Is brand differentiation enough to save publications?

This week saw credible rumours of the closure of the Glamour magazine brand in the US. For those that knew it (or had at least seen its marketing material) Glamour was the luxury lifestyle brand, perfectly pitched at people who needed expertly curated product recommendations and interviews with today’s most relevant celebrities. This, of course, was also the pitch for many of its contemporaries and, regardless of which title was your particular favourite, that led to issues surrounding differentiation in a shrinking marketplace. Its decision to transition from a print-led to a digital-only title is, in part, to escape that shrinking space, but the danger is that online lifestyle content is an even more crowded space.

Last week also saw the effective closure of The Outline. The Outline was a two-year old digital culture publisher that had a strong brand, a memorable visual identity and had seemingly been doing well, having raised $5.51 million in VC funding in May of this year, putting it

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What is the future of branded content?

Building brand success

Branded content – native advertising, paid-for content, advertorial, creative solutions, call it what you will – has been around for over a century. Contently point to Theodore MacManus’s famous story on “The Penalty of Leadership” for Cadillac in 1915 as one of the early examples of the art. But there is no denying that there has been a recent rush to exploit the form, as media companies have sought to diversify their revenues and fight back against declining revenues from traditional advertising.

Now, pretty much every large digital or print publisher has their creative solutions team beavering away and finding synergies between their audiences and client brands. Many have

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Where are media companies investing their tech dollars?

Media has always been a tech-driven business, exploiting, over centuries, the development of papyrus, paper, printing, radio, TV and the World Wide Web. The key to each of these revolutionary technologies is that they made the distribution of content fundamentally easier. 

While content is the bedrock on which media companies are built, the adage that ‘context is king’ is undeniably true. It doesn’t matter if you’ve invested in an award-winning team of journalists, or that you’ve spent millions on a world-altering piece of data journalism if nobody sees it and it doesn’t benefit your bottom line. The problem is that when there is so much content, so widely distributed, it’s tough to find your audience. 

Media companies have been investing huge amounts in building or licensing proprietary tech solutions in order to counter those pitfalls. News UK, for instance, is approaching the end of a trial of a new tech solution designed to reduce subscriber churn as it tacitly admits it cannot grow subscriber numbers forever, while Schibsted is investing in a new techstack across its many titles which allows for greater personalisation and the surfacing of content relevant to its audience.

Who’s looking at you, kid.

The same technology that can be used to tailor content to individual users can also be used to deliver more targeted advertising, which is seen as one way to avoid the race-to-the-bottom nature of most digital display advertising.

Additionally, as the push for more ecommerce revenue continues in the face of squeezed display ad spend, publishers are finding they have to invest significantly in the tech and skills behind such transactions. Writing for Digiday, Max Willens points out that where ecommerce retailers are unwilling or unable to share data on transactions, it’s often up to the publishers themselves to make up that deficiency:

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Why apps are becoming central to consumer publishers’ strategies

Media companies – consumer-facing publishers in particular – are reportedly looking to reddit for inspiration. An article on Quartz about the self-described “front page of the internet” states that points out that reddit has consistently been ahead of the curve when it comes to its strategy around user engagement and personalisation, and that it’s seeing success that other media companies can only dream of as a result:

“As a quantifiable metric for the supremacy of the site’s popularity, the amount of time the average user spends on Reddit per day is greater than any other social media site in the top 50. Clocking in at just under 15 minutes per user per day, it goes far beyond Facebook’s 10 minutes and 37 seconds and Twitter’s 6-and-a-bit minutes.”

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NewTV, but same old challenges

Small but perfectly formed

The entrepreneurs behind the imaginatively-named NewTV, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, will be feeling encouraged by their recent round of investment having closed at $1bn. The service promises entertainment providers an avenue onto the world’s billions of smartphones, being specifically designed for mobile use with short-form series of 10-minute episodes. And it seems they have Hollywood and Wall Street convinced, according to Variety:

“Backers include a who’s who of Hollywood studios: Disney, 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Viacom, AT&T’s WarnerMedia (formerly Time Warner Inc.), Lionsgate, MGM, ITV and Entertainment One. Tech investors include Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group; strategic investors include VC firm Madrone Capital Partners, which led the round, along with Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and John Malone’s Liberty Global. The funding officially closed July 31.”

Encouraging, sure. But will it really be enough for to penetrate an already saturated market where similar offerings have since failed? Securing $1 billion from such famous brands is no mean feat but

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Travel: A safe harbour for business information companies?

