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Nov. 3, 2016, 9 a.m.

Mic is now sending iPhone push notifications with videos that play right on the lock screen

“We’re pretty optimistic that there will be some innovative ad format that follows all of this.”

Video has taken over social media, and now it’s coming for your lock screen.

Today Mic is launching a revamped version of its MicCheck iPhone app (now called simply Mic) that primarily focuses on push alerts, taking advantage of the rich notification capabilities in iOS 10 to offer video, photos, and text alerts accessible on the lock screen through 3D Touch.

If you press down on a Mic alert, it’ll open to play the video or show other content. Mic hopes that the coverage in the notifications will be sufficiently self-contained that users won’t actually have to ever open the app. Users can follow any of 12 different topics — from breaking news and the 2016 election to feminism and Black Lives Matter.

“We don’t expect them to sign up for 12 topics — that would be a lot of pushes a day — but we do think we’ve hit on something with this very frictionless system of consuming the content on the lock screen,” chief strategy officer Cory Haik, a Washington Post vet, said. “The idea is that you can quickly get the story without tapping in, so it should be pretty quick to get what you need to get from that notification and move on.”

Mic plans to rotate its topic offerings depending on the news cycle. Over time, the company hopes to take data it collects from how users utilize the alerts and offer more granular levels of personalization.

“So when we wanted to do something during the debates, Election Day, or some other event like the Oscars, we can use the same experience we had in the onboarding,” Anthony Sessa, Mic’s VP of product and engineering, said. “We can send a notification that says, ‘Hey, are you interested in following this short-term topic? We can send you push notifications.'”

Apple’s unveiled its new operating system in June and launched it September, so news outlets have only just begun to experiment with the added notification functionality.

Apple News alerts, for instance, expand to show a preview of the story. (Though those are often cut off mid sentence.)


NBC News, meanwhile, recently updated its iPhone app; it now shows photos, maps, and infographics in its push notifications.


Major League Baseball’s At Bat app sends video push notifications with game highlights in them.


For its part, Mic focused on video because a large part of its audience is already consuming its work that way across various platforms. The company produces more than 50 original videos per day, Haik said, and she said she expects up to 60 percent of the notifications sent in the new app to contain video.

Apple limits the size of notifications to 50 megabytes; Mic said its videos will average 60 to 90 seconds, though they could go up to 10 minutes.

Mic has a team of editors working specifically on the iOS app — as well as for two other products that send push notifications. Haik said they’re working closely with the site’s video editors.

While the text stories produced for the app will link to longer versions of the stories, they’re written specifically for the lock screen in mind. “There are going to be cases in breaking news where we have to push text stories, but our team has gotten quite good at this small-screen storytelling and crafting images specifically for mobile,” Haik said. “We’ve got so much content that really takes up that full-screen experience that it was a nice coming together of Apple’s notifications and where we were in terms of our own content production.”

Still, Mic is hopeful that users will find the information on the lock screen informative enough that they won’t have to go elsewhere to learn more about a story. If users do decide to open the app, they’ll find a stream of the videos and stories sent as notifications with the option to follow additional topics.

micapp2“You’ll get enough within that card that you don’t have to tap in,” Haik said. “You can. We always want you to, please. But, the flow is such that it really is meant to be frictionless. You get everything that you need there. It’s not really built for you to go into the mobile web experience. If you want to learn more you certainly can, but it should give you enough beyond just a headline.”

Sessa said Mic will begin to collect information on how the app is being used, such as how long users are viewing the notification videos and which topics and alerts are the most popular.

“Before we can put a ton of effort into some kind of algorithmic work, we have to look at what the data is showing us,” he said. “But what we suspect is that there’s going to be more timely based interactions with the videos, and hopefully we can leverage that to deliver content more often or more applicably to these users. Ideally, we start with identifying the high-level segments that might exist. That could be on a per-vertical basis, or we can even get out of the verticals and look at the actual videos being watched and actually suggest content that might not be in a vertical to see how it does.”

Then, potentially, Mic might be able to further personalize the app to each user depending on their specific interests within each vertical. One day the app might know that a specific user likes to receive tech alerts on gadget reviews but not about e-sports, for instance.

“We’ll be tracking and tagging and collecting data and cross referencing this across all the different pushes and hopefully customizing on per-user basis eventually,” he said.

For now, the only ads in the app will be existing ads that are shown on mobile web pages that are loaded inside the app, but Haik said Mic might ultimately look for ways to incorporate advertising to monetize it.

“We’re pretty optimistic that there will be some innovative ad format that follows all of this,” Haik said. “But for us, it’s about experimenting with the journalism and the product first.”

POSTED     Nov. 3, 2016, 9 a.m.
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