As another year winds down, The Newspaper Works speaks with industry leaders and thinkers to get a sense of what they believe will define the newspaper media landscape in 2015.
From programmatic to online video, revenue diversification to commercial partnerships and native advertising, there are plenty of factors that can help drive growth.
Here is what they believe could be in store:
Megan Brownlow – executive director, PricewaterhouseCoopers
There is nothing prescient here, but in terms of revenue, native/integrated advertising is going to be more important to publishers next year and from then on. Publishers will need to accept a longer sales cycle and build up their internal collaboration between sales and editorial but the trade-off is that this ad product is premium and cannot be commoditised. It can also sit within the brands’ own channels – on their corporate websites or in the Facebook pages – and advertisers like that.
Apart from better margins, another benefit of native advertising is the format freedom it offers. YouTube provides an interesting parallel. The top 10 most popular ads on YouTube in 2014 varied in length from 60 seconds to 5 minutes 29 seconds. These advertisers have broken out of the 15 or 30 second ad format constraint of traditional video (TV) to be rewarded with great engagement. Publishers’ native advertising, whether in the paper or online, has the same opportunity to innovate with size, shape and formats.
On readership, one comment from our consumer research that resonates strongly with me is from a 20-something who said: “If the story is important enough, it will find me”.
This is why I think publishers need to rethink distribution in 2015. If young people are not going into newsagents, how do they see the eye-catching and irresistible front page headlines that editors work so hard to create?
Steve Allen – managing director, Fusion Strategy
Online and video are going to be the only drivers in the industry. Everything else is going to languish or kind of stabilise. For newspapers and magazines, the double digit declines in hard copy circulation will certainly slow as they have been. It will be a tough year.
If you look through the numbers for the last four or five years, online and video is the driving force and is continuing to grow quickly.
Video on demand is the big thing emerging next year, but we don’t think it will be as big a feature in the marketplace as many are predicting. We don’t think it’s going to be a big distortion. Netflix has the ability to garner publicity you cannot purchase, but that doesn’t mean that will bring in subscribers.
A report I read this week suggests thieves and pirates, of which Australia has the highest per capita in the world, 53 per cent of those who currently illegally download are prepared to pay for content. However, because somebody comes into the market with a half-good catalogue for $10, doesn’t mean people will stop thieving. This is behaviour that has been happening for years.
Larry Kilman – secretary general, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
As the traditional newspaper revenue model of circulation sales and advertising revenue continues to erode, the search for new sources of revenue accelerates. Thankfully, paid-for online content is growing: paid-for digital news content rose 60 per cent from 2012 to 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available, and 2000 per cent over five years, albeit from a low starting point.
However, new revenue streams take a myriad of forms. It can be anything from product sales unrelated to journalism — the Danish daily Politiken has long been the country’s leading seller of bicycle helmets, through its loyalty program for subscribers — to more traditional marketing initiatives that leverage brand strength and unique journalism. There is no single business model to replace the old model of advertisements and circulation sales. Life used to be simpler.
Then there is the push towards an iTunes model. As with music and video on demand, will news content successfully be sold on a piecemeal basis? Two of the world’s most noted newspaper companies – the New York Times and Axel Springer – are betting on it.
The two publishers are investing 3 million Euros in the Dutch news start-up Blendle, an online platform launched in 2014 that allows readers to browse and read content on a per-article basis. It already has contracts with big newspaper publishers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The investment will be used to expand Blendle’s presence elsewhere.
With newspaper companies looking for new sources of revenue, the Blendle experiment will be watched closely in 2015.
Video also will play an increasing role. Newspapers are becoming more like broadcasters as they develop on-line video offerings, with a good deal of digital innovation occurring in a medium that was previously outside of newspaper competence. And not only as a new story-telling medium: with on-line display advertising providing disappointing returns, video advertising appears to be newspapers’ best bet for online ad revenue.
The latest forecasts from PriceWaterhouseCoopers show both internet search and video advertising trending significantly upward. With Google dominating search, video is therefore the most promising on-line medium for generating advertising revenue for those companies that are not Google.