We have written before about how niche media businesses are bucking the downward trends. It seems to be an approach that is working for consumer as well as

Broadening the mind and growing the top line

B2B businesses. More evidence of this comes with the recent publication of Centaur’s latest interim report, which confirms that its Travel & Meetings portfolio reported revenues of £5.7m (2016: £5.0m), up 14 percent year on year, led by its Business Travel iQ business information brand.

Also mining the travel sector, Skift has been one of the biggest success stories in the business information sector over the past few years – its success stands in contrast to other media startups which rely on VC funding. In fact, its founder Rafat Ali has spoken many times about why going ‘narrow and deep‘ in high-value niches is the biggest opportunities for media companies.

So why does this sector seem to be returning dividends for publishers?

Well, travel is one of those rare verticals that seems to thrive no matter what. For one thing, the travel and holiday industry seems to be resilient – despite

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3 Key Trends for Media Companies from Ofcom’s Communications Market Report

The Ofcom Communications Market Report is a pretty good bellwether of changing consumer habits. And, like boats reacting to the tide, those changing habits dictate how media companies will act over the next few years, as they change their priorities to benefit from shifting audience attention.

Here are three key takeaways from the latest report that shine a light on where media companies will lie over the next few years.

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The next challenge for the Guardian: managing expectations

The UK’s newspaper industry has hit a major milestone – but it’s not a particularly positive one. For the fourth consecutive month in a row every single one of the UK’s leading print titles has seen print declines, with the majority of those titles seeing double-digital YOY falls in circulation. Even The Sun, with a circulation that is somewhat bolstered by bulk copies, saw a 7.6 percent drop in its circulation to 1.45 million copies, meaning that not a single paid-for newspaper in the UK now has a circulation over 1.5 million.

It’s the latest piece of bad news for the industry, though an expected one: Nobody expects print circulations to suddenly leap back up to pre-internet levels, or even to remain static. The danger, however, is that print revenue from advertising won’t have the slow tail-off that circulations are having. The analyst Clay Shirky has predicted a second cliff for print revenue once circulations pass a psychologically important milestone and advertisers stop seeing print as a valuable medium in terms of ROI. Given how important print revenue is for those titles – making up the lion’s share of even the titles with huge digital audiences like the Daily Mail – that would be disastrous. Consequently, time might be running out for some of those papers who haven’t made enough of a transition to new revenue strands. 

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Amazon, ecommerce, and opportunities for publishers

and you might be

This week The Washington Post announced its ambitious plans for broadcasting on Twitch. In acknowledgement of Twitch’s primary audience, one of its two new shows will feature hosts from the Post playing video games alongside politicians, an idea that has ‘Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock‘ written all over it. The other show is set to be an irregularly scheduled live news show – and we’ve spoken about the challenges around digital news video before.

So far much of the coverage of the deal has been around the implications for other publishers looking to reach new audiences on livestreaming platforms, or about what this says about The Washington Post’s commitment to finding new audiences despite its paywall. But something that has been lost in the noise is that Twitch offers its creators both ecommerce and advertising revenue – and its owner, Amazon, stands to benefit from both. Considering that Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, also owns the Post,

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Consensus before Censorship – why the Copyright Directive was rejected

An impossible code

Having only recently recovered from the GDPR frenzy which gripped the continent in May, some media companies will be feeling relieved that the European Parliament last week sent controversial copyright reforms back to the drawing board. The proposed legislation included Article 11, which would require online platforms – search engines, news aggregators, etc. – to pay publications if they link to them. Article 13 meanwhile would have made copyright enforcement the responsibility of online service providers, and asked them to use content recognition technology to censor material at the point of upload.

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed an increasing inclination from the EU and its member states to privatise tasks which many believe should be undertaken by the police and courts of the respective state. As with the censorship of online hate speech, the ongoing debate has centred around just who ought to be arbiter of these laws – i.e. humans or machines. The trouble is that

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When ‘doing the right thing’ works for publisher business models

Minority report: back in the news

Last year MTV News was one of many outlets that pivoted to video production at the behest of Facebook. You can throw a rock and hit a piece of analysis of the reasons why, but the important thing to take away from that is that in doing so it laid off a number of reporters who were focusing on LGBTQ and BAME issues. Almost exactly a year later, the tide has turned, and MTV News is once again hiring people to cover those issues – scant comfort to those reporters it initially laid off.

