Posts Tagged ‘ digital publishing ’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

6 Steps to Success in the Mobile Ad Space

There has been a recent surge in charts and graphs depicting the meteoric growth expected in mobile by 2016. That meteoric growth has been underway for quite some time. Mobile is exploding in every aspect, i.e. traffic, usage, downloads, and eventually in advertising dollars.

You’ve probably seen the chart below, which clearly shows the massive amount of time we spend interacting on our mobile devices, against the ability of advertisers to monetize it. We spend 23% of our time with media on mobile, but mobile only attracts 1% of the advertising dollars.

So what will it take to get advertising revenues at least up to a point where usage and advertising are near the same level? Here are 6 crucial steps to consider:

  1. Create ads for specific devices: Recognize that display/banner ads created for websites cannot be retrofitted to a smaller screen (pretending to be a mobile display ad) as they usually don’t render well on a smartphone. Rather, once you target a specific audience, create the ad for the specific device your audience uses.  There are a few exceptions, but they usually involve video.

Good examples:        

 

Example of a bad ad, on an iPad (too small!):      

  

  1. Link your ad to a mobile friendly page:  If you share a link to drive users to a particular website, make sure the website is designed for a mobile device. If not, the end user will get a terrible experience; check to make sure the font is large enough to read and that most of the info isn’t hidden “below the fold”. Also, make sure that all images and links work properly! Create an experience the user on a mobile phone would expect to see.

IKEA France (image link broken):                                       

IKEA Italy

3. Make sure your call to action is easy to get to. Once you create the mobile landing page and it links to a mobile-friendly site, you need your call-to-action to function properly with the particular mobile device.  If you are driving a purchase decision, are you able to link to a well-designed mobile ecommerce experience?  If you included a phone number, does it allow for a quick connection? If adding a request for contact, is there a functional link to house the contact info?

  1. Create a portfolio of different sized ads: It’s difficult to reach multiple audiences using similar advertising across platforms, and usage patterns vary based on age group.  Your ads need to match your audience and they need to function well on the specific device. Also, create both vertical and horizontal versions of your ad, so users receive an optimal experience regardless of how a user is orienting their device.

Examples of different sizes of ad landing pages:      

     

  1. Provide interactivity in your ad: Make sure all advertising includes elements that go beyond just display with phone number or link; include social media links, potentially gaming elements, video and loyalty aspects. Make the user experience fun and productive.
  1. Satisfy your advertisers with quality analytics: One final suggestion is to make sure you supply quality analytics on the benefits an advertiser receives from their ads.  You want them to feel good about the money they spent on it! Create a dashboard with the most important  results to make it easy for an advertiser to understand the performance of the ad.

To sum it up, there are many variations in functionality of an ad, depending on the device: smartphone, tablet or desktop. Be sure you understand the nuances, as it’s the only way to make a dent in usage patterns versus advertising dollars spent.

Publishing for Mobile and Tablets, Why Does It Have To Be So Hard?

My Interactive team has been driving the mobile strategy for the company since 2007, launching hundreds of mobile apps, mobile websites and iPad apps. Those products have been revised over the years, but it’s become clear lately that we need to take our approach to mobile to the next level.

Over the past few months, we have been putting the final touches on a next-generation mobile and tablet apps strategy. We used user data as well as analytics data for our mobile websites, apps and iPad products.

Generally speaking, our news apps have been fairly easy to maintain since they are RSS feeds into a template design. iPad publishing on our “The Peel” app, however, is a different story.  The Peel features a combination of curated and original content.  The process to upload this original content is time-intensive. We have to manually work with each story to create a uniquely interactive experience for iPad consumers that expect dynamic functionality.

As we considered our next generation of products, it was apparent that we needed to improve on the user experience and increase our speed to market (improving on productivity with the backend content management system).  With 2 years of trials and tribulations under our belt, I can certainly say that our strategy for content, design creativity and innovation clearly outweighs our ability to deliver at a desired speed-to-market using the current legacy systems we have in place.

Advertisers expect a unique and compelling experience on mobile and tablets, as do consumers.  But how do we meet these needs when we continue to pull from existing legacy content production systems with ever increasing limitations? Example of limitations: Photo & video resolutions in existing systems don’t take advantage of hi-resolution retina display on an iPad. News stories are currently laid out to fit desktop or printed page, not mobile or tablet, and HTML5 is a foreign language to most.

