Hearst’s Skiff digital media service announced; 3G e-reader coming in 2010

Dec 4, 2009
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Hearst’s Skiff digital media service announced; 3G e-reader coming in 2010

We can't say we think much of the name, but Hearst Corporation's new Skiff electronic content distribution service will likely be seen as a lifeboat for beleaguered publishers.  Combining an "enhanced content experience" delivery service and digital store, Skiff will make its newspaper, magazine, book and other content available on various existing devices, including smartphones like the iPhone, Hearst are also planning their own ebook reader for release in 2010, based on a Marvell chipset and using Sprint's 3G EVDO Rev.A network for wireless connectivity.

Marvell's chipsets are already doing service in the Spring Design Alex ebook reader, together with the upcoming Entourage Edge and Plastic Logic's Que.  While there's no word on whether any of those devices will be repurposed as Hearst's e-reader, we wouldn't be surprised if Skiff figured strongly in their content distribution.

Part of Skiff's value-proposition for users is more multimedia content and better presentation compared to existing digital versions of newspapers and magazines.  Meanwhile they're also adding advertising, described as combining "the impact and engagement of print with the dynamic capabilities of digital".

Press Release:

SKIFF E-READING SERVICE TO LAUNCH IN 2010

Skiff Will Deliver Premium Newspaper & Magazine Content Optimized for Multiple Devices; Sprint and Marvell Among Key Partners

NEW YORK, December 4, 2009 — Skiff, LLC today announced plans to launch a new consumer e-reading service platform in 2010 that will deliver enhanced content experiences to dedicated e-readers, as well as to multipurpose devices such as smartphones and netbooks. The Skiff™ service and digital store will feature a comprehensive selection of newspapers, magazines, books and other content from multiple publishers, uniquely optimized for wireless delivery to devices and delivery via the Web.

Skiff, formerly known as FirstPaper, specializes in the delivery and presentation of newspaper and magazine content, as opposed to other platforms that focus primarily on e-books and plain text. Newspaper and magazine content delivered by Skiff will feature visually appealing layouts, high-resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates. These capabilities will allow more newspaper and magazine publishers to successfully migrate their premium content to the fast-growing e-reading channel, while preserving the key design qualities that help publications differentiate themselves and attract subscribers and advertisers.

“Skiff’s goal is to connect publishers and marketers with consumers,” said Gilbert Fuchsberg, president of Skiff, which has offices in both New York City and Palo Alto, Calif. “We will accomplish this by delivering engaging reading experiences that consumers will value and a business model that respects publishers’ needs.”

“Navigating new digital technologies is extremely challenging for publishers, which is why Skiff exists—it will give publishers a strong partner that can help them succeed in e-reading,” said Kenneth A. Bronfin, president of Hearst Interactive Media. “Skiff will offer publishers a way to participate across the full value chain, from shaping publication design to selling advertising to maintaining subscriber relationships, so that they can better control their destiny as e-reading expands.”

Skiff has been incubated as a separate company by Hearst Corporation, which has a long and successful track record of identifying, investing in and supporting promising new technologies and platforms for content and advertising. Examples of Hearst early-stage investments include Netscape; XM Satellite Radio; Sling Media; and E Ink Corporation, the company behind the novel "electronic paper" display technology used in most e-book devices today.

Skiff is engaged with newspaper, magazine, book and other publishers in the U.S. and around the world and has completed successful trials among consumers to demonstrate the technical execution of its end-to-end service platform.
Skiff Ecosystem

To enable the Skiff service platform and ecosystem, Skiff has assembled a set of world-class device, connectivity, retail distribution, and advertising partners:

Devices
Skiff is working with major consumer electronics manufacturers to integrate Skiff’s service, digital store and specialized client software into a range of innovative devices, the first of which will be unveiled soon. As part of this initiative, Skiff has partnered with Marvell (NASDAQ: MRVL), one of the world’s leading semiconductor companies, to help create the world’s first “system on a chip” for e-reading. This innovative component will enable manufacturers to accelerate the development of high-performance e-reading devices.

“Skiff signifies a new era in live content distribution—anywhere, anytime, even any size delivery of high-quality text, images and graphics, all tailored to the always-on demands of today’s consumers,” said Weili Dai, Marvell's co-founder and vice president and general manager of the company's Consumer and Computing Business Unit. “Marvell is proud to be a key silicon partner behind this new paperless publishing revolution.”

