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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Mobile Day Offers a Strategic View of Challenges and Opportunities

December 8, 2014 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

The majority of digital content is consumed on mobile devices. Most people check their phone before brushing their teeth. And more than 90% of people have their mobile device within reach 24/7. This behavior creates an unprecedented opportunity to deliver mobile content and marketing; it also means that the breadth of use-cases, expectations and needs vary as much as the times and places consumers find themselves using their devices throughout any given day. Mobile is not just the most popular way to experience digital content; it is also the most personal — and perhaps most complex — way to do so as well.

At Digital Content Next’s members-only Mobile Day held December 5th at The New York Times building, speakers shared a wide range of approaches to and experimentation with mobile content and delivery. They also examined some of the distinct challenges of meeting the demands of today’s mobile content consumer.

News seems like one of the most obvious fits for mobile content consumption. However, according to Editor-in-chief Anthony De Rosa, Circa was created because they felt that news was not optimized for a mobile audience. He pointed out that, “news consumption is very different on smart phones and we don’t want to shoehorn the desktop experience to mobile.” In particular, De Rosa believes that mobile apps over-use push alerts and said that the number one reason people delete apps is because of too many unwanted push alerts. The Circa news app only pushes story updates to users who have opted-in to follow a particular topic. The company “atomizes” its content and, rather than creating and publishing entirely new versions of stories as they unfold, Circa sends users directly to the updated aspects of stories they follow. Atomization does not mean less information, however. “There’s an idea that we only give people high-level stuff at Circa, but when users follow a story, they actually consume what amounts to a long form article over a longer time—but in a way that is better suited to the mobile experience.”

CircafollowCirca is currently building out its website; to date its entire experience has been built to suit app delivery. Several of the DCN Mobile Day speakers noted that they see higher levels of engagement in apps than mobile websites. CNBC’s VP of Product and Design Deepanshu Bagchee reported that apps deliver the most engaged CNBC fan base and panel agency executives reported that, overall, they perceive apps to be a more engaging environment. Morgan Petti, Associate Director of Mobile at OMD Airwave said “we see more engagement and time spent with apps” and Andy Hoffman VP, Mobile Marketing at Havas Media / Mobext noted that “if your goals are about high-engagement and impact, [focus on] apps.” ‘

In contrast to those voices, Vox Media Product Manager Lauren Rabaino told DCN Members that they recently “killed mobile apps” opting to go with responsive design throughout its network of sites. As a company recognized for its agility and technological acumen, the move to streamline from four code bases to a single one can clearly be seen as allowing the company to focus on delivering an optimal website experience across devices. It also allows standardization of ad units for delivery throughout its seven brand sites.

Condé Nast’s Executive Director of Digital Development Ned Newhouse reported that the company “has “reached the magic number of 50 percent mobile web and 50 percent desktop.” While it has made a huge investment in video through its Condé  Nast Entertainment division and delivers video through a portal, partnership program and websites, Newhouse said “we are really focused on deploying the video through our branded mobile web products because that’s where the loyalty and traffic exists.”

Sara Poorsattar, The New York Times’ Director of Video Products, has found that page views are higher in mobile environments, but noted that because of the “additional commitment and barrier of entry in mobile,” they do better with video on the website. However, they also see a lot of video views coming through YouTube because of the prevalence of the YouTube app. Poorsattar said that the Times is looking closely at the offline experience in developing for mobile, noting that video news is something users might want to consume during a commute or other times when they have time to focus on longer form but may lack consistent connectivity.

The offline experience is also one that Bagchee is closely evaluating. “We see that when people are on the move we see things like quick stock checks. But we are working on surfacing more contextually- relevant video and possibly creating video that people can watch later on the office Wi-Fi.”

For the Times, mobile video represents an opportunity to reach younger and international audiences. CNBC is also among those that believe content needs to be available on a wide range of delivery channels including YouTube and Facebook to reach a younger demographic while its older demographic is more inclined to use the app. Interestingly, Christy Tanner SVP and GM of CBS Interactive Media Group revealed that the TVGuide app experience is the only one that its under 35 demo (about a third of its audience) really knows, despite the fact that it is a 60 year print-legacy brand.

TVGuideTanner said that her company, which launched CBS All Access a few months ago, is focused not just on mobile but on creating a true multi-screen experience because “it is possible to engage audiences, and for them to have shared experiences, on any size screen.” And, as Newhouse from Condé Nast said, “It’s a mobile dominated world. This is the core device we use everywhere, but it is just another means to an end. Content absorption is not device specific.”  While there are certainly ways in which content and experience can be optimized for time and context of mobile consumption, mobile cannot be conceived of in a silo. While it is a dominant part of users’ content consumption habits, creating a seamless experience across devices remains the goal.

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