Inform and Entertain is Key to Success with Online Vid @4CornersTV.com

I just finished writing an article giving a progress report on the online video channel 4CornersTV.com for NetNewsCheck.com. We are off to a great start and I hope you find this information useful. For the full article go to NetNewsCheck.com.

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4CornersTV.com, launched in February by Ballantine Communications Inc, represents a new initiative for media companies to do what will be essential to their continued success; connect with new and younger audiences.

Knowing that a demographic of 30-45 year olds would not be engaged as strongly with traditional news formats, 4CornersTV.com was created to provide them content that both informs and entertains while being accessible to them in the formats they like at any time and on any device.

After more than three months of daily production with over 275 videos produced, there have been a number of significant things we have learned. The first, and likely the most important, is the relationship between content and audience engagement. Striking a balance between information and entertainment, with the latter being the most crucial, has been the most substantially effective way to boost traffic.

Since we made adjustments to programming, caused by a slowing growth rate in our targeted audience (according Google Analytics) we have seen a 63% growth in traffic, averaging 4% growth each week. 53% of audience is between the ages of 25-45. And 30% of our traffic is from mobile devices. Our audience values the enjoyment of 4CornersTV.com programming more than it does the information gathering.

This was very evident to us on an April Fools edition of our daily “news” program “The Local Roundup.” While the Roundup has a strong daily audience, consumers weren’t as prone to share or engage with it. So we decided to use April 1 as a test case in favoring entertainment over information, and produced a program filled entirely with fake news.

From federal controls on beer production (a taboo topic in our home state of Colorado) to piranhas in a local river, the fake-news allowed humor to shine through our traditional format. This resulted in the most watched episode of “The Local Roundup” to date, and led us to a more focused initiative to drive entertainment as a first priority of production.

This focus on entertainment has also been reflected in the topics we choose to cover. Generally, the episodes that more directly reflect aspects of the area’s lifestyle are most successful. Shows about mountain biking, rafting and other adventure sports are better received than more socially-focused news.

Home Page Overview[3]

One surprising development in the first three months of production was the more peripheral role of our newsrooms in 4CornersTV.com. Ballantine Communications owns several newspapers, including The Durango Herald and The Cortez Journal. Initially, we assumed that we would draw heavily on the expertise of those newsrooms for content creation on 4CornersTV.com.

In reality, this expertise was more frequently utilized in an advisory role. The newsroom has passed along ideas that better fit the audience and experience we are focused on at 4CornersTV.com. Our newsroom now plays more of a role as a source for material, as 4CornersTV.com staff writes their own material and depending on story also originates the content.

We have also spent extensive time examining how to maximize workflow for the resources we have available. We must strike a balance between the time it takes to find great stories with the time required to produce daily programming. This has made it essential to set aside time for production teams to sit down and look ahead.

The questions we found ourselves asking: What events are happening in the next month? Which is the right show and host for this story or that? Is there a way to make this more entertaining for our audience? Being intentional about the content and branding choices we make has enabled us to couple production and promotion effectively. We needed to follow the same approach as a company dedicated to video production. Our efforts with video were thus the primary intent as opposed to an add on video to a news story.

The most impactful way 4CornersTV can build its brand and cultivate new audiences is through the addition of new programming and hosts. The first imperative is relatively straightforward. We determine the show we’d like to make, agree on a creative direction and outline the first collection of episodes.

Matching the talent with the program has proven to be a more involved process. Once a creative direction has been established for the show, the next consideration is finding the host that fits with that strategy. At 4CornersTV it starts with a casting call.

We look for hosts who seem natural on camera, even if slightly unpolished, but are able to convey an enthusiasm about the subjects they are covering. For example, once we understood that our show “In the Neighborhood” needed to be fun and fast paced with original content, we hired a host who was willing to have fun herself on camera when engaging the subject, such as letting the audience fly along with her on her first sky dive.