Mal Dale – general manager, The Readership Works
I’m predicting that publishers, and other media companies and advertisers, will become more intelligent in their use of data.
As digital distribution of journalism continues to grow, so we learn much more about our readers and browsers. Subscriber data, online browser data, plus data derived from related corporate entities (TV, Radio, Outdoor, to name a few) can help publishers to both understand their consumer much better and can underpin strategic partnerships with advertisers. This offers the opportunity to move beyond the classic media metrics of GRPs and reach & frequency, already much improved in terms of accuracy and detail through the emergence of emma, to richer conversations about more granular targeting, personalised marketing, promotional activity and outcome based campaigns.
Simon Holt – editor-in-chief, Brisbane Times
Current trends will continue – declining print revenue, increasing mobile consumption with marginal returns, and a similar outcome for tablet.
Media companies will see themselves more as generators of a credible mass audience. They’ll see themselves as experts at gathering large groups of people – to events, messages and places. News generation will be an effective means to that end. And while subscriptions and paywalls in metro markets might be a short-term stabiliser, there will be increased outward thinking when it comes to the creation of adjacent revenue streams. There will be fewer advertising contracts, and more partnerships. News organisations will increasingly be asked to share both the risk and the spoils in innovative business collaborations.
Analytics will be deeper. Advertisers will demand refined, and in many cases niche, audiences. Consequently, clickbait mentality will subside, and quality news will become paramount.
As media companies follow their audience by sharing news on new platforms, there will be continued debate: should we consolidate business case efforts on existing platforms, or should we be exploring ways to follow early adopters on new, yet low-yield technologies such as gaming, wearables or other potential story-telling platforms? To succeed, we’ll need to be doing both in tandem, as we are now.
Higher-level editorial staff will increasingly be asked to present “intrapreneurial” business cases. This means more people on the newsroom floor will be asked to document how they are contributing to the bottom line. What is their personal brand worth to the company, in terms of eyeballs, and how might that translate to dollars? This is happening now within vertical news models, and will extend to broader sections of the newsroom floor as time goes on.
“Digital-first” will be an outdated phrase, as will “value add”, at least when talking about news stories. Story-telling techniques will become more complex in an adaptive environment, and story- tellers will be using available programs instinctively. There will be heightened demand for innovative story-telling techniques, more moves towards snack-size news, and explainers will be in serious vogue, and will accompany developing issues as a default.
Educators will contribute more to the innovation process.
Bryce Johns – editorial director, APN Australian Regional Media
The power of native advertising is really being recognised now by advertisers and I think that is going to be a massively expanded part of the business as mainstream media businesses capture more of the pie.
What will that look like? Really integrated partnerships that readers may not even recognise as a commercial because it is so wedded to their interests. We would only be do things in the news space that are really great reader value, but in which a commercial entity wants to be associated for a variety of reasons – so it’s not like we’re going to fool anyone.
Digital print options are closer now than they’ve ever been. We’ve now got commercial customers lined up and we will be doing digital print in early 2015.
It is potentially unique because if we are able to put out a specialist newspaper on one single topic – say camping, say travel – and deliver it to our database and to the customer database, then we’ve got a really targeted unique product and that’s something we’re really keen to produce.
The other big issues for us will be considering our paywall options for our products and increasing our engagement online – it’s not as strong as some of the other companies.
Bernadette Courtney – Editor, The Dominion Post
Audience and how we can grow and nurture it is our focus for the year ahead.
Putting social at the centre of our newsrooms is going to be a key driver of our success. What does that look like? More emphasis on storytelling and sharing our great content and asking the simple question – how interesting to our audience is this story? If it is not, then move on.
More real time data and audience analytics for the whole newsroom from reporters up will be key. Reporters will take complete ownership of their story from creating it to layering it with interactives, sharing it wider and encouraging even more debate.
Commercially it is about the customer – the advertiser and reader – and we will be looking at new ways to strengthen those relationship. Innovation and thinking outside the square in how we deliver and present content will be important. We’re taking the old shackles off.