By supporting a variety of device makers, and through the development of complementary applications for major smartphone platforms, Skiff will make it easier for publishers to distribute content and advertising broadly across multiple devices from a range of manufacturers, an increasingly important goal as the e-reading market continues to grow.

Connectivity & Retail Distribution
Skiff has signed a multi-year agreement with Sprint (NYSE:S) to provide 3G connectivity for Skiff’s dedicated e-reading devices in the United States. Plans are underway to have Skiff readers available for purchase in more than 1,000 Sprint retail locations across the U.S., as well as online at www.sprint.com. Additional distribution channels will be announced next year.

“Sprint has more than 10 years of experience in provisioning non-Sprint-branded devices to operate on its networks,” said Dan Dooley, president of Sprint Wholesale Solutions. “This strategic partnership with Skiff is an unprecedented collaborative opportunity bringing together the power of the Sprint 3G network and the expansiveness of Sprint retail distribution with a dynamic new vision of e-readers.”

Advertising
The Skiff service includes an innovative advertising system that will combine the impact and engagement of print with the dynamic capabilities of digital. Skiff is collaborating with publishers, leading advertisers and agencies to establish appropriate standards, formats and metrics for e-reading, and to validate them through consumer research.

Skiff is also partnering with Nielsen and comScore to help facilitate media planning and buying through the Skiff platform, as well as to provide publishers and marketers the necessary analytics to measure the effectiveness of e-reading advertising.

Management Team

Skiff is led by a seasoned management team with leadership experience from the world’s top technology, media and advertising companies. The team includes:

Gilbert Fuchsberg, president, has helped build multiple companies as an operating executive and investor. He previously led the interactive services business at Interpublic Group, where he was vice president of new media and technology; prior experience at JPMorgan Partners, NBC and The Wall Street Journal;
Lee Ali Shirani, senior vice president of corporate development, most recently a vice president at Sony Corporation of America, who led the development and launch of the Sony Reader service;
Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, chief marketing officer, former executive director of national marketing at Cingular/AT&T Mobility and a key member of the iPhone launch team; prior roles as brand manager at Colgate-Palmolive and Heinz;
Mark Foster, senior vice president of engineering, holds 31 U.S. patents and most recently helped invent the netbook category as chief engineer of Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child; previously led Powerbook engineering at Apple;
Serge Rutman, chief technology officer, is a veteran of Intel Corporation, where he led key R&D initiatives; he was also the founding chair for the ATSC data broadcasting group;
Vincent Le Chevalier, senior vice president of platform development, has held senior engineering and operations roles at iSurfTV, Dotcast Networks and IDP;
Gary Fu, vice president of logistics, most recently was general manager of Palm’s Asia Pacific Design Center; prior roles with Motorola, Nokia and Philips.
Cliff Guren, vice president of content acquisition, formerly senior director of publisher evangelism at Microsoft; prior role leading the Microsoft Reader ebook business.

About Skiff
Launching in 2010, Skiff provides a complete e-reading solution that includes the Skiff Service platform, Skiff Store and Skiff-enabled devices. Skiff will sell and distribute newspapers, magazines, books, blogs and other content. Skiff gives periodical publishers tools to maintain their distinct visual identities, build and extend relationships with subscribers, and deliver dynamic content and advertising to a range of dedicated e-readers and multipurpose devices. Skiff is headquartered in New York City and also has offices in Palo Alto, Calif. Visit Skiff at www.Skiff.com. SkiffTM is a trademark of Skiff, LLC.

About Hearst Corporation
Hearst Corporation (www.hearst.com) is one of the nation’s largest diversified media companies. Its major interests include ownership of 15 daily and 38 weekly newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle and Albany Times Union; as well as interests in an additional 43 daily and 74 non-daily newspapers owned by MediaNews Group, which include the Denver Post and Salt Lake Tribune; nearly 200 magazines around the world, including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and O, The Oprah Magazine; 29 television stations, which reach a combined 18% of U.S. viewers; ownership in leading cable networks, including Lifetime, A&E, History and ESPN; as well as business publishing, including a minority joint venture interest in Fitch Ratings; Internet businesses, television production, newspaper features distribution and real estate.


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