Flying HIGH in the Sky Hero Image[5]

Check out the rest of the article on NetNewsCheck.com. Enjoy.

 

Building a Video Channel: First Steps

I recently wrote an article for NetNewsCheck.com on the topic of building an online video channel within the confines of a traditional media business.  I included a portion of the article on my blog.  You can read entire article on NetNewsCheck.com.

As the CEO of a traditional media company, I think a lot about building audiences these days.

My company, Ballantine Communications, Inc.  (BCI), owns and operates several daily newspapers in Southwest Colorado, including The Durango Herald and The Cortez Journal. For nearly 50 years, it has been a leading source of news in these areas. But like most media organizations, BCI needs new, younger audiences to continue its strong role in the community.

To reach this demographic (ages 30-45), traditional news formats are not going to be an effective method of distribution, no matter the relevancy of the content. This audience is far more likely to consume news on a mobile device. In fact, they actively seek out video content to inform them on everything from news, celebrity gossip, buying decisions and life choices.

So my team concluded that the right type of programming for us to launch was a local-online TV channel, which we call 4cornersTV.com (4CTV). But we internally debated: Should the content be focused solely on the interests of locals? Or should it have more universal appeal to match the information tourists are looking for when researching the area? For an organization rooted in a history of traditional journalism distributed in traditional formats, an online TV channel is an exciting prospect, but logistical questions abound.

4ctv-logo-tagline[1]

Here was our challenge: How could we incorporate the skill sets that have been cultivated through 50-years of news gathering and content creation into a video channel focused on a new demographic, in a new format with new goals while continuing our role as a prominent information outlet for the community?

Is it possible to strategically allocate internal resources, like writers and photojournalists from the newspapers, to help create the initial mass of content 4CTV would need to entice viewers? Would these resources understand how to create content that appeals to a previously under-served demographic?

What amount of capital investment would be needed to launch 4CTV before definitive content and operational procedures were in place? Essentially, how could BCI launch 4CTV with compelling content and the ability improve its programming on the fly but without a financial over-commitment?

To successfully launch 4CTV on Jan. 27, we decided that the initial investment would have to be in talent and expertise. We budgeted to spend $25,000 per quarter. These personnel needed to produce content sought by the target audience and to manage a continuous production schedule. We found there was no substitute for the unique overlapping skill sets needed not only to produce content, but also create and manage the procedures that will be the govern the channel as a whole.

The challenges in building a new channel from scratch could only be overcome by focusing on relevant content creation and by providing local advertisers with strong opportunities to market to these prospective customers through video.

home-group[1]

As we built the 4CTV team, the need for demographic relevance had to be incorporated into everything from marketing to development to composition of our production team.

As we moved ahead – and continue to do so – we take every step guided by this core question: Is this content relevant to the needs of our target audience and the way they interact with digital devices? For an audience of 30-45-year-olds living in Southwestern Colorado, much of that content had to be informed by the unique lifestyle they live. In this case, this audience is active, locally-focused and drawn to the area for reasons other than a career.  Check out rest of article on NetNewsCheck.

How Publishers Should Forge A Video Strategy

I recently wrote an article for NetNewsCheck.com on the topic of original video content and should publishers pursue this strategy.  I included a portion of the article on my blog.  You can read entire article on NetNewsCheck.com.

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Online video can prompt many questions for a publisher. Should it be short, curated clips that serve as a supplement to a story? Original video content that can stand alone? Should the video be designed specifically for mobile or desktop?

But the most important question to ask is this: Who is the publisher trying to reach? If the answer is a new audience such as a younger demographic, then the process of producing video must begin with collecting and reviewing data that supports the interests of this audience.

It’s also important to realize that starting with a mobile experience and bridging back to desktop may be a critical element to consider as well.

Publishers must begin the process by framing out some key questions, then laying out a plan to support their strategy.

What do we know about the audience?

Is the target younger then traditional users? I recently was involved in the creation of a video strategy to reach a much younger audience (30-45-year-olds). We felt we had some great content that would resonate well with this demographic, but we knew we had to develop even more.