But that shift back to socially-worthy coverage tells us more about the focus of the media industry than simply ‘we were duped by Facebook’. For one thing, any new spotlight shone on issues like those are  more vital than ever in Trump’s America, where civil liberties can be stripped away at any time, and should be applauded. Even in the UK, the polarisation of the news media has led to tacit xenophobia, transphobia and more on the front pages of many of the right-wing papers.

But as publications look to avoid the perils of ‘mile-wide, inch-deep’ reporting that has proven unsuccessful in generating revenue online, increased coverage of those issues has a strong business case as well. Let’s take a look at why:

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Orderly Brexit required: egos need to be parked

For a moment, there was clarity. And then, it was gone.

A very serious contender

A few weeks ago, we noted that the challenge for business is not Brexit, but uncertainty. At that time, we called for business leaders to make their positions clear. In due course, the heads of Airbus, BMW, and many other businesses stepped up. To be fair, they were probably responding to the comments by the outgoing head of the CBI, which prompted our blog, rather than to us. But we like to dream.

Let’s be clear: the deal proposed by Theresa May last Friday would have been at best partially good for our clients rather than wholly brilliant. After all, services were excluded from the customs arrangement she had suggested, and our clients are largely in the services sector (digital media, entertainment, SaaS, training, etc). While they may have faced tariffs, depending on later individual trade agreements, this was sweetened by the beginnings of a framework for modified free movement of EU citizens to work, which is critical to their sectors. Meanwhile, the proposal on free movement of physical goods would have kept supply chains and food supplies moving. That is a good balance to strike. The May proposals were

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A demand for Drake: What is the value of a single song on Spotify?

If you’re not a fan of Drake… well, bad luck, because you can’t get away from him. In an overly-zealous attempt to promote his new album, Scorpion, Spotify chose to include Drake in every single one of its discover playlists over the launch period. This sparked a backlash from music fans, the likes of which haven’t been seen since iTunes snuck a copy of U2’s Songs of Innocence into its users libraries, with Spotify users demanding refunds for the sudden omnipresence of Drake in their lives.

As the BBC pointed out, Spotify’s promotion of Scorpion was undeniably over-egged, with songs from the Canadian-born musician appearing on playlists titled ‘Best of British’ and every genre known to man. As a result some subscribers to the paid-for Spotify Premium, which boasts a lack of ads as a feature, considered that they were being served advertisements for a single artist with the relentlessness of the T-1000.

While the controversy is perhaps overblown – unlike the Songs of Innocence debacle, which necessitated bespoke software to be developed to remove the album from users’ libraries – it actually reveals quite a lot about Spotify’s business model and, in turn, the business models of the artists whose oeuvre appears on the platform.

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GDPR and adblocking – the unholy alliance

Regulation and technological advances threaten many industries: just ask high street bookmakers. But the simultaneous combination of GDPR and the promotion of ad-blocking technologies by the likes of Google and Microsoft is worrying for digital media businesses.

A helping hand

Most free (and many paid-for) content models have long relied on an implied consent from their users: “you get this stuff for free, if we are able to send relevant advertising your way based on your browsing behaviour.” However, the ability to track browsing wasn’t really made explicit until GDPR, which requires consent for publishers to use many of the tools that had developed to serve those ads. Notably, GDPR has required digital businesses to explain to consumers how cookies work (see our cookie policy here!): paranoia about privacy is on the rise, and it is likely that many more consumers will follow those mandatory “manage your ad preferences” buttons.

At the same time, ad-blocking has never truly gone away as an issue for publishers. It often gets swept aside by seemingly larger issues like the Duopoly or rampant fraud, but it’s always there in the background, eating into publishers’ digital revenue potential.

It’s come back into view over the past few days after Microsoft announced that its mobile Edge browser for iOS and Android would have an ad-blocker installed by default, perhaps anticipating that post-GDPR audiences will be more savvy about their digital rights. The Verge reports that the feature – currently in beta – is set to be made available more widely and, crucially, won’t require any extra downloads to be used. Microsoft are making it as easy as humanly possible for their users to block ads, using the existing infrastructure of Adblock Plus – and that’s got publishers worried.

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The changing economics of news video

With the news that Facebook is betting upon news video to help grow its Watch platform, there has been a fundamental shift in the economics of video news production. Where once entertainment content was used to attract customers and audiences, against whom the broadcasters could sell adverts, the nature of video content has become somewhat flattened and undifferentiated.

