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Publishers accelerated diversification strategies in 2020!

December 15, 2020 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

As publishers reflect on 2020, most will agree that Covid-19 took center stage. The year was filled with business struggles, but it also offered some growth opportunities. What’s New in Publishing’s (WNIP) year-in-review, Media Moments 2020, identifies “diversification” as the paramount lesson from 2020. Importantly, the report makes it clear that publishers who are dependent on advertiser revenue need to rethink their strategies and include consumer revenue streams.

WNIP’s report covers the industry’s focus on “trend acceleration.” Certainly, while there has been marketplace disruption the past two decades, nothing has accelerated market shifts quite like Covid-19. Media Moments looks at 2020 to showcase these market changes and identify winning publisher strategies.

Notable 2020 highlights

Print final shift to digital

Any print publisher who survived 2020, will need to go fully digital in 2021. In fact, Poynter reports that nation­al newspaper circulation in the U.S. is down 30% since 2016 and 60 newsrooms closed recently due to the impact of Covid-19.

Launching a differentiated digital brand with fresh content is vital in this marketplace. Revenue diversification is key for sustainability. Offering virtual events, newsletters and podcasts are important touchpoints to broaden revenue opportunities as well as develop consumer loyalty.

Audio is an expending revenue source

Audio has proved to be a strong and viable business for publishers and they look to expand their audio businesses in 2021. Some have their business by producing dedicated podcast content while others grew through acquisitions. Many publishers are testing new formats for podcast integrations in content outside of news. Other examples include a new commentary format from AMC to complement their video business and Marvel’s experimenting with fictional content.

Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Apple are a few of the leading podcast platforms. While Spotify is among those building their content portfolio of content, others are building their podcasting infrastructure like iHeart.  This year alone, Spotify acquired content producers Gimlet and The Ringer. iHeart, on the other hand, acquired podcast analytics company, Voxnest. Even given the coronavirus’ negative impact on advertising spend this year, podcasting did not register large declines. PwC’s updated predictions approximate $814M for podcasting ad revenue, just 6% below PwC and IAB’s original forecast.

Publisher exercise first-party data

In January 2020, Google announced that Chrome would phase out support for third-party cookies in the browser within two years. This didn’t come as a big surprise, given that Mozilla FireFox and Apple’s Safari made similar announcements in 2019. Of course, this trend will mandate reducing digital advertising’s reliance on cookies. As a result, an already tough seller’s marketplace for publishers is getting tougher. Fortunately, many publishers acted early and started to develop first-party data strategies, benefitting from their trusted relationship with consumers.

Once again, publishers are touting the merits of contextual advertising.  And many publishers are building the tools to serve contextual advertising better than ever before. In fact, Vox Media launched Concert Ad Manager, a self-service tool for publishers to build and implement ad campaigns across the marketplace. Publishers using this tool include NBC Universal, Penske Media, Quartz, and others. This type of tool is extremely helpful to small and medium size publishers.

As the pandemic transformed our world, consumers searched for news and information to help them navigate the crisis. From dropping paywalls to record traffic, publishers responded, and they were reminded of the trust consumers place in them. By concentrating on consumer value, publishers can prioritize a consumer-first strategy and register growth in consumer revenue.

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