Mark Cohen – general manager, product solutions, Fairfax Media
Digital subscriptions have gone really well for us and I think that is going to continue to grow, especially digital subscriptions bundled with other subscriptions – I think that’s going to accelerate; it is happening overseas and with local competitors.We’ll also see early adopters in a shift from subscription to membership – there’s a subtle difference: paying for access to content versus feeling like you’re belonging, and viewing things to which you don’t normally have access. The New York Times is doing a lot of that and I think we’re going to see that more. It stretches to tickets for events, for example. We’re very strong in events and I think events will continue to grow.
The death of homepage is going to continue at a massive rate. Social won’t stop growing – I don’t think it’s replacing the homepage but eroding it. The links are delivering traffic straight to the article so the importance of journalists interacting in a social sphere is also growing exponentially. You need really professional journalists who won’t give in to the trolls; you need a whole lot of coaching and training.
One of the things [former Fairfax site] The Vine did really well was it had a really active social profile and [a strong voice that led to] a good following. The Vine was somewhere the mainstream media had not reached yet; it became a brand in its own right.
Journalists like Asher Moses and now Ben Grubb – people go to them, trust them. Journalists who engage well on social create their own brand.
Mark Hollands – chief executive officer, The Newspaper Works
The disruptive trends that occupy our business thinking today will accelerate and deepen in their impact. I haven’t seen much sign of them slowing for 20 years, so I reckon that’s safe ground on which to begin.
Nobody ever asked to stand in a longer queue, and they never will. Everything will be faster. And faster again in 2016.
Change in media consumption, still largely habitual, will quicken with new platforms and choices in 2015. The Americans are already showing us our future. I can see three years of trend-line movement until something else comes along, or the market pauses before another technological or business model advance, such as we have experienced with social media. Consequently, content creators will need to continually invest and innovate in 2015, knowing their margin of error barely exists.
Print newspapers will continue to have huge influence on society, consumers and the news output of other media channels. The US and UK news publishers are pulling out of some tough years, and we’ll see the same here in 2015 and then, perhaps more pronounced, in 2016. It’s hard to see circulation reversing but readership will continue to be strong. Increasingly, the audience will not differentiate between print and various digital platforms and simply engage with journalism.
The value of the industry and the huge numbers of newspapers consumed – metro / regional / suburban – illustrates that print will be around for a long time yet. Newspaper companies will continue to evolve and invest in existing and new products and services, and they will continually adjust their own company structures to maximise effectiveness and minimise cost – an expectation of any shareholder.
Commercial teams will be tasked to build trusted relationships on the foundation of knowing their clients’ business needs, as opposed to focusing on the reach and frequency of their own products. Seven West Media already has a big reputation for this, and Fairfax Media, as another example, is publicly moving in a the same direction. Hopefully, the politics between publisher and media agency will not be a spectator sport, and everyone will line up to do the best for the client.
Return on Investment will be constant theme, mainly because it will continue to be a tough measure to crack consistently and requires trusted collaboration.
Large-scale customer-purchase data and audience survey data will be an increasingly powerful combination in media purchasing decisions, and media owners and agencies alike will need to accommodate this in their business models, as some are already doing.
Digital newspaper subscriptions will grow as the audience appreciates the value of their preferred brand of journalism. Maybe more interestingly, these subs will provide publishers with greater insights into their readers, which will enhance their own commercial propositions and content creation activity.
A bedfellow of speed is efficiency. So expect to see a greater focus from media owners on making it simpler for clients and agencies to transact in all sectors. The harder we make it to buy, the less money we’ll earn.
Despite all the noise of disruption in 2015, the most successful individuals and companies will never forget the power of a bloody good idea.
Andrew Holden – editor-in-chief, The Age
We’ll see more overseas media companies curious to see what Australia may offer them. That in turn may, arguably should, trigger a debate in the industry around the most meaningful measurement: do unique browsers matter if the person is only on your website for seconds? On-demand streaming will be a major battleground. I expect to see free-to-air TV and Foxtel under severe pressure to hold their audiences. And that in turn may give Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull the green light to change the media ownership rules. Then it gets really interesting!