Opportunity knocks for you, Mr Zuckerberg

That’s due to any number of things – unbundling, the rise of on-demand digital video on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, and the overall conflation of ‘news’ and ‘entertainment’ that has come with homegrown news and analysis on those platforms.

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UK economy: Brexit not the problem – uncertainty is

Six letters, nil points

The outgoing President of the CBI has caused a small storm by saying that parts of British industry could become “extinct” unless a proper Brexit deal – including membership of the customs union, the CBI’s preferred approach – is negotiated.

This has attracted the usual binary comments in the media: the ‘we told you so’ from the Remain camp, and the tedious charges of treason from Leave supporters.

But Paul Drechsler’s interview was actually quite nuanced. There was very little that people of either viewpoint could disagree with: he contended that the debates had been ruled by politics rather than economics; that the uncertainty in government was having a knock-on effect to business, making it difficult to make investment decisions; and that the UK’s economy is growing slower than most of its competitors as a result.

These are pretty much incontestable observations. Growth in the British economy is

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What consumer media can learn from booming B2B

It’s the content, stupid

Readers of Digiday may have noticed an interview with Martin, talking about media’s shift towards subscription-based services. Many of the arguments in there will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. It confirms a recent trend we’ve been following – as Google and Facebook continue to hoover up the vast majority of online advertising spend, media companies are increasingly looking to online subscriptions to grow revenues.

Of course, one area of media that worked this out a long time ago is B2B media. High-value subscription-based business information is a sector we expect to continue growing, and the amount of high-level M&A activity in the sector would appear to confirm that. Earlier this year Blackstone agreed to take a majority stake in Thomson Reuters’ Financial & Risk business for over £17bn. IHS Markit followed up a successful merger by agreeing to buy Ipreo in a $1.86bn deal. Our client, Argus Media, was last year acquired by

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Four facts we learned about the future of the gaming industry from E3 2018

Every year, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) churns out enough news, analysis and memes to keep the content-hungry gaming press happy for at least the next quarter. 2018’s conference was no different, with strong showings for games like Cyberpunk 2077, Devil May Cry V, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and tons more.

But underpinning all those flashy reveal trailers and lengthy gameplay demos are some trends that demonstrate where game devs and publishers believe the future of the industry lies. Not just in the genres they think are going to be popular, but in where the money to support multi-million dollar game development is likely to come. Here are a few of those trends:

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E3 – Has Microsoft Done Enough?

With PlayStation and Nintendo holding most of the cards when it comes to popular video game exclusives, people have not only been questioning the worth of owning an Xbox, but whether there was any point in Microsoft making another one.  So, all eyes were on Microsoft’s E3 conference last night.  Some considered it a do or die

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Paul Dacre: a complex legacy

Those of you who are regular readers of our blogs may well have picked up that we are exactly the kind of hand-wringing, politically-correct, liberal-minded multiculturalists that the Daily Mail despises.

So long, and thanks for all the Brexit

So the decision of Paul Dacre to step down as Editor of the Daily Mail might be seen as a cause for celebration to people like us. Certainly, anything that tones down the constant divisive tub-thumping would be welcome: the country is as divided as it has ever been, and needs less hateful rhetoric.

But you might also know that we constantly

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Lessons from #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein

Time’s Up, Weinstein

By now we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief at the recent news that movie mogul and serial molester, Harvey Weinstein, has been arrested… and recovered from the disappointment of learning he was promptly released on a bail charge. We’ll also have heard about Benjamin Brafman’s legal defence: his client, he insists, ‘didn’t invent the casting couch.’ Hardly a perceptive observation. The concept of the casting couch is as old as Hollywood itself. But every industry is implicated in this post-Weinstein reckoning, as the viral hashtags #Timesup and #MeToo have demonstrated. We simply cannot

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New niches trump old brands: Magazine publishing 2018

Time Inc. UK, the publisher of some of the most well-known magazine brands in the world, is changing its name (again). The company is incorporating its current name and its former name – IPC Media – to create TI Media, a decision that was made to honour its past as it looks to the future, according to its executive chairman Sir Bernard Gray:

“As a company, TI Media is proud of its past and confident of the future. Our new name opens the next chapter of our story with familiarity and new energy.”

So far, so similar to the rhetoric around other brand name changes. What makes TI Media’s new name notable is that it strips away the historic association with magazines that both the Time Inc. and IPC brands had in spades.

