Streaming content is the natural endpoint for entertainment content. The many conveniences that come from streaming outweigh the concerns about a lack of ‘ownership’ for the consumer of the media they consume, data throttling once net neutrality is a distant memory, and the quite justified concerns over subscription fatigue due to the sheer amount of streaming services on offer.
The reality is that ease of use trumps all of those, particularly for casual consumers, and as infrastructure and internet penetration improves further the proportion of people using streaming services will only grow. Last year Ofcom reported that nearly half of UK households now have access to at least one television streaming service, as the number subscribing to the most popular services “increased from 11.2m (39%) in 2018 to 13.3m (47%) in 2019”. That doesn’t take into account the number of households that also subscribe to a music streaming service like Spotify, either.
However, that isn’t to say that streaming is necessarily a good fit for every medium. It works well for low-data, passive mediums like audio and television. Even Netflix’s ambition Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch, which was effectively an experiment in interactive television content in the vein of an adventure game, was possible through Netflix’s infrastructure. But the reality is that the technology and infrastructure to stream many video games isn’t there yet – despite some serious investment from big players.
Sex has always been a cornerstone of publishing. From Tijuana bibles to Page 3, we’ve always known that erotic content is a huge draw for audiences. Just as the porn industry choosing VHS reportedly led to Betamax losing the format war, publications like The Sun in the ’70s and its red-top competitors used sex to sell their papers in direct ‘racy’ competition with one another – The Sun even had a dedicated Page 3 website.
So ingrained was it as a practice that The Sun flip-flopped on retiring the practice of putting topless women on Page 3 until January of this year (with The Daily Star following suit in April 2019). The reality of the matter is that, while Page 3 was a hopelessly outdated practice and rightly toxic in 2019, sex and pornography aren’t going anywhere in the West – it’s simply moved online.
Sites like reddit, despite nominally being brand-safe environments, have a huge undercurrent of not safe for work (NSFW) content on the site. Even Twitter, which rightly has a reputation for being political journalism-heavy, has a subculture of people who use the platform to promote their own personal adult services
No sooner does a platform reach the mainstream than it’s potentially on the way out. For a few years, Twitch was in the ascendancy with its audience growth, direct interaction with live viewers, and diversified revenue generating model convincing a few of the most well-known media companies in the world to experiment with the platform. Two years ago, the features of the livestreaming platform were even a pivotal plot point in the first season of the Netflix original show American Vandal. Since then, however, the platform has been hit by a sense that it is repeating the mistakes of its direct predecessor YouTube, in not fairly rewarding its content creators, and by the departure of one of its most-viewed users, the Fortnite streamer Ninja, for pastures new.
That new platform – Mixer – offers much of the same benefits of Twitch with greater out-of-the-box opportunities for audience interaction. Where Twitch makes the ability for a streamer to chat directly with their audience its key selling point for both – and not coincidentally one of its central tenets when it comes to talking to advertisers – Mixer offers far more options for interaction, such as on-the-fly polls, stickers, interactive minigames and more.
One thing modern marketers aren’t short of is user data. All the efforts over the past few years to encourage users to hand over their user data – just in time for GDPR to potentially upend those advantages – have paid dividends. It’s been true for a few years now that accurate user data is effectively just table stakes for any marketer worth their salt, and media companies have been espousing the value of their first-party data even more vehemently since issues of fraud have become table talk.
But for marketers in particular, there has been much investment in data and less in a framework that can tie all their data points together in an actionable way. It’s been very possible to use reams of user data to target them with offers and ads in their email inboxes, and even to prevent them from taking actions like cancelling subscriptions, but in terms of actually using it to boost the effectiveness of digital marketing, there’s always been one step missing.
Now it’s looking increasingly like location intelligence data, paired with real-time information about everything from traffic and weather and combined with that existing user data, might be used to deliver on the promise of mobile advertising.
In 2019, experience trumps product. Retail outlets are retooling their spaces to make the experience of shopping, the so-called ‘retail journey’, as attractive to the consumer as the items they hold in their arms as they leave the shop. Many media companies are attempting to emulate Time Out’s food market success and transition into events and experience businesses, the better to appeal to the Millennials and cash-rich Boomers who prioritise making memories.
A lot of that is driven by the rise of consumer technology that enables brand new experiences, from portable 3D printers that let you take away a physical model of your own face at the end, to venues dedicated entirely to esports, to the ever more interactive experiences offered by theme parks. Many savvy media companies and retailers
Global esports revenues are expected to hit $1.1bn this year. Over $155 million in prize money was awarded in nearly 3,500 esports tournaments last year, playing games like Dota 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offense. $11.47m of this prize money went to just one team: OG, a European professional team which is famed for playing Valve’s Dota 2. With teams like Team Liquid racking up overall earnings of over $26m, and global esports viewers projected to total 453.8m this year (representing a year on year growth of +15%), competitive gaming is becoming a money-making phenomenon for both players and investors. So where is the money coming from, who is investing and what’s in it for them?
