Smart Watches?  Maybe… Glance Media?  Absolutely!

Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of one news or media organization positioning themselves to be one of the first with an app that works on the Apple watch.  This post is not about the watch so much as it is the recognition of a changing ecosystem for news and information that takes another step forward with the arrival of the watch.   For while the watch might be restricted to a subset of the affluent and super connected at first, a concept called glance media is very much an essential skill for any newsroom.

Apps For The Watch
The Weather Company, Dark Sky and other weather vendors have been among the most outspoken app creators speaking about their intent to offer apps built from scratch for the Apple watch.  CNN, The New York Times and even the Economist, famous for their lengthy analysis of world affairs, plans to be available in some version on this new watch.  Each of these news organizations sees a value in being able to quickly alert the audience to a short update or a piece of a larger story.  The ability to “tap” the audience on the wrist and draw attention to a notification without the user doing anything outside of the audience looking down is a powerful new tool in the fight for the audience’s attention.

New Platform, Old Behavior
This effort to get people to briefly look down at their wrist draws on a behavior that people have done since 1868 with the invention of the first true wrist watch.  Some of the most successful “new” innovations are grounded in old behaviors.  A watch has always given people a sense of control with just a glance…no need to find a clock or ask others for the time.  The new Apple watch likewise provides immediate and unobtrusive access to much more than time.  As an interesting aside, the first wrist watch was designed for a woman as a piece of functional jewelry.  It is said that men didn’t immediately embrace the wrist watch, preferring instead to draw out their larger and more ostentatious pocket watches.  In a bit of history being flipped, the Apple watch may prove to be more popular with some men that now use watches as a symbol of conspicuous consumption, as timepieces represent a piece of often over engineered luxury jewelry for many businessmen.

Your Newsroom
What does this ability to put some version of your app into the 38 mm or 42 mm screen mean for most local newsrooms?  Little to nothing at this moment in the sense of rushing to create an app that works on the Apple watch.  The developer kit for the Apple watch requires some detailed knowledge of how to work within the current iOS and some creative programming as well to fit content and the needed interactions into the small screen of the watch.  That said, there is a significant opportunity for newsrooms of any size and location to think about the move towards glance media.  

SmithGeiger has been using this phrase of “glance media” for over a year, long before the Apple announcements about the watch, to describe a new unit of news and a new experience around information.  We defined it as media that is meant to be seen but not always interacted with.  A sports score, a weather alert, a push notification about a traffic problem is a glance media product…constantly consumed in short bursts as a way to keep up with what is going on right now.  Glance media must have value unto itself, not simply be a tease to go elsewhere although many glance media efforts, particularly push notifications, can lead to consumers seeking greater details and a live updates elsewhere. 

You might have heard the word “glance” used by Tim Cook and others at the Apple announcement of the watch.  The company press release for the watch said the device is: “Highly customizable for personal expression, Apple Watch also brings an entirely new way to receive information at a glance and interact with the world through third-party app experiences designed specifically for the wrist.”  In typical Apple fashion the concept of the “glance” is given emphasis with a capitalization later in this same release.  “Swipe up from the watch face for Glances that quickly show you information you care about, such as the weather forecast, your current location on a map or the music you’re listening to.”  Apple has defined these Glances as playing a key role in the watches functionality, telling developers that a glance is “a quick view of your app’s most important content.”  What will they look like?  Here are two examples:

Pictures from Apple
Glance Media Today
These little bursts of information is why before the watch is found on anyone’s wrist in your market, newsroom executives need to recognize that their team must be the leaders in providing their own version of glance media to their audiences.  In many ways, smart newsrooms have already embraced this.  The essence of a push notification is an alert that can be glanced at, recognized, and dismissed or explored more deeply.  Text messages created the same quick impression before push alerts were possible. Messaging services and to some degree, e-mail subject lines also provide the same sort of quick information nuggets.  Each of these notifications is a quick view of some of your team’s most important content at that moment.  While not complete stories in the sense of providing a narrative thread and deep sourcing, the short headline like bursts of information that newsrooms have been able to send to people on their mobile devices are now almost daily defined as first phase of any major story.  For this reason, CNN is said to be planning on allowing users to pick from 12 personalized glance notifications in their new Apple designed app.
Owning Glances Starting Now
The first glance starts the viewer down a path of your newsroom being the best source of information about the breaking news, severe weather, or sports scores…or it could pull the audience down a different path that leads to a competitor.  Your smartphone carrying news consumer, particularly young people who have grown up with text messaging as part of their everyday/every minute consumption of content, have long ago learned that they can glance down at their mobile dozens of times a day for a quick check of what is taking place.  The audience can, with a quick look, recognize a piece of information and decide if it deserves any further attention or a dismissal with a swipe.  This same pattern is being applied to the many types of push notifications that retailers, service providers, games, and news apps now offer.  Your most desirable news audience, those who invest in the latest phones and apps, lives in a world where they increasingly depend on a stream of constant short updates and offers to make hour by hour decisions.
Lead Or Follow
It is for this reason, that some of your most connected users already receive dozens of notifications a day, that newsrooms need to respect the power of the push but not become obsessed with the potential dangers of interrupting the audience.  A push that might alarm the viewer at off hours needs to have significant importance, but during the day the well-crafted push can be seen as more of a gentle nudge vs. a hard tap on the shoulder.  In short, newsrooms that look for the opportunities to do glance media and try to argue themselves into why to do it instead of not providing the information may well develop a significant competitive advantage in a world where much of the urgent news content is consumed in short bursts on mobile devices.
Three Steps
How can your newsroom become more agile and aggressive with your glance media efforts?   There are three steps your SmithGeiger consultant can work with your team on:
First, monitor your competition and your networks for their versions of glance media.  Log them for a week and see what are the different notifications they send out and the timing and tone of the brief messages.  In many markets, the newspaper competitor will be the least likely to send out a push notification, a symbol not of their editorial restraint but of their unawareness of new viewer habits and in some cases a reluctance to fully compete in the breaking news and severe weather opportunities present in every market.  By monitoring the glance media offered to your viewers by others including text alerts, e-mails and various push notifications, you will start to see patterns and opportunities for your team to super serve a busy and mobile audience with much needed local information.
Second, have someone oversee your glance media efforts.  This assignment will speak to the universe of all of the glance news items your newsroom can produce each day from push, to SMS, to other messaging services.  We would even include urgent on air crawls and squeezebacks to present breaking news, traffic and weather as being part of your glance media efforts.  This person can lead the discussion of possible glance media your newsroom might need to do each day in your editorial meetings.  Ideally, this person is also someone who is experienced in the craft of writing short bursts of information, which are like the ultimate headlines - short, specific, and actionable.  If this glance media effort is left to fall between the assignment desk and the digital team with no one person in charge, the viewer is sure to be shortchanged by late, half baked, or missed opportunities to provide glance media from your newsroom.  This owner of glance media can report on successes and if the “quit rate” of people uninstalling station apps due to a lack of relevance of push notifications rises to an unacceptable level. 
Third, turn your assignment desk into glance media central.  Charge the desk with flagging opportunities to create glance media on different platforms.  You can also empower your desk by making them the hub of gathering these small pieces of news and information.  Each assignment desk should have a dedicated mobile phone or tablet mounted next to the assignment desk main monitor (the one newsroom position that is staffed 24/7) with over one hundred news apps from local and regional, government and schools that have their own apps as well as national and special interest apps such as earthquake notification and severe weather apps.  This constant stream of glance media from a variety of sources will help your team stay on top of the dozens of urgent notifications that come from all manner of news sources every day.  Survey your newsroom and you’ll easily come up with dozens of apps you must have to get the various notifications that can help tip your newsroom to what is going on.  Place them all on one device and your team will have an exceptional source of notifications long before any wire copy or press release is issued by the concerned parties.
With this three part effort, your team will be ready to provide brief news updates and warnings on all of the smart phones, smart watches, and other devices (including cars) that soon will be displaying their own versions of glance media in the days ahead.