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AI is leading the charge for SaaS growth

In April of this year, UK startup Juro landed $2m in seed funding from Berlin-based VC firm Point Nine Capital, among others. Juro, which provides software-as-a-service (SaaS) sales contract tools to its users, typically caters to customers that have to manage a relatively high volume of contacts, such as marketplaces – making it a prime example of an on-demand software provider who is counting on artificial intelligence to increase the value proposition of their software.

Wisdom of the cloud

Juno’s CEO and co-founder Richard Mabey told TechCrunch that AI was vital for future growth:

“We actually could have strung it out to Series A… But we had multiple offers come in and there is so much of an explosion in demand for the [machine learning] that it made sense to do a round now rather than wait for the A. The whole legal industry is undergoing radical change and we want to be leading it.”

Juro is far from the only SaaS provider who see AI as being the future of their product. Salesforce, for instance, which has been described as the “quintessential” SaaS provider for its cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) tools, acquired AI startup MetaMind just over two years ago, to “further automate and personalize customer support, marketing automation, and many other business processes”.

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Five lessons from the Glassdoor acquisition

In what is both one of the bigger tech acquisitions and recruitment stories of the year, the Japanese firm Recruit Holdings is set to buy Glassdoor in a deal worth $1.2bn. The buyer, which also owns recruitment site, will gain access to a vast database of employee reviews, salary data and a huge volume of active job seekers. Glassdoor is also the second-largest job site in the US – the largest being Indeed – so the synergies are obvious, especially if the new owner opts to further integrate the two sites. Whether this justifies the gigantic valuation is another question entirely – the barrier to entry for new rivals doesn’t seem especially high to me, leaving the sector very open to further disruption. But Glassdoor, which has 30m members worldwide, is already growing faster than LinkedIn, Indeed and Monster, so what lessons can employers learn from it?

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Three ways streaming services have already changed TV forever

Everyone knows by now that the broadcast business model has been fundamentally altered by the rise of digital streaming. Digital ad-spend has overtaken TV ad-spend in the US and UK, and by many accounts US television ad-spend is in a state of permanent recession (it is expected to bounce back slightly in the UK).

Smart business

More than that, though, over-the-top (OTT) services have disassembled the bundles upon which lucrative television deals were built. Sports content, for instance, was once the foundation upon which most cable and satellite bundles were built, in what Stratechery’s Ben Thompson called last year as “the last pillar to crumble” in the traditional pay-TV model.

But OTT services, and people’s expectations about on-demand media, have finally reached that pillar: Among all the many skinny bundles that don’t include sports, there are individual subscription services like the WWE Network, and even efforts to create the ‘Netflix for sports’. The Guardian reports:

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How media brands build successful e-commerce strategies

It’s not enough for media businesses to be a one-trick pony any more. Outside of the rare Nordic publishers who got into online classifieds early, there are few companies of significant scale who can sustain themselves only through advertising.

Exactly what it says on the tin

While some have gone the business information route, like Skift and other companies in high-value verticals like travel or fashion, an increasing number of media companies are placing their faith in e-commerce.

Put simply, organisations like BuzzFeed and Refinery29 are betting on the relationship with readers and ecosystems they’ve created on their own sites to sell products. There are a number of ways publishers are going about that, whether it’s

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The power of the hidden internet

Can you name the website that receives the most hits in the UK after Google, YouTube and Facebook? Clue: it’s not the BBC, Amazon or Wikipedia. It is Reddit. On average, people also spend more time on Reddit than any other website in the top fifty.

Read it?

The dangers of social media are a hot topic at the moment. Whilst the pros and perils of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are openly discussed, less commonly mentioned are the so-called ‘hidden’ forums like Reddit, Voat and 4Chan.

The hidden internet is creating safe space for people to express opinions they would not feel comfortable discussing in real life and risking real life relationships. They can help previously

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Frenemies forever: Future fights between media owners and platforms

With all the noise from Google and Facebook over projects to help fund journalism, from the Digital News Initiative to Facebook’s forays into funding local journalism, you might think that those giants are finally putting their weight behind an industry that they’ve been accused of undermining.

At least pretend you mean it…

Similarly, as publishers abandon scale in pursuit of subscription models, you can easily believe that news publishers and search and social giants are no longer in direct competition for ad money and that therefore the lopsided competition between the two is at an end.

Both of those statements are true, to an extent. Google and Facebook are

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