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Dec. 8, 2016, 1:50 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

When 9.4 million followers isn’t enough: NBC News will shut down the Breaking News app on Dec. 31

“Experiments eventually need to sustain themselves and in this case, despite every effort, we just weren’t able to get there,” said Nick Ascheim of NBC News, which owns Breaking News.

There’s no denying that Breaking News is a super-useful app/Twitter account/idea: Day in and day out, morning and night, its editors in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Seattle push out hard news from around the globe. Breaking News’s Twitter account has around 9.5 million followers, who in the space of a couple of hours on Thursday morning received alerts about Donald Trump’s labor secretary appointment, the updated death toll in Aleppo, and a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in California.

Apparently, though, “useful” wasn’t enough of a value proposition for NBC News, which owns Breaking News. Breaking News general manager Cory Bergman announced on Twitter on Thursday that it will shut the service down as of the end of the year.

“We are committed to a culture of experimentation and innovation at NBC News Digital, and Breaking News was a product that embodied that spirit for more than five years,” Nick Ascheim, NBC News SVP of digital, said in a statement. “However, experiments eventually need to sustain themselves and in this case, despite every effort, we just weren’t able to get there.” Here’s his memo to staff:

All,

I have just let the Breaking News staff know that we have made the difficult decision to close down Breaking News. As you know, Breaking News is a suite of digital products — including a site, mobile app and well-followed Twitter feed — that deliver smart and fast alerts, and has been supported by NBC News Digital for nearly 5 years.

Breaking News has built up a large following among journalists, government workers, industries whose success depends on accurate and fast news, and news junkies of all types from around the globe. Unfortunately, despite its consumer appeal, Breaking News has not been able to generate enough revenue to sustain itself. We have therefore made the hard decision to close its operations so that we can re-invest that funding into NBC News’ core digital products to help us achieve our ambitious goals for those businesses.

Breaking News will cease operations by the end of this month. Cory Bergman and his incredibly talented team — in Seattle, LA, Chicago, New York and London — will remain with the company until late January, and we will be using the time between now and then to try and find new roles for each of them, in News or elsewhere at NBCU. We will also be working with Cory and team to incorporate the best of Breaking News’ features into other NBC News products.

I want to thank Cory and his team for all of their impressive and hard work, as well as their unyielding dedication to their craft.

Here’s the history of Breaking News, from its about page:

The Twitter account @breakingnews was launched by Michael Van Poppel in 2007, and the Msnbc Interactive Network took over the handle in a deal with Van Poppel’s BNO News in 2009. Over the next couple years, a small team inside Msnbc Interactive expanded real-time coverage to BreakingNews.com, mobile apps and new social channels. The team grew into a standalone startup called Breaking News, which was part of NBC’s acquisition of Msnbc Interactive in 2012. Today, Breaking News is part of the NBC News Digital Network.

A number of news apps have shuttered recently, including The New York Times’ NYT Now, Circa, and The Times of London’s weekly international app.

The amount of time that mobile users spend on news apps and news sites is small and appears to be decreasing (and news app use is dwarfed by social network use).

Push notifications, however — which are a hallmark of the Breaking News app — are becoming ever more important. A third of U.S. smartphone users receive news alerts on their phones, according to a study released last month by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Seventy-two percent of users who get news alerts “say they value the notifications they receive and many see alerts as a critical part of the news app proposition.”

Fox News, CNN, and local TV stations were the top sources of push notifications in the United States, the study found. Six percent of respondents said they used Breaking News.

Praise for the app, and sadness over NBC’s decision, poured out on Twitter following Bergman’s announcement. (And what’s going to happen to that presumably coveted Twitter handle?)

POSTED     Dec. 8, 2016, 1:50 p.m.
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