Esports is still in its infancy, comparatively, so the medium represents a new, current and exciting opportunity for traditional investors, looking for growing areas, to maximise return on
Recently there’s been a lot of noise made about how podcasting is about to break into the big time. We’ve heard that before, of course, and have been hearing it for well over a decade, but now there are financial reasons to believe it might actually be true. Slate has announced it is expecting nearly half its revenue will come from its podcasts this year, after making significant investments in audio last year. It did so after reportedly seeing a significant uptick in overall advertising and membership revenue off the back of its podcasts, which is also one reason given by the NYT for their overall subscription success off the back of its podcasts including The Daily.
According to the latest Infinite Dial report from Edison, the average time per individual spent listening to podcasts has been steadily ticking up over the past few years, with 32 percent of the US population expected to have listened to a podcast monthly. Better still, research from Acast demonstrates that 76% of podcast listeners exposed to an ad took some form of follow-up action on the ad.
The property market has not gone digital at same rate as other sectors, like shopping and taxis. This is visibly demonstrated by the state of estate agents, where it is still clearly the land of fax-machines, whiteboards and post-dated cheques. Where there are landed assets to maintain, investing in the future digital direction of the business does
Advertising gimmicks are ten a penny, with attention-grabbing schemes deployed and abandoned as soon as they’ve received enough attention from the media. In February this year, though, soft drinks giant PepsiCo announced plans to advertise in a completely new format – in space.
The partnership with Russian start-up StartRocket would have seen a cluster of cubesats (effectively a miniaturised commercial satellite) deployed to form an ‘orbital billboard’. At the time of the announcement PepsiCo’s spokeswoman Olga Mangova wrote “We believe in StartRocket potential. Orbital billboards are the revolution on the market of communications” in an email seen by Futurism.
However, last week PepsiCo confirmed that plans had been shelved, telling space.com that StartRocket had performed a single, exploratory test of the technology and that there are no current plans to roll out a fleet of space-borne billboards.
For some, that news will come as a relief. The commercialisation of space in any form, whether that’s asteroid-stripping or establishing hotels on the moon, is contentious. This particular scheme has received criticism for potentially adding to the vast amount of ‘space junk’ that is already orbiting the earth.
Programmatic dominates the digital advertising landscape. By eMarketer’s metrics it is set to account for 90% of all total digital display adspend in the UK by 2020, with the vast majority of the growth coming from mobile programmatic. It also estimates that video programmatic spend is set to account for 43 percent of total programmatic display in 2019, double the amount in 2016.
That’s despite the obvious challenges facing digital advertising: rampant problems of viewability, out-and-out fraud and unsafe ad spaces, to say nothing of the dominance of the Duopoly of Google and Facebook.
For those people working in the trenches of digital advertising, however, often the real challenge is inside their own business. Getting buy-in from senior people within the business who don’t necessarily have the time or the understanding of the fast-moving world of programmatic can present an obstacle to the actual advertising experts.
Female founders got just 2.2% of Venture Capitalist Funding in 2018, the same percentage as in 2017.
This woeful figure is actually an increase on the 1.9% offered to female founders in 2016, and comes despite female founders raised a record amount of VC funding, at $2.3bn in ten months. This is an issue on both sides of the table: 74% of US Venture Capitalist firms have no female investors. These figures are a stark reminder that whilst the tech industry looks to the future, its decisions are being made in the historical, male-dominated model.
Female-headed businesses have a real potential to make societal change in ways perhaps different from those headed by men. Whitney Wolfe founded Bumble after leaving Tinder and filing a lawsuit against Tinder for sexual harassment. Bumble, where women have to make the first move and start the conversation, has led a revolution in how modern women go about dating, making
China’s games industry is experiencing its slowest growth in at least a decade and a half, despite evidence that the country’s gamers are spending more of their time playing games (see graph below). The world’s largest games market, worth some $32.5bn a year, is in the midst of a huge shake-up. Beijing has sought to limit the industry, alluding to growing concerns
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier in the year, you’d expect that platforms like Facebook would be rather more careful about how it exploits user data. Research has shown that consumer concerns over misuse of user data is one of the primary reasons why people choose to use ad blockers, and since user data is effectively the commodity on which the platforms operate, any further scandals are likely to have a cooling affect on their business models. Earlier this month a study from Pivotal Research Group found that people were spending less time across Facebook’s platforms (though it couldn’t say if that was specifically due to associaion with Cambridge Analytica).
Unfortunately Facebook has now been implicated in yet another potential misuse of user data: It registered a patent that uses geolocation to provide friend recommendations to people who are physically close to you. Or, as Lisa Vaas put it for Naked Security, “Facebook wants to reveal your name to the weirdo standing next to you.”
No doubt you’ll have seen the latest Facebook controversy (no, not that one): the social network didn’t let news publishers know about a bug that discounted people who watched less than three seconds of video, thereby artificially increasing the statistics around how long people were consuming videos on average. As a result, some people are claiming that Facebook effectively created the pivot to video that saw newspapers and magazines shed tons of editorial roles in favour of video teams, to cater for this new audience demand for video content. Some are even suing Zuckerberg’s brainchild over it.