In looking at Scarborough data for 30-45 year-olds, we found the interests were ranked differently from a typical audience for a news site. Top activities for this audience in the last 12 months included (in order of preference): Swimming, gardening, jogging, bicycling, photography, volunteer work, bowling, camping, fishing and backpacking.

We quickly learned that this younger demographic had similar interests to our current audience, yet it was dramatically more active, and hence ranked certain activities differently in terms of importance. Data from BI Intelligence and IDC also indicated the audience was very connected and decidedly at the much-vaunted intersection of social, local and mobile.

What type of content would they be interested in?

Based on information above, the ideal programming for this age demographic was related to physical activities, things-to-do and lifestyle. If one then considers the digitally-connected aspect and the proliferation of video with this younger demographic, it was fairly easy to determine the need for curated, compelling and original video content to stimulate their minds.

Do publishers already have any of this content? If not, where do they get it?

Read the rest of this article on NetNewsCheck.com.

Tablet Publishing: What Magazines Can Teach

I recently wrote an article for NetNewsCheck.com on the topic tablet publishing and why it seems that magazines are more innovative in this area than newspapers.  I have included a portion of the article.  You can read the full article at NetNewsCheck.com.

Tablet computers have scaled faster than any computing device in history, and there’s no slowdown anytime soon. According to a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) forecast, 121 million were sold in 2012 and the number could reach 190 million in 2013.

The top age demographic for purchasing tablets is 30-49-year-olds. Interestingly, almost as many 55-64 year olds are buying tablets as 18-24 year olds.

What are the daily reading activities on these tablets? According to BI Intelligence, 30-49-year-olds read news content on their tablets 38% of the time, spending 17% on books and 6% on magazines. The core age group for most newspapers, 50-64-year-olds, read news 43% of the time, followed by 17% on books and 6% on magazines.

Considering the relatively small amount of time tablet users spend on magazines, it is curious to observe what appears to be a higher level of innovation from magazines than from newspapers (perhaps driven by advertisers’ attraction to the form factor’s stunning visuals).

Many newspapers are currently pursuing mobile and tablet publishing by creating responsive design Web sites. This means that the exact same content displayed on a desktop website automatically re-formats to fit smaller (or bigger) screens such as tablet and smartphone screens.

From a cost perspective, it is the most efficient use of resources. Rather than developing a multitude of Web sites and/or apps for different screens and platforms, a publisher simply uses one code base. This also enables publishers to avoid Apple’s App Store and its submission guidelines as an added bonus.

Now compare that to what’s happening in the magazine world.

Among magazines’ old guard, the five largest publishers in the U.S. formed a joint venture and launched a start-up, Next Issue Media, with the specific aim to bring about innovation in the digital space.  Read rest of article at netnewscheck.com.

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Curated Content vs Sponsored Content – What’s the Difference and Does It Matter?

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I have worked for several large content publishers, supporting both publisher and advertiser brands in traditional print and digital/interactive.  A particular subject has been receiving a lot of attention lately – Curated Content vs. Sponsored Content; what’s the difference and does it matter? First, let’s understand the meaning of each term:

-       Curated Content: content aggregated for “cherry-picked” topics intended for specific audiences.  The content is gathered by various means, but the two most prevalent are Search (a la Google & Yahoo) and the typical human review. Two good examples of content curation come from Flipboard for curated news aggregation and from YouTube for curated video content.  They each create a tailored experience for the audience based on topics of interest.

-       Sponsored Content: In the last year we have started hearing a lot more about sponsored content.  Another term used frequently is advertorial content.  Basically it is content that is produced around a topic with an eye toward an advertiser to support the effort.  Have you ever been reading an article and at the top it says “paid advertisement”.  It could be an article in print or online that is covering the launch of a new vehicle.  This is content that the advertiser is paying for (note: not all advertorial content carries the “paid advertisement” statement; sometimes the grey lines between the two get fuzzy or even fade away entirely).

