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March 27, 2019, 12:59 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Circa, Sinclair’s millennial-focused news site (and the final remains of some interesting mobile ideas), is shutting down

From an innovative startup to a Sean Hannity segment supplier to a generic millennial news site, Circa seems to have finally run out of lives.

Citing an “onerous” environment for a “smaller publisher,” Sinclair says it’s shuttering Circa, its video-heavy, platform-focused news property that was aimed at millennials.

“While we see new business opportunities with digital video and OTT, they do not require the daily publishing of a website,” Sinclair said in a statement to The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.

Circa has kind of a weird history, which I wrote about here. It launched in 2012 as a news app that broke traditional news articles into bits; despite being widely lauded within the industry, it wasn’t able to find a large audience and shut down in 2015.

Sinclair — the conservative local TV station owner whose Wikipedia page has a 2,500-word section about its “political views” — then bought the technology (though really the name, the installed base, and some goodwill) and relaunched the property, primarily as a website — “a place where independent-minded millennials could get real facts and talk and join conversations,” then-COO John Solomon (now at The Hill) told me in 2017.

The reality was that Circa often seemed like two sites, and an odd mixture of generic-ish viral news stories and breathless reports about the sins of Hillary Clinton that would get lots of love (and dozens and dozens of Circa staff appearances) on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. In some instances, Circa stories were repackaged for Sinclair’s local TV stations; in others, Circa’s team did separate segments for Sinclair. Solomon and reporter Sara Carter each left Circa, and the site grew to look more like a fairly standard millennial-seeking, albeit one with more interest in video (and animals) than most.

(Some of the top headlines the site right now: “Your cannabis can’t be certified organic — but now it can be kosher”; “Thousands of baby flamingos rescued by volunteers from dried-up South African Dam”; “A wildlife officer rescued a bear cub from a hollow tree”; “Watch this fascinating video of large hail stones splashing into a pool in Frisco, Texas”; “This well-trained seal at Melbourne Zoo makes getting a blood sample easier than most of us could”; “This Colorado officer has a reminder for drivers about the left lane.”)

At the beginning of 2018, the Circa app relaunched as a video news app. The app that’s in the App Store now has 117 reviews, almost all of which are for the pre-Sinclair version of Circa; the post-relaunch reviews are all negative. “While the name appears on the App Store once again, all of the features that once made Circa great and well-loved are still absent. This might be worse than if the app had remained dead forever,” one reviewer wrote. Another: “Full of meaningless crap that I can’t filter out.” Also: “Nobody wants to watch videos for news. This is a terrible idea.”

Circa struggled to gain an audience in its Sinclair form outside Fox News bookers. Howard Polskin, who tracks traffic numbers for conservative sites at The Righting, noted a year ago that it was attracting only about 1.7 million total visits a month a year ago, and it never cracked his list of the Top 20 conservative sites in audience. SimilarWeb data says monthly visits were below 1.5 million for each of the past six months.

POSTED     March 27, 2019, 12:59 p.m.
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