Due to all the broken promises and missed expectations that came with news publishers’ rush into video, it’s easy to forget that the reasons behind the drive to produce more digital video were sound: consumers are viewing ever more video online across OTT services like Netflix, user-generated-content platforms like YouTube, and livestreaming sites like Twitch. Even if the figures around view time were skewed, the trend is undeniable – one of the worst affected companies, Mic, even claims that the inflated metrics weren’t even a consideration in their own change towards digital video.
For a few years now, AI has been proffered as the future of cost-effective and efficient recruitment, allowing users to screen millions of CVs in a matter of seconds. More interestingly, there are claims that it allows users to pinpoint the biases which exist in their overarching hiring process or even within the job listing itself. Studies of recruitment diversity have shown that more masculine words can dissuade female candidates from applying, and it is true AI could detect and replace this language with something more gender neutral. So could AI be a silver bullet for killing off hiring prejudices?
Recent attention has centred on the potential for unconscious algorithmic bias. That is, if you have biased data – no matter how much of it – the output is going to be biased. For example, a reliance on postcodes and schools will inevitably intersect with race and class. And if machine learning draws inferences from an already homogenous group of people,
This week the long-running saga of who will take ownership of Sky has reached a definitive conclusion, with US-based Comcast splurging billions for control of the London-listed pay-TV provider. The battle for the company had been waged for long months between Comcast and Twentieth Century Fox, both of which saw in Sky opportunities to fortify their foothold in a highly competitive market.
So why would the two compete and, ultimately, why would Comcast buy Sky? £17.28 a share (plus £30.6bn in equity) is a huge amount of money for what is effectively a pay-TV company that exists primarily in a saturated market, so what does its purchase add to the business, and how will it change the market?
Fox/Disney throwing in the towel. Selling its 39pc of Sky to Comcast at the offer price.
— Chris Williams (@cg_williams) September 26, 2018
It had been argued that Comcast was the better fit in terms of synergies, with both companies simultaneously offering both content packages and internet/communications infrastructure – but it appears to have been the former that convinced Comcast execs to up their bid for Sky. That in turn led Fox to ‘throw in the towel’ and admit defeat, its ambitions to own the European pay-TV market abandoned.
The Washington Post is a unique media company for a number of reasons. Its close affiliation with Amazon provides it with strong ecommerce potential; its subscription potential was bundled with Amazon Prime long before rebundling was a glint in other media companies’ eyes; and it has always bucked the trends surrounding digital video.
Perhaps more importantly, it is making a significant run at Platform-as-a-Service revenue – and might be the single best-placed media company to do so.
If you’ve ever used Google Drive to collaboratively edit a document, you’ve experienced a PaaS. Chances are that you’ve also recognised the benefits of doing so. But the potential of PaaS is truly realised at a macro level: licensing a platform for developing and publishing apps without also needing to build the infrastructure behind it is freeing for media businesses and allows easier entrance to the market for start-ups.
For companies engaged in the production of journalism (or its backwoods cousin, ‘content’), that can be a god-send. The tricky process of building a back-end is enormously expensive at the best of times – let alone in a year in which the vast majority of legacy publishers are trying to scale back costs through consolidation and the sharing of talent and tech.
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.
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:
On Sunday 18th March 2018 a 49 year old woman in Arizona was killed by an autonomous Uber car, which struck her as she pushed her bicycle along the roadside. The death was blamed on defective software. Two years prior to this, the first of multiple Tesla driver deaths occurred. There is significant evidence
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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”.
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 Indeed.com, 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?
We have long argued that the games industry should be treated as seriously as those other pillars of the entertainment business, film and music. Government seems to be getting the message, and – as we reported last month – the figures certainly stack up.
But perhaps the BBC is still struggling with the idea of games as a grown-up industry in its own right. When the industry does get coverage (on the Today show, for example), the presenters are typically as well informed as, say, a US senator facing a Facebook Chief Executive.
And then there was last week’s broadcast of the BAFTA Games Awards ceremony. If there is one thing
Modern media, to some extent, is just a series of stunts and marketing materials.
News publishers have to compete with digital outlets who, by nature of the race to scale, sell their content with hyperbole and screaming rhetoric of the sort we used to call ‘clickbait’. Even BuzzFeed, whose news wing is consistently breaking some of the biggest stories of any given week, used to indulge in this.
Consequently even the legacy publishers find themselves dragged further towards that hysterical drive to be noticed. Take The Atlantic, the US-based publication whose work and business model other publishers look upon with envy. Last month, it appointed the arch-conservative columnist Kevin Williamson, as a stunt intended to broaden its appeal, though it was dressed up as an attempt to provide balanced coverage. Unsurprisingly,
You could argue that the most important skill of any media leader is the ability to temper expectations. Everyone’s constantly looking for the next unicorn, and as soon as some hot new thing appears suddenly everyone’s on the accelerator and nobody’s on the brakes. The next step is typically a sky-high valuation and successive rounds of VC investment – followed by a tepid or downright chilly response when the property takes longer than expected to find its feet or fails to deliver a return.
Look at what happened with Mashable, which sold for a fifth of its Spring 2016 valuation of $250m at the end of last year, and which had staked its fortune on the ability to reach a generalist audience at huge scale. When it sold to Ziff Davis in a “fire sale” price in December, much of the analysis