Circa is back from the dead – but does it have a future?

Yet the story that news based app Circa is to be revived by US company Sinclair Broadcast Group, has taken quite a few media pundits by surprise.

The company, which was created in 2012, aimed to deliver truncated, easy to digest news to millennials via an app. Along the way it scored US$6m of investment and attracted a reasonable number of users. Its most intriguing aspect was its ‘follow feature’, which enabled users to receive notifications each time a developing story was updated. It was clever, very useful, but not enough to keep Circa from being canned earlier in the year.

Rumours of limited advertising support, it was a largely native driven offering, and dwindling users figures (though it did boast a very respectable  300,000 downloads) meant that the expected buyers (Twitter was mentioned dispatches at one point) failed to materialise.

So it was something to shock when Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., which owns number of local TV stations in the US, confirmed it had not only purchased this app but would be re-launching it in the spring.

New chief creative officer John Solomon told the WSJ that he was hiring 70 journalists to do original reporting, in addition to having access to video feeds from the 172 television stations that Sinclair owns and runs.

Is Circa still special?

So why resurrect an app that has been dormant for nearly half a year?

In some respects, it is quite easy to see the synergy between Sinclair and Cicra. The former company creates a lot of video content yet needs platform on which to share that content with millennial audiences who almost certainly don’t watch their channels. Circa, which was purchased cheaply for just $800,000, brings an instant audience and some digital credibility to the parent company.

Circa was clearly loved by some of its users, so Sinclair has purchased a reasonable amount of brand equity for a rather modest investment. Also Circa’s Lazarus style comeback isn’t a bad news story, had Sinclair launched its own offering chances are it wouldn’t have generated the same amount of online brouhaha. 

Sinclair is also likely to be a lot more aggressive about exploiting Circa commercially too. To the possible chagrin of its existing users both display ads and video pre-rolls are likely to be added to the mix.

Ultimately though to get Circa buoyant Sinclair is going to have to address the content.

One of the big criticisms of the original Circa, that was outlined in this excellent article by Mic Wright for The Next Web was that its pared back, focus on just the facts style of delivery, mades its content rather vanila.

Wright wrote “Circa generates stories with no soul. They’re well-made sausages with no seasoning. What it defines as “facts without the fluff” can also be seen as news without the personality. Most readers want and need more personality, not less. People don’t keep coming back when what they find when they visit is bland.”

It is clear from Solomon’s manifesto that Circa’s lack of personality is one thing that he intends to do something about. Citing BuzzFeed and Vice Media as examples, Solomon talks of Circa featuring the kind of irreverent tone that does well among young audiences on social media. 

“If we can bring context, analysis and depth – and a little bit of humor—I think we can create something special in the marketplace.”

It sounds good, but not that much like the original Circa. Yet that is probably not a bad thing. Whether the re-born Circa is a success depends less on whether its core audience returns, than if Sinclair can create vibrant and interesting content that chimes with both readers/viewers and advertisers. We will have to wait and see on that one.

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