Backed by the resources of the world’s wealthiest individual, Carlos Slim Helu, and guided by former News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS) digital journalism chief Jon Housman, the launch of on-demand online television network Ora.TV stands out among the flurry of recently touted online video-channel initiatives. But the selection of Larry King, the 78-year-old suspenders- wearing ex CNN talk-show host, as the channel’s celebrity face is something of a head-scratcher
As host of news-driven talk show Larry King Live from 1985-2010, King created a flagship brand for CNN that was instrumental in its rise from small Atlanta-based channel to cable-news powerhouse. But King’s ratings were in free fall at the time of his departure, dropping from their 2 million-a-show apex in 2003 to below 800,000 per night by the time he ceded his interviewer’s chair to Piers Morgan nearly two years ago. The idea that someone who has outlived his natural audience on TV could suddenly spawn a big following in the digital world would seem to betray the physics of the content world these days.
Slim, who will base his ad-supported video channel in New York and launch sometime later this year, is banking that King still has something in the tank from a zeitgeist-driven CNN career in which he routinely gained timely access to news-making personalities. Can King do in the developing online video realm what he did three decades ago in the emerging cable arena?
“Having worked with [King] the last few months, there is no doubt in my mind about him,” Housman told us. “He’s a completely young-at-heart guy who loves social media and loves a good news story.”
Noting King’s over 2 million Twitter followers and his appeal across the U.S. and Latin American markets, Housman said he’ll host a five-day a week interview show, with the channel’s other entertainment- and news-driven content still to be developed. Ora.TV’s initial programming focus will be on the U.S. market, Ora, which translates into “now” in Italian and Spanish, will be an on-demand, all-platform streaming video network, serving mobile devices including phones, tablets, laptops and connected TVs with video content. Ora.TV has promised a “TV-like” experience, but wouldn’t get too specific as far as run-time for its programs, other than to say that some segments will be as little as three minutes long.
The company — which is fully funded out of Slim’s America Movil, Latin America’s largest wireless company — is currently in search of technology and syndication partners, with carriage through major U.S. portals part of those discussions.
Slim has carved out his fortune in the telecommunications business, serving not only as lead investor for America Movil, but Telefonos de Mexico and Grupo Financiero Inbursa, too. But he’s also become aggressive as a media investor. Slim currently holds a 7 percent stake in the New York Times (NYSE: NYT), for example, and in Latin America he’s a prolific backer of pay-TV channels.
As for Housman, he said he grew increasingly interested in the development of video entertainment and news programming while at News Corp. over the last few years. “And the opportunity to do a pure-play in the space where I’ve spent a lot of time and liked very much, and do it with a broadcast legend and arguably the most successful investor today, is a dream job,” he added.