remains optimistic about the long-term potential of traditional advertisers to support sustainability-driven content both on NowThis Earth at large.

“We’ve seen a lot of brands and advertisers who want to be in this space, particularly content around sustainability,” says Stephanopoulos. “There are a number of companies that are driving themselves to be more sustainable as brands. I believe there will be even more opportunities in the future.”

Lessons to repeat

For publishers looking to launch a new video brand into today’s highly competitive market, there are some valuable lessons in the NowThis approach. NowThis Earth isn’t so much a new vertical, as a distillation of coverage that was previously spread across multiple channels in the NowThis portfolio.

With close attention to user engagement, the NowThis team was able to identify an area of opportunity that it was already well-positioned to develop based on its existing network of partners and to grow based on its established cross-channel audiences. The topic is timely, but as Stephanopoulos pointed out, NowThis has been nurturing this audience across several of its brands for years already.

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