By Jessica Toonkel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comcast Corp's NBC News unit on Tuesday launched a digital video service that targets the growing number of viewers who get their news on social media.
The service, called "NBC Left Field," is producing short documentaries and features for Alphabet Inc's YouTube, Facebook and Instagram with the intention of eventually running ads.
News organizations like NBC News are under pressure to find ways to draw younger viewers who are increasingly turning to YouTube and Facebook instead of television. Only 8 percent of viewers of national broadcast television news in 2016 were in the 18-34 age bracket, according to Nielsen.
"It’s my belief that broadcasters need to begin viewing these hubs as digital cities," said Matt Danzico, head of NBC Left Field. "So in the same way that it’s clearly important NBC have local bureaus to serve news and information for, about and within the actual cities their audiences live, it’s now imperative that we exist within these digital municipalities."
Left Field has hired 10 full-time journalists with broad backgrounds, such as a former photographer and cinematographer who worked in the Middle East and a fiction writer. They will work from an office in downtown New York, away from the headquarters.
While initially the videos will not have ads, NBC News is looking at different formats for advertising, including branded content, said Nick Ascheim, head of digital at NBC News.
Left Field will have an international focus with the aim of attracting a global audience. For example, one of its first segments is about asylum squatters in Amsterdam. Another video is about a Swedish museum of failed gadgets.
NBC News is not the first news outlet to launch a digital video service. In 2015, CNN launched "Great Big Story," which has 128 million multi-platform video views every month, according to CNN. The average viewer is 28.
Unlike TV, where NBC News competes with other broadcasters, Left Field will go head-to-head with all news organizations on social media, which include newspapers, start-ups and cable networks.
"NBC recognizes that news organizations need to innovate and experiment and it's very hard to do inside their traditional formats," said Andrew Heyward, the former head of CBS News and a visiting researcher at MIT Media Lab. "The challenge is to figure out ways to create distinctive value."
(Reporting by Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Dan Grebler)