The answer? Bite-the-bullet! Recognize that if you want to succeed you MUST publish for the future and think about investing in non-legacy products.  Easy enough? Not so much. More issues are arising with each upgrade of smart phone and tablet operating systems. Not easy to stay ahead of the technology curve when newspapers are inherently print-oriented.

Rahul Patel wrote Are Publishers Failing on Tablets:  “Tablet readers expect the best of both worlds.  They want real-time content and web-like interactivity within a user-friendly brand experience that “feels” like the same brand found on the web and in print.” This comment is more focused on magazines but the basic premise is correct for newspapers as well.

So, how can legacy media businesses evolve with technology?  Well, this is our attempt at it:

1)   We focused on the desired design layout.

2)   We decided how often we wanted to publish new content.

3)   We focused on how we could deliver original content that took advantage of HTML5 elements to bring the information to life.

4)   We looked carefully at how smart phone design and functionality differed from tablet design and functionality.

5)   We created our next-generation layout, and assumed it would last about 12 months.

6)   We also asked ourselves “How do we continually feed this beast”?  After all, we had been going on the assumption that we could continue with our legacy systems…

7)   CMS (Onset) & our publishing system (CCI) provide what we need to publish, however the process is labor-intensive, and this production process gets heavier as technology progresses faster and faster! We are just adding to the production time each day as we pursue the best possible experience for our audience.

It’s now time for us to rethink another next-generation process, as we must free ourselves from the current time-intensive workflow environment.  A publishing system and or process should not drive what you deliver to your audience.  That’s the job of the audience.

The Interactive ‘think-tank’ has devised a system where any CMS would feed into a “normalization engine” which would then put all content into its proper place.  The normalization engine would feed the templates automatically, therefore increasing the speed of production.  A dashboard would allow for manual manipulation of the content.  We could pull in HTML5 components, hi-res photos etc.  We could then push to any template we have in place regardless of the device.  Assuming success, we would now spend our time on the creativity of design and interactivity, changeable at your fingertips! This new process would break the heavy production cycle.  The content becomes ubiquitous and our time could be spent at the dashboard level making each interactive experience the best ever.

Not such an easy task… and the hardest part is foregoing the existing production system/workflow environment. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to deliver the experience expected in mobile and tablet publishing on a time-sensitive basis. The key to success is not allowing process or outdated publishing systems drive product.

Stay tuned, every day we learn more.

Display Ads Don’t Work Anymore: NOW WHAT


I attended several meetings last week in the Bay Area and met with several companies including Google and Pandora.  I’m always energized after spending time with businesses whose sole focus is on the pursuit of digital and the monetization of those efforts.

During the meetings we spent a lot of time talking about the ever changing consumer behavior as it relates to interacting with advertising.  As we all know, display ads are still a major component of most online efforts but with each passing day the advertisers that pay for those ads are asking for more clarity on the success rate.  Jason Del Rey of AdAge wrote a good article on the subject that talked about click throughs becoming irrelevant as a way to measure the success of digital display ads.  Advertisers are starting to talk more about the interaction with the ad which includes hovering over the ad, listening to audio, playing a game integrated in the ad, or other activities.

I am seeing more and more advertisers asking to have their message put into the context of content on the page.  Check out how SAP ad is relevant to content. Advertisers are also asking how social aspects of the content can be integrated into advertising.  Think Facebook.  In other words, the old way of thinking about display ads as relatively static messaging has to change if we want to continue selling to advertisers.

Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti  wrote a good article that talked about the importance of moving beyond display ads.  I particularly took note of this quote:

“Peretti sees display ads as artifacts of an earlier Internet era when people went to portals to find content. That era — and its skyscraper and banner ads — has long passed as readers instead turned to search and, more recently, to social networks to find stories.”

I believe the issue of display ads not working as well as they once did is becoming even more critical when you consider the impact of mobile and tablets. Most publishers are seeing desktop page views flattening out and most growth is coming from smart phones and tablets.  Now think about display ads on a smart phone.  It’s a small screen and many advertiser websites are not optimized for smart phones, creating a bad experience.  The answer?  We often create mobile landing pages for our advertisers.

On the tablet, display takes on a whole new meaning.  Using a tablet is an engaging process; consumers are much more interactive using the device. They spend more time, look at more pages, and click on more ads. They are more likely to click on an ad if it takes advantage of the device’s technology, with interactive and social elements. Most advertisers can’t create interactive ads. They need an agency or the publisher to do that for them. Therefore we create tablet landing pages and build interactive and social elements into ads for our advertisers.

