Sinclair Broadcast Group Targets Millennials with Digital Platform Circa

The goal of Circa is to give young news consumers fact-based video journalism without a POV. The subjects are eclectic, ranging from breaking news and pop-culture interviews (21 Pilots, Ed Sheeran and LL Cool J) to investigative documentaries and stories that explore charity, heroism and the rise of the semi-legal pot industry. The entertainment side, Circa Laughs, creates humorous short-form skits and super cuts. "We have no opinion pieces, just facts, organic footage and compelling storylines presented in a neutral voice for independent minded Millennials who want to form their own opinions and join their own conversations," Chief Operating Officer John Solomon says.

The appeal has been validated by a growing nationwide audience that includes large followings in metros like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York where SBG currently doesn't own stations. Its decisively young base (about 80 percent under the age of 45 and 67 percent under the age of 35) also tilts slightly more female. At the moment, Circa publishes its content on its Facebook destinations, which have about 3 million daily followers, and its mobile friendly website which is on track to reach about five million unique users in April. That loyal core is also helping to spread Circa content to new users, each month generating about 100 million video views, 25 million shares, likes and comments in the social space and some 25 million page views on the Web site.

The content is offered under a series of portals -- Circa Now for breaking coverage, 60 Seconds (minute-long features), Documentaries, Great American Pop Report and Humor. Another section, Circa 360, is devoted to immersive videos shot in virtual reality formats where the viewer appears in the center of what's unfolding. The 360 section has already accumulated more than six million views, averaging 3-5 minutes per view.

Next up -- and just in time for Circa's one-year anniversary this summer -- are two new distribution platforms:

  • An Over The Top (OTT) series of video-on-demand channels for smart TVs worldwide, created in partnership with the OwnZones VOD platform;
  • A new iOS and Android apps that will allow Circa fans to create their own personalized video channel filled with their favorite topics, shows and reporters.

Both projects will require Circa to expand its staff and capabilities to create longer-form programming out of its shorter nonlinear content, Solomon says.

Meanwhile, both Circa and Sinclair are leveraging their content to benefit each other's audiences. About 25% of what Circa presents each day via Facebook and the Internet site originates from footage originally shot by SBG affiliate news stations. In return, Circa syndicates back Circa Moments -- two exclusive news reports each day for play on Sinclair's early- and late-evening local newscasts. These have provided SBG stations with breaking news, which has ranged from stories on the sale of used U.S. federal cars with safety defects to Facebook safety enforcement failures.

Sinclair, which operates 173 stations covering 44.3 million households, purchased the Circa name and technology stack from a prior breaking news site that operated under the same name but went defunct in 2015. But, while repurposing the name and technology, SBG set out to create a different news venue that focused on Millennials, mobile and video journalism.

The potential personalization capabilities of Circa's forthcoming app excite the leadership team the most. Every user will be able to create a My Circa video playlist that auto-populates with his or her favorite content. "That could be the next iteration of the personal connection we're trying to create here," Solomon says.

The smart TV/device version, distributed through alternative platform provider OwnZones, is also on track for early summer deployment. In this environment, the portals would show up as specific channels. Additional portals under review for any or all the ways Circa reaches its audience include one for fashion and another, Laughs, for sketch comedy. One of the early OwnZones opportunities includes syndicating Circa content across Europe via cable boxes operated by Liberty International's UPC affiliate.

For this second coming of Circa, the possibilities keep coming.

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Simon Applebaum

Simon Applebaum has covered the TV medium for more than 35 years.  A recurring MediaVillage columnist, he produces and hosts Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the program all about TV now in its 11th year. Tomorrow runs live Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Ea... read more