Both ways of delivering content to an end user have merit.  Curated content is not associated with advertising dollars, however the sources for content are not always 100% relevant and could possibly cause harm to a brand if the content isn’t closely monitored for the particular audience.  On the other hand, curated content can be a great way of providing depth into specific topics. The person responsible for curating the content must be careful not to claim ownership of the content.  He/She must provide appropriate links, credit, and/or attribution.

Sponsored content might seem tainted or biased to some, but it’s not always the case.  There is a great deal of sponsored content that is very valuable. The author of the sponsored content may be “speaking from the heart” or exactly the opposite, by giving unwarranted, favorable comments and attention to the paid sponsor of the content.  Whichever the case, sponsored content should be clearly identified.

Consumers today expect transparency from brands; they also want to be entertained!  Creating great content around unique topics may require specific focus and most likely needs to be contracted out.  The hired curator needs to work hand-in-hand with the brand, i.e. when creating an entertaining video on certain topics related to the brand.

Content creation by a curator is a specialized field.  The curator must be adept at finding unique and original content and developing sponsored content in a way the brand’s target consumers expect it.  The key to providing successful content is quality of each pursuit.  I read this great interview of Jim Farley, Ford Motor’s CMO, by Digiday.  Below are some excerpts I pulled to validate what I am saying.

Farley spoke to Digiday about how the carmaker is approaching digital, particularly in its focus on creating shareable content.

Have you figured out social media yet? We’re getting closer to figuring out the cadence in the social space. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve committed a lot of resources to our digital spend and the human capital to promote the company and our products. We developed a lot of new muscles. We learned a lot about how to make social make sense for the company and still be authentic and not interrupt people’s natural interactions. In social, we learned how important content generation is. At first, we didn’t understand how much content we needed to produce. That’s the currency of the social experience.

Why is content so important?
What we found is that shareable content is something you have to be professional about and quick to develop. You can’t do it by content alone. You have to have paid advertising. But it’s best to start with a running start. If you’re doing pre-launch on the Fusion, start with Ryan Seacrest’s fan base. If you want to have a conversation about Ford, start with Mustang. You have to find something that starts the dialogue and is compelling. You have to have great sharable content, which isn’t easy to produce.

Content keeps coming up. Brands have always created content. How is it different now?
If I walked through the agency three years ago, the team was mostly working on broadcast advertising. There were a couple people in other areas, including the Web. They’d be working on banner ads or our own cool videos the banner ads would link to. When I walk through today, one person is working on a Ken Block video, the next is working on an animated figurine doing comedy, the next is working on Ryan Seacrest videos. It’s almost overwhelming. We’re not used to entertaining people. We’re used to informing people. Entertaining people means taking risks and making cultural judgments. Take Doug the puppet. He had a press conference where he had to be funny, but if he was too inappropriate, it would be bad for our brand. Those are new creative muscles.

Full Interview http://www.digiday.com/brands/why-fords-cmo-has-content-on-his-mind/

Having a content strategy is critical as it relates to pursuit of existing and new audiences for a brand.  What constitutes a content strategy ten years ago is vastly different in today’s brand community.  There is an expectation from the audience that not only the brand should be the expert but they should also identify other reputable sources of content to further bring robust information on a topic.

This article helps with the discussion of this topic.  http://spinsucks.com/marketing/curating-content-and-community/

So in today’s world a consumer realizes the differences between original content, curated content and sponsored content.  They are looking for the best overall experience and want to be informed and entertained.  The need for print, video, digital, apps etc. requires the use of many sources of content.  Content experts now and in the future cannot be one dimensional.  We should never think of curated and sponsored content as a bad thing.

INTERNET VIDEO IS THE FUTURE

I recently worked on developing a business plan for a consumer internet video business.  Much of the research done was compelling as it relates to the future of internet video.  The market is exploding and once again mobile plays a big role in the growth.  I thought I would share the information.

