A new player has arrived on Swiss online newscape, promising to shake up mobile news.
The widely anticipated online news portal, Watson.ch went live on January 22 with an unusual launch strategy, after a year long gestation period.
The website www.watson.ch is focused firmly on the mobile phone user. Even its launch was innovative. It began with a low key announcement on Twitter 9pm, followed by an appearance on a Swiss television show at peak time.
Watson’s editor Hansi Voigt, previously editor of Switzerland’s most successful tabloid 20 Minuten online (www.20min.ch), did well with the launch. His unconventional launch strategy brought Watson.ch into direct contact with its future users, who would not have been aware of the buzz around the product in media circles. And he did so without any interference or input from direct competitors, which is just as well, as many competitors have, so far, been sneering.
The Tages-Anzeiger – the largest quality newspaper based in Zurich called Watson.ch “The most expensive student newspaper”; the Neue Zürcher Zeitung said it provides “news for women with tattoos.” Bund, a subscription daily based in Bern said the product seems to be the outcome of “a pressure cooker” and the culturally pessimistic group blog Infosperber evaluated it as “Chameleon journalism”.
The immediate competitors like 20min.ch, however, stayed silent.
The CEO of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Veit Dengler, was more thoughtful. In an interview he said: “This revives the market and whatever revives the market is always good. Just like there are free papers in print, there will be a range of models alongside chargeable offers online, too. And Watson.ch is very well made. They are now facing the huge task of building up the brand. That’s really expensive and really difficult. But I think they had a good start.”
Voigt’s launch strategy also included a long interview on Joiz, a TV channel with a younger audience where he was able to speak directly to his target audience in language they understood. He said he was aiming to be Switzerland’s biggest news portal in five years. He added, modestly, that “We’re giving all we’ve got – we don’t know if we’re going to make it. We would be fine with being number two or three.”
Voigt said the site would compete by being creative, designing a responsive product with single columns that are easily read on mobile phones, and by treating its readers as equal.
Watson.ch publisher Peter Wanner was upbeat about the launch and told a regional news broadcast the site had more unique users than anticipated. He added: “and we also have many requests from people who want to advertise on our portal.”
If Watson is as successful in gaining advertisers and users as it has been in its launch strategy, it will thrive, and hopefully pave the way for others setting off down the dusty roads of digital journalism.
This article was first published in Werbewoche on 7 February, 2014. Max Rogall translated the article from German.