CNN Acquiring Zite: What It Means For Media Clouds

The start-up software provides a way to create personalized magazines. Looking into the future, we examine how this could affect cloud computing for media companies.

The sucess of the Apple iPad has a growing impact on media models. Although device is not used by a majority of users around the world, it is a bestseller and provides a new way to consume news. Analysts distinguish reading on an iPad as "lean backward" as opposed to "lean forward" on PCs in the office. It is a more relaxed, easier way to see what is interesting, and it is catching on. 
New companies, primarily start-ups, are busy developing new applications for this growing niche. The top player in this field is so far Flipboard, a US start-up. 
Attractive design on the fly
Flipboard has found a way to design incoming news on the fly into an easy to read, attracitve magazine layout. The software performs steps like extracting content from pages through feeds from Twitter or Facebook. The user can conveniently "flip" through what friends have marked as noteworthy or entertaining. 
Zite works with different layouts, but basically with the same principle: A user can combine his Twitter-Account, Google Reader and other sources into a personalized magazine.
As of late August 2011, Zite has been bought by broadcaster CNN. According to the New York Times, the new owner wants to keep Zite as an independent offering while at the same time using the technology to enhance viewers experience for CNN content. The acquisition of the Canadian company shows that the trend to personalized digital news might become a larger strategy adopted by big media companies.
The sales price is unknown. Market watchers guess the price to be between 20 to 25 Million US-Dollars.
On the Zite blog there is a letter from Kenneth "KC" Estenson, General Manager or CNN Digital saying:
"We see a trend developing here, one that is about the future of content discovery, and we believe that increasingly people will come to learn about new types of content based as much upon their personal interests and passions as they do the news of the day." (Source: Zite)
Rich metadata and cloud computing 
The implication for media clouds is that the distribution models of media are changing. Devices like the iPad (as well as the Amazon Kindle) herald a gradual change how news are presented and distributed.
Cloud infrastructure as part of the news delivery and distribution is a way to handle multiple streams of content, combining branded content with user-generated links in new ways. In the future, with an established user base, descisive factors for even more refined news presentation will rest on good metadata and agile API models, to make the news stream even more valuable from the users point of view. 
Recommendation engines and rights management
While the new offerings are very successful, this should not mask that there are challenges in this field. For example, the new media offerings pulling content from other sites and redistributing it, face a problem with rights over time. While media companies are happy with free-of-cost additional exposure, there will be heated discussions once the start-ups sell advertising. Then it will be the question of who owns what, and this won't be very easy. 
Another area of future innovation will be that the quantity of recommendation engines will increase. The point is that just relying on what friends have found interesting is basically a variation of the filter process done by journalists. In the future, it would be interesting to see "learning recommendation engines" that are scouring the web-based on a set of parameters such as what a user reads regularly, even changing these interests over time. 
Zite Website

Mirko Lorenz
Edited by:
Linda Rath-Wiggins
Flipboard: Promotional video
Zite: Promotional video
Aggregation tools like Flipboard and Zite debated
Financial News Network: Report CNN Zite Acquisition (via YouTube)