Consumers are watching more video than ever. But the way they watch is changing. Increasingly, the demand is being met via the Internet. From smart and connected TVs to laptops, tablets and smartphones, consumers now have more devices than ever to connect to the Internet to stream content.

More and more of consumers are taking advantage of the increased ability to determine what, how, when and where to watch.

Even so, video consumption and interaction by screen and device varies greatly by life-stage and lifestyle, by age, gender, and by ethnicity.  No longer does one size fit all, and new trends continue to emerge.

Yet, the US consumer’s attention continues to lie in the quest to seek TV and TV-like professionally produced content. Consider Netflix which earlier this year expanded its offering not just by increasing its partnerships to re-air programming but also jumped into the game of producing and delivering original content.

The key to success will be to identify the biggest and most immediate opportunities for growth in the growing market of Internet Video. The following section will analyze the market opportunities.

internet_video_overview

Internet video[1]

Traditional TV is still king. But more and more consumers are discovering new video content via the Internet. The lion’s share of Internet video can be assumed to come from desktops/laptops.162.5M users now watching video on the Internet while 36M watch on a mobile phone.

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Internet video is still in its infancy as evidenced by the chart below. However, there’s a trend emerging: Time spent watching traditional TV is in decline and Internet video is increasing. We can expect the change to start happening more rapidly over the next couple of years, as more people get high-speed Internet connections and get Internet enabled devices.

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Looking at a month in the life of Americans, traditional TV by far garners the most attention, with the 65+ age demographic spending 220:22 hours per month. Younger demographics increasingly watch timeshifted TV and are gradually turning to Internet video. The age groups 18-24 and 25-34 take the lead, spending 9:38 and 7:09 respectively watching online. In addition, they spend 7:35 and 4:53 watching video on a mobile phone.

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Of the 162.5M watching video on the Internet, the composition skews a little older with 44% coming from the 25-49 age group, and 23% coming from the 50-64 age group. For the 36M watching video on mobile, the composition is younger, with 53%% in the 18-34 age group, and 24% in the 35-49 age group.

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The bottom line:

  • Of the 162.5M users now watching video on the Internet, it is a safe bet that most access from desktop/laptop, while 36M watch on a mobile phones
  • Although traditional TV is king, it is in decline, while we can expect the acceleration of online video watching to increase
  • The age groups 18-24 and 25-34 spend the most time watching both online in general and on mobile
  • The composition for Internet video viewers is slightly older (25-49) and the composition for mobile video viewers is slightly younger (18-34).

Mobile (smartphones and tablets)[2]

In the past, mobile video has been held back by a single factor: bandwidth.  The wireless infrastructure wasn’t fast enough to allow for clean video viewing.

4G LTE is changing that, and mobile video is fast becoming popular on the faster wireless networks.  In the US, 4G subscribers are 33% more likely to watch video on their smartphones than the average mobile user, according to Comscore “Mobile Future 2012” report.

Device design also helps, with smartphones now integrating larger screens and speedier processors (and LTE connectivity).

In short, mobile video is becoming a mass consumer phenomenon, much as digital photos were earlier in the smartphone adoption cycle. As a consequence, consumer behavior is changing in favor of higher mobile video usage, video app uptake and advertising.

Mobile video is growing across the board, but tilts young, reaching audiences not easily penetrated by traditional TV.

Video length is increasing across device types, offering more ad opportunities.

Triple digit growth rates in mobile video ad bookings signal the promise of multi-screen campaigns.

Mobile video is not displacing other mediums.  Instead it appears to be an additive activity: it offers new opportunities for video viewing.

The shift to mobile video is best understood as part of a larger trend away from traditional TV and toward on-demand video, which gives viewers more control over their content and allows for “time shifted” viewing.

Smartphones and tablets now offer options in terms of both when and where content can be viewed.  Tablets can be watched in bed or in your neighborhood café.  Smartphones and mini-tablets can stream a TV sitcom or music video at a bus stop.

