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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

5 trends that will make you rethink your content delivery platform

March 23, 2021 | By John Agger, Sr. Industry Marketing Manager for Media & Entertainment – Fastly, Inc. @fastly

Digital publishers face serious competition for readers at a time when customer loyalty is eroding. More than ever, readers want fast, personalized digital content regardless of device, platform, or location. Visitors are quick to abandon slow and mediocre online experiences in favor of outlets that deliver fresh content at the speed of breaking news. Unfortunately, many publishers find themselves unprepared and without a firm strategy. 

Recent months have shown some progress when it comes to publishers and news aggregators. At the end of 2020, Australia was one of the first countries to require news aggregators to pay publishers for their content. Still, social networks and top-tier news aggregators dominate digital media. 

Traditional publishers are responding with subscription-based services that drive predictable revenue streams and viewership. And, while not all readers are willing or able to pay for gated content, those who do have even higher expectations for a seamless experience when it comes to both accessing and viewing this content. For video content, consumers will set the bar even higher. 

The key to customer retention is serving the most up-to-date content instantly, personalizing that content for readers, and ensuring online experiences are fast, safe, and secure. Let’s look a little closer at the top five challenges digital publishers currently face:

Speed matters

Today, milliseconds matter more than ever. Workflows and procedures must continuously be optimized and fine-tuned. Success often depends on editors being empowered to make content available the instant an article or video is approved for publication. Inherent delays, even for a few minutes, are almost certain to result in missed opportunity. 

Thus, low-latency delivery is required to attract viewers and keep them engaged. Highly dynamic digital content, is more efficiently and quickly processed at and served from the edge of the network. However, that is often far from where the content is stored in a content management system (CMS).

Seen from the point of the subscriber, responsive systems that allow repeated and immediate access to gated and premium content are expected. Authentication and paywalls should be as unobtrusive as possible, as there is a significant risk of abandonment if the process takes too long for each request. 

Personalization drives loyalty

With a plethora of news content, the competition for viewers and their loyalty has moved from pure availability and uptime to responsiveness and with that, personalization. Today, many digital publishers tailor news stories using variables such as viewing platform, location, and subscription status to deliver highly personalized content. However, not all CDN offerings have the needed visibility and configurability to support these efforts. This compromises customer loyalty initiatives and risks a loss of audience in both the near and long term.

Growing privacy and security concerns at every level

Strict privacy laws are placing new limits on traditional digital publishing approaches. And deploying cookies and other IP tracking methods is proving increasingly difficult. Within the European Union, GDPR enforcement requires publishers to explicitly define their tracking systems and limits any kind of data gathering unless the viewer accepts opts-in. And let’s not forget that similar privacy laws are emerging in the U.S. In order to enable compliance, digital publishers increasingly seek to control where content is viewed. To do this, many opt to partner with a content delivery vendor that can block access based on location and IP address as well as identify virtual private network (VPN) traffic.

Bots also continue to be a security concern for digital publishers. They can scrape and republish content illegally. This greatly diminishes the content’s value for the original publisher. It also poses a significant threat to both content quality and ad revenue. Advertisers are expected to lose an estimated $19 Billion to fraudulent activities this year—equivalent to $51 million daily (Juniper Research). 

Political affiliations, opinion pieces, and other controversial content make digital publishers a frequent target for distributed disruption of service (DDoS) attacks. The mere exposure a hacker can get from disrupting major news sites is often incentive enough. Digital publishers wanting to build their online protection plans should be cautious of legacy CDNs that often lack visibility to detect online attacks and distinguish them from a flood of legitimate traffic when news breaks (not to mention the ability to react and mitigate).

Video content comes at a cost

Increasingly, customer demand is driving a pivot from static content to video. Snackable video is easy to consume. And, in the context of news, video usually conveys a higher level of perceived trust. Support for video can also bring additional revenue, as advertisers typically pay significantly more for video ads, especially those that can support dynamic ad insertion to target viewers. 

The shift by traditional digital publishers to embed video into their news stories and feature articles is blurring the competitive landscape between video-only and video-first outlets. However, video content and delivery bring their own set of unique challenges. The amount of data needing to be transported increases exponentially. Therefore, it can put a heavy burden on infrastructure typically designed to accommodate much smaller payloads. Also, successful video delivery requires systems that can scale with audience and demand. This includes predictable demand for local news segments and purpose-built videos to unpredictable demand during significant news events such as breaking news or when video content goes viral. 

Technical debt slows the pace of innovