Flipboard buys Zite in brewing battle against Facebook Paper

UPDATED: For those keeping score, Google Currents is NOT in the mix.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

The digital news media app spectrum just downsized by one, but it will make a dent.

Flipboard has announced a twofold deal with CNN.

First, it is teaming up with the international news agency to streamline CNN coverage -- as well as content from top-rated program and well-known talking heads -- directly into Flipboard's mobile app.

Second, Flipboard is acquiring CNN's news reader app for iOS and Android, Zite.

Founded in 2005, Zite was bought by CNN in 2011. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by CNN nor Flipboard, but Fortune reported on Wednesday that Flipboard little more than CNN's initial buying price at $20 million.

While Zite might have proved its staying power now that it is nearly a decade old, even with CNN's resources, the app hasn't attained the name-brand familiarity that Flipboard has. Not even close.

Still, Flipboard benefits by cutting one more competitor from the field through the sheer act of buying it. (As noted, or rather buried, by Zite CEO and co-founder Mike Klaas in a blog post, the Zite app is eventually going to be shutdown, hinting people should move over to Flipboard for the same treatment.)

Such a move also plays into another obsession circulating Silicon Valley these days, which is to make acquisitions based heavily on grabbing more users rather than revenue -- at least for the near future.

That brings us to Facebook, which recently added a new app to its mobile portfolio, dubbed by some as a "Flipboard-killer."

Paper, while a gorgeous digital news reader that elegantly blends content from friends, favorite brands, and even news sources not "Liked" yet -- a Flipboard-killer it is not.

For one, Paper is only available for one platform at the moment: the iPhone. Certainly, that is a good place to start. But Paper is an iPad and Android tablet app waiting to happen. After using it for a few weeks, it has become clear that the dimensions of a smartphone just don't do Paper justice.

Additionally, the only social network feeding information into Paper is Facebook. That's a given, but Flipboard benefits from piping in data from Twitter, Tumblr, and plenty more before you even get to blogs, magazines, and whatnot.

Now that CNN is getting direclty involved, it demonstrates that Flipboard is being taken seriously by mainstream publishing, hinting at more special content deals for the app maker along the way. (Such a concept almost parallels what is going on with streaming video among Netflix, Amazon, and Hollywood studios, which would lead into a whole other thesis entirely.)

Aside from Flipboard and Facebook, there are definitely a few more digital news platforms to keep an eye on. A close runner-up still would be Pulse, given a boost by its acquisition last year by another social network: LinkedIn.

Then there is Yahoo, which is taking a different, perhaps more comprehensive approach, which includes buying plenty of startups (no shortage on that one) for brainpower and services, revamping its own news app, hiring famous and reporters away from well-established publications, and building out an online hub of news verticals starting with food and technology.

Finally, for those keeping score, Google Currents is still in the mix too. Somewhere.

CORRECTION: An astute reader reminded me that Google Currents was actually shuttered a few weeks ago, although for some reason I still have the app left on my phone. Probably because Currents was one of the first mature challenges to Flipboard when it debuted. But apparently not even Google can present itself as a formidable competitor to Flipboard at this point.

Image via Flipboard

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