According to BI Intelligence analysis of Nielsen data, the US mobile video audience increased 77% to 36 million viewers over last two years.  The second fastest growing category, the audience for time-shifted TV, grew 54% to 146 million.  The chart below shows how mobile video’s share of total video viewing worldwide has also surged.


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A misperception about mobile video is that a small screen automatically translates to a consumer preference for shorter videos.  However, as the chart below shows, almost half of videos watched on smartphone screens are 10 minutes or longer, according to Ooyala’s data.  Tablet viewers spend even more of their time – 67% – watching videos longer than 10 minutes.

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Apple’s IOS-powered devices have a huge lead in terms of driving the most mobile video views. The chart below shows which percentage of videos not viewed on a desktop. IOS devices drive 57% of the views, versus 15% for Android.  Xbox drives more views than Android.

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On the advertising front, video is part of a larger shift in mobile advertising toward rich media ads that provide more engagement and interactivity and a more tailored experience particular to the device the user is immersed in.

In the chart below, data from Opera’s mobile ad network illustrate the tectonic shift to rich media and video ads, with mobile video ads doubling from 6% to 13% of ad executions in just six months.

Mobile video is a promising medium for advertisers, because it offers a polished TV-style ad, while also presenting an opportunity to ask users to perform other actions, such as signing up for an e-mail about a product or an app.

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Video will be key to monetizing mobile advertising.  The relatively low value of mobile ads has in large part been driven by small screens and consumers’ distaste for intrusive ads.  The hope is that mobile video will be the engaging ad format that finally unlocks mobile’s potential.

YuMe, a multi-screen ad solutions provider saw mobile video ad impressions grow 75% from Q1 to Q2, reaching 7% of all impressions.  Mobile ad network Greystripe reported a 300% increase in mobile video ad bookings between Q3 and Q4 last year.  They also boasted 1% to 3% click-through rates on its mobile video ads, and completion rates of 50%.

Bear in mind that mobile ad numbers are still tiny and are growing from a small base of limited inventory.  But even if the value of mobile video ads trend down, spending will still flow to them.  Advertisers will need to capture those eyeballs becoming glued to the small screen.

Current eCPMs for mobile video ads run in the $5 range while in-app video can garner a $10 eCPM.

The bottom line:

  • Users are watching longer videos across all devices, and watching a greater proportion of their video on mobile.
  • Mobile video ad bookings are growing at triple digit rates.
  • Over the long term, robust video-ad CPMs could be threatened by consumers’ tendency to tire of digital ad formats but new formats will need to evolve.

 

Connected Television[3]

Connected TVs are TVs connected to the Internet, whether it’s via Web-TV devices such as Roku and Apple TV, game consoles, or smart TVs.

It is estimated that by 2018, 80% of all TVs shipped will be smart TVs. In the meantime, existing TVs are being connected from the 8.6M Web-TV devices sold globally last year[4].

The chart below shows the number of households with the different sources of service provided.  These same sources are critical in supplying high speed internet access.

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When you consider the amount of bandwidth needed to support streaming video, it is important the number of households with broadband reaches critical mass.  As the chart below indicates broadband penetration of U.S. households now stands at almost 84 million.

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In addition, gaming console manufacturers are also seeking to claim a stake in this evolving ecosystem.  Not only have they strategically aligned themselves to provide video content and gaming interactivity through their consoles, they are capitalizing on an established footprint.  These evolving entertainment hubs are enabling a new set of opportunities for entertainment consumption through media applications.

Owners of game consoles spend considerable time with their devices. PS3 users are spending 36 minutes daily, Wii users 17 minutes, and Xbox 360 users 32 minutes.  And it’s not just for gaming. These consoles act as both gaming vehicles and video content purveyors.  They enable social gaming as well as DVD play and streaming through apps.

