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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Media execs weigh in on Covid-crisis inspired trends: creativity, productivity, and growth

June 11, 2020 | By Will Harris – Independent Journalist @NonStopPop

Throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, media organizations have had no option but to rapidly – and even radically – change their existing processes to keep things running smoothly. despite being unable to work within their usual offices and create content in the manner to which they’d become accustomed.

We reached out to some of the members of Digital Context Next and asked them the following question:

“Given the way companies have been necessarily adjusting and adapting to the Covid-19 crisis, what trends have particularly caught your eye, and which ones do you think are most likely to continue into the post-pandemic digital landscape?”

As you’ll see below, the responses were wide and varied, with each exec offering insight from their own unique perspective. But there were also several distinct similarities of observation, hinting at some potentially noteworthy trends in creative problem-solving, consumption of news and information, and increased productivity in a remote work environment.


“The increase in news consumption among younger demographics has caused an influx of new advertisers to the genre. We have also seen a decrease in keyword blocking over the last month compared to the start of the pandemic. Marketers realized that keyword blocking was being applied too broadly and that they were missing important, brand safe content.”

– Jeff Collins
Executive Vice President, Advertising Sales
FOX News Media

“Advertisers, agencies and publishers continue to navigate these challenging times with flexibility, speed and increased communication. The rapidity of creating solutions and working together across the industry has been impressive, and surely that nimble nature will be a constant moving forward. Additionally, the power of live news in a digital environment has been a force. Partners are embracing cross-platform service advertising to support necessary journalism while communicating brand campaigns and messages with mission at the helm. The value for partners and consumers alike is inherent, and from here, we’ll continue to see that grow in importance.”

– Christine Cook
Senior Vice President & Chief Revenue Officer
CNN Digital, WarnerMedia Ad Sales

“I’ve been impressed with how productive our staff has been in a fully remote work environment. I worry that our strong culture supports an effective WFH structure, but that over time, with departures and new hires, that could erode. Even with that concern, I do think that we will be much more accepting of remote work arrangements and lower occupancy in the office.”

– Michael F. Finnegan
President
Atlantic Media

“In addition to some obvious trends that will stick, involving remote work and public health precautions, I’m hoping that the speed and agility of our response to the crisis as publishers will be long lasting. In the AP’s case, we converted to remote operations worldwide, including complex video newsgathering and distribution. The move required us to move master control rooms to staffers’ homes immediately and implement remote tools for video editing to staffers worldwide. Not every project in the future needs to be run as a fire drill like this, but my hope is that we will retain a lot of the muscle memory from our response to the Covid crisis.”

– Jim Kennedy
SVP, Strategy & Enterprise Development
Associated Press

“Independent trustworthy journalism has proven itself in the crisis and is emerging even stronger than before. However the advertising markets across the globe have collapsed significantly and we cannot be sure whether they will return or shift even further towards the mega-platforms. Increasingly, a very few mega-platforms decide if, where and how citizens can use and access journalistic offerings and other services. The Covid crisis has accelerated this development. The policy response in Europe and in the US must be faster, more determined and more comprehensive in order to safeguard free, independent journalism and to re-establish fair competition in digital markets.” 

– Dr. Dietrich von Klaeden
Senior Vice President Public Affairs
Axel Springer SE

“The pandemic is forcing us to look more closely at who we’re reaching and when. And it’s making the case for more surgical, performance-based advertising in lieu of broader brand marketing efforts. Going forward, I think we’ll see a more concerted effort to tie media investment to business outcomes, but those business outcomes will still include brand building KPIs in addition to performance focused KPIs.

“We’ll also see an increased emphasis on flexibility and agility across the media industry as a whole, specifically in relation to upfront/annual budget commitments and creative production. With so much changing so quickly, the last several months have created an environment in which marketers want to mitigate risk as much as possible, especially when it comes to media distribution or to creative campaigns that may need to be altered based on micro/macroeconomic conditions and societal issues.”

– Craig Kostelic
Chief Business Officer, U.S. Advertising Revenue and Head of Global Advertising Solutions
Condé Nast

“Mobile has been a central part of our business but Covid-19 has brought that to a new level – people aren’t in the office so that workday routine is out the window. Our audiences are toggling between mobile devices, laptops, and Connected-TVs at all hours. This means more news during the day (especially streaming broadcasts) but also on evenings and weekends. Offering a great experience across all devices is so important. We’re also seeing the value of effectively pushing content out through app notifications, search optimization, email and third-party aggregators. It’s a very competitive market and you can’t sit back and hope people find your content.

“We’re seeing how important it is to be ready to tell stories with video and with text. Video does well on social media, text does better on search – people have different preferences. By consistently telling stories in multiple ways, we maximize our audience and the engagement we receive. Explainer videos that offer foundational information have been extremely important during Covid-19. Things like ‘What you need to know about Covid-19’ have been consistently among our top videos and most shared on social media. They also have companion articles that share similar information and that’s been a winning formula for us.”

– Marian Pittman
SVP, Content
COX Media Group

“In our space, OTT and other platforms have seen explosive growth. We are also seeing an uptick on online donations, even in these challenging economic times. This is directly related to an increase in the consumption of PBS content both on air and online. We’ve also seen marked growth in PBS Learning Media as more students and teachers and parents look for online educational tools and growth in PBS Kids content, especially the games app that launched only a few years ago but is now used as much as the PBS Kids video app. For PBS I believe all these trends will continue as consumers adopt new habits and discover the quality content Public Media and our local stations bring to them.”

– Ira Rubenstein
Chief Digital & Marketing Officer
PBS

“Three trends catch my eye. One is the necessary acceleration of creating value from audiences other than via advertising, which is proving to be a fickle friend. That means specifically paid content/membership strategies, but also the value in analysis and research via first party direct relationships with readers. In a world without a compass, insight into the thoughts and inclinations of key audiences are gold dust, both for publishers and partners. 

“The second trend is the changing definition of ‘journalism’ from the spoken, video or written format to a more data-driven and graphical experience. The Covid-19 crisis has been played out – and devoured by readers – in charts and graphs. I think there’s a lot more potential to engage readers in the future with this format.

“The other trend is of course the reinvention of the event space. Digital events were always thought to be a poor relation of the live experience. But I’m seeing audience appetite, bags of creativity, and lots of opportunity to develop engaging, valuable events online. 

“It’s a terrifying time for a lot of reasons, but there are exciting opportunities out there, too.”

– Jon Slade
Chief Commercial Officer
Financial Times
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