So, what’s a publisher to do? Here are some recommendations:

  1. Create mobile and tablet landing pages for your advertisers
  2. Integrate interactive and social elements into ads
  3. Offer advertisers an immersive experience, giving them a role in the content on the page

There are no easy solutions. For anyone. And after sitting with the Pandora execs, one thing I know is no one has it all figured out.  Pandora is doing a great job in getting an audio advertisement to your music station every 20 minutes.  The ad includes a leave-behind display ad.  However unless you have the phone in your hand or you’re sitting at your desktop you won’t see a display ad unless you need to access the screen itself.

And Pandora’s ads are typical display ads that fill the screen on a smart phone, similar to a static display ad. Pandora has a compelling message and audience reach story.  As they evolve in the space my bet is they come up with even more compelling interactive ads for mobile devices.

Everyone has a chance to be successful in the mobile and tablet space as long as they don’t treat it like desktop.  Pandora is making sure they don’t, and my guess is they will be a big winner in selling digital ads for their service.

Google is also really pushing the envelope in thinking about mobile and tablet, but their real knockout punch is still Search.  They are constantly evolving with more progressive advertising on mobile formats and no longer thinking about it as a display ad.

It is going to take a combination of social, display, integrated messaging and interactive elements to win this battle.  My message here is that even the big guys haven’t figured out the secret sauce as display ages and new formats evolve and progress for all our mobile devices.  Keep trying new things and don’t get caught trying to repurpose old formats.

Jumping on the Proverbial Band Wagon

I have been reading a lot lately about newspaper businesses implementing pay walls at what seems like a rapid rate compared to just 12 months ago.  So, what has changed?  The number one driver of this new enthusiasm is because the New York Times was able to implement a “pay fence” to its primary website with an acceptably low decline in traffic, along with more than 450,000 paid subscribers.  The increase in subscription revenue has more than offset any decline in ad revenues from the drop in page views.

Even though no other newspaper is anything like the NY Times, with its national footprint and millions of readers, others are following in what feels like a frenzied rush to judgment.  The largest newspaper chain holding company, Gannett, announced all 80 of its daily newspapers (with exception of USA Today) would be behind a pay wall within 12 months.  Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post Dispatch as well as many small community newspapers, announced all of its dailies would be going behind a pay wall.  Many others are heading in the same direction.  So a little success in a big national newspaper is giving everyone confidence to move in this direction, forget the fact that the audience for digital content has been conditioned for “free” content (with ads of course).

Could there be something else driving this change in attitude?  Maybe, there’s a lack of new ideas on how to grow digital faster.  Could it be that mobile isn’t moving fast enough and current indications are that it could be at a lower CPM than desktop web?  Is it that the sales organization is now smaller and has to focus on what still drives 85% of the revenues for these companies (print)?   Maybe it’s because it’s a last ditch effort to stop the slide in revenues since the economy is coming back but hasn’t really helped the newspaper industry.  Or, could it be all of these things.

Here are some things to think about if you are working in a media business, regardless of where you think the future will be.

  • Are you selling advertising as if you are part of an agency?  Do you offer much more than just display ads?  Do you help an advertiser spend their precious $1,000 a month budget and not place 85% of it in print unless it really creates 85% of the interest?
  • Do you offer your advertisers help in creating digital ads for web and mobile?
  • What are you doing to help advertisers deal with social media?
  • How are you helping advertisers be successful in search?
  • Are you creating post campaign reports that your reps actually understand, and are able to review with advertisers to demonstrate the value of their advertising efforts?
  • Are you selling the newest opportunity in digital (mobile) with the same sales organization that sells print, and who just recently started understanding how to sell digital ads for desktop? If so, why?
  • What about tablets?  They are sold differently than mobile.  Do you know why?
  • Are you creating content specific to the device, or is your content team putting the same content that is on the web onto mobile and tablet?
  • What have you done to move beyond display ads for smart phones?
  • Does your sales organization understand how to sell “share of voice?”  This is the way selling advertising on tablets will be done.

If you can answer positively to these questions I wonder if a pay wall is really needed?

Spend some time thinking this through.  We don’t want the newspaper business to be compared to Kodak.

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