The chart below identifies how many U.S. households have devices that could have capability to access the Internet in the home.

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The bottom Line:

  • Connected TVs represents the future, however it is still in its infancy
  • Web-TV devices a transition while smart TV’s will be the norm by 2015
  • We cannot forget the impact of multi purpose game consoles, unlike Web-TV devices, this segment will continue to grow

 

AUDIENCE

Having grown up with the Internet, Generation Y is more connected than any other generation. As such, their needs and wants are different.

They don’t think of TV as a box in the living room. To them, it doesn’t matter if their videos come from a TV, an iPad or a smartphone. As long as it’s what they want, when they want it.

Gen Y are socially connected consumers. They share everything and they are “on” all the time. They expect the services and products they interact with to enable their connected lifestyles.

Increasingly, consumers are “social explorers”, meaning they use social media channels as their primary source for news and entertainment.

Consider these facts[5]:

  • 17% of all users are Social Explorers
  • People share to talk about themselves, to “brand” themselves
  • 47% of Gen Y’s will write about positive experiences online
  • 39% of Gen Y’s will share negative encounters online
  • 50% of Gen Y’s have over 300 Facebook friends
  • 43% of Gen Y’s have Liked more than 23 brands
  • 40% of Gen Y’s visit Facebook more than 10 times a day

 

The bottom line:

 

  • Gen Y is ahead of other generations and are currently more socially connected
  • In order to be successful with this audience it is important to embed social features in all aspects of the product

[1] Source for data tables: Nielsen cross platform report

Goodnight Peel. Lessons Learned.

The Peel Original Development Team

I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced at least one dramatic shift at a certain point in our careers.  One thing I have always prided myself on is reflection and willingness to learn from every major shift.  The most recent buyout of Freedom Communications and subsequent changes with senior leadership led to many strategy shifts and even total elimination of certain products.  One of the products discontinued was the iPad application called “The Peel”.  Those of you integrated into the process of developing The Peel are fully aware that its production was hard labor; countless hours of blood, sweat and tears.  Well maybe not blood but certainly the sweat and tears. However, those of us intimate with this product saw a light at the end of the tunnel, which we calculated to be about 2 years after its initial launch; we had projected 2 years just to get to break even on the profitability front. That investment period was abruptly ended – cut short by one year.  Its new owners failed to acknowledge the future of this product. So back to my original point: Anytime a major change takes place in my career, I need to reflect on the “why” and “what did we learn along the way” questions.  To give a proper response, I’ve written this post on the lessons learned from our experience with tablet publishing.

I’ll start with the reason that The Peel was eliminated: The new owners of Freedom stated that the focus of the company moving forward would be on subscribers and profitable products.  Seems reasonable for new owners to say.  The problem is that the premises of The Peel was to gain a new audience – to reach a much younger demographic than traditional newspapers. A demographic that is adverse to subscription-based models.  We were, in fact, creating a new way of publishing, using the iPad as the main vehicle; with more video, original content, local information and events than a typical news platform.  As I see it, if a newspaper’s main focus is on subscriptions and profitable products, it makes it very difficult to invest in creating new and different new sources of content.  Regardless of the decision, there were valuable lessons learned that I thought I would share. I know many of you are trying to figure out how to publish for a new audience, and how Mobile and/or Tablet can play a role.

