The only digital-media prediction that anyone can absolutely guarantee is that change will be a constant. But thinking ahead to what the media landscape might look like over the next 10 years and how best to prepare for future possibilities is a useful exercise for every media executive.
- At the Digital Growth Summit 2021, publishers from around the world tried to predict the next 10 years for news media. They focused on reader preferences, technology and product development, the shape of media organisations and the future talent they will require.
- The editors at European media-news site The Fix have summarised the future-focused thinking at the summit. While acknowledging the risks involved in trying to plan too far ahead, they have developed five ideas that publishers can use to help position their businesses better for the next decade.
- The ideas they present look at the value inherent in making media useful to audiences; developing context for content through data labeling; content bundling and unbundling; the importance of marketing; and hiring the right talent to engage younger audience demographics.
Make media useful
Publishers must find ways to make their content relevant to their audiences, says Gert Ysebaert, CEO of Belgian publishing house Mediahuis. “We have to be one of the top 5 applications people use daily,” he said. The aim is to develop habit-forming content that becomes a part of the audience’s life, delivering utility and building relationships.
Media analyst Thomas Baekdal suggests utility can be delivered in three ways.
Solutions journalism – providing answers and solving problems
Entrepreneurial journalism – providing tools to help solve problems
Project journalism – Bringing people together around problem solving
Create context with data labelling
Data labelling is the process of adding descriptive tags to files to provide greater context. It is used extensively to drive the recommendation algorithms for Spotify and Netflix. Bringing this to general media would provide much better recommendations for users and keep them engaged for longer.
Developing rich data labelling would allow deeper machine learning around audience behaviours. This would facilitate analysis that would understand and predict audience preferences and power truly personalised experiences.
Bundle and unbundle content
Monolithic print publications have been largely unbundled through digital media, with classified advertising, for example, now delivered in standalone web properties like Craigslist. But the future will bring opportunities for publishers to re-bundle services under their broader digital brands.
One of the best examples is affiliate content, where product reviews can be added to drive e-commerce revenue. The advice from the summit was that bundling / unbundling opportunities will come and go more frequently in the future.
Publishers need to be able to react with speed and purpose – quickly recognizing which pieces to bundling / unbundle and adjusting their value proposition accordingly.
Invest in marketing
A 2020 CMO survey by Deloitte found that B2C industries spend between 14% and 15% of their revenues on marketing. In media this figure is often in the low single digits, possibly because ‘marketing’ is seen by some in the sector as something we sell, not something we do.
But the growing importance of reader revenue and the need to convert free readers to paying subscribers is likely to change this. Over the next 10 years, marketing will become crucial, with publishers needing to understand audience behaviours to fix price points, strengthen their brand, and build relationships.
Hire young talent
The absence of younger subscribers represents a huge problem for publishers; the latest Reuters Institute report shows that the typical paying reader is already in their 50s. Social media is the main source of news for younger audiences and if publishers want to bring them on board, they need to look at social-media focused audience acquisition strategies.
However, that doesn’t mean simply developing a presence on popular platforms:
To make sure media keep up they need to listen to the young voices in their newsroom. That starts with making sure such voices are actually there and ends with actually listening to them… While gender and racial diversity is rightly the subject of many surveys, age diversity is often overlooked.