The Good Stuff

  • We learned a key factor in attracting a younger audience was to brand the product with a unique name (non-replica of the newspaper), and play down any connection to its legacy brand.  We fought this battle constantly, both internally and externally.  It may be that your legacy brand is important for initial credibility, but not so much that your readers think it’s the exact same content that’s in your traditional print product.
  • Collaboration is very important with existing content sources, as the resources available from the legacy brand are vast. The large scope of news gathering and related content available for your product is critical to success, and therefore your relationships with legacy journalists are crucial.  We had a great rapport with the local content center; they loved that we were focused on expanding the audience.  They appreciated our role, which was to aggregate relevant content, and to design new elements that brought the content to life on the iPad. Our everyday decisions revolved around our target audience, not what was on the front page of the legacy newspaper or on the homepage of the legacy website.
  • Video must play a major role in the development of content.  Our most viewed stories were usually video-focused stories or features.  We created original series based on prep sports, behind-the-scenes insight into local entertainment, coverage of products & people from our local community and fashion trends.  We had 5 original content series, or “shows” as we called them, in The Peel, We aired the shows on consistent days each week, and we adopted a TV-like marketing effort.  Most of these TV/video products also became hits on The OC Register website.  However, we always kept original show programming exclusive to the iPad for 48 hours.
  • We inspired many other content businesses to follow our lead and produce content similar to The Peel.  We also showed the importance of hiring employees to work on these projects that came from entertainment, TV, production and design.
  • The key component of The Peel each day was the feature story.  The feature stories were brought life with written content, short videos, high-res images and interactive features created in HTML5.  In fact, our usage patterns would go off the charts when we had a rub & reveal HTML5 function in a feature story.
  • We ended up averaging around 5,000 “Uniques” per week and had over 125,000 downloads of the app.  “Time Spent” with the product averaged 13 minutes each time a person opened the app.

The Not So Good Stuff

  • We started out thinking the best thing we could do was to tie our publishing efforts into our existing content management system and workflow.  What a mistake.  Most legacy publishing systems start with a page-layout system that does not understand HTML5 or high-res images; we spent countless hours each day trying to make our desired functionality work within a system that didn’t want to accept it. We had wanted to focus all efforts around the needs and expectations of the end user, and not what the system would or would not do.  Sounds naive, but we missed many opportunities to grow upon content functionality due to being held back by the publishing system.
  • We should have developed more video and original content sooner.  We were so busy just trying to make our deadlines each day in the early stages, that we didn’t have time to collect data that would dictate what changes were needed.
  • The name change to “The Peel” (from its original name “OC Register Tablet app”) occurred when we had realized that most of the users of the iPad app were actually the same people who received the daily traditional print and website versions of the newspaper.  These readers were actually upset that they couldn’t find the stories from the web in the iPad app.  They were expecting an iPad rendition of the website and print products.  We quickly made a strategic shift away from the flagship brand, and what a difference it made. However, again a little late.  It’s not always easy being on the edge of new technology.
  • We should have created a Sunday edition of The Peel.  We were so focused on the Monday through Saturday readers, that we didn’t realize the Sunday users want a similar experience.  We were thinking Sunday was a time when people would slow down and take a look at the printed newspaper.  In fact, what really occurred was that our younger readers were used to experiencing the Monday through Saturday editions, and were actually disrupted by not getting the same experience on Sundays. And, they were not users of our other products; therefore there was a gap in their daily flow of news.
  • Finally, sales and advertisers weren’t ready for this new medium’s type of analytics.  Selling “share-of-voice” was foreign to our sales reps and advertisers, who wanted to talk cpm based buys.  I’m not sure much progress could have been made in this realm, as we simply didn’t have enough scale to gain major sales.  We sold advertising to casinos, sporting goods and some retail, but nowhere else.  The ads that we created for these particular advertisers looked great on the iPad. It was impressive. In the end, we ended up with the budgeted sales we had hoped for, but those numbers didn’t create profits.  I truly believe that we could have been profitable based on our original 2-year timeline. However, with new ownership comes new expectations, and the investment period for The Peel was cut off a year before we could witness that success.

The knowledge gained from this experience has allowed me to become an industry expert in Mobile and Tablet publishing, but boy did it come with some bumps and bruises.  I believe the future is bright for products designed to engage and deliver what a user expects from the device they are using.  I am a strong advocate of creating or publishing around audience expectations, and not trying to repurpose traditional newspaper content to fit the screen of the device.  I hope this post allows others to learn from my experiences and win the pursuit of new audiences by utilizing a new and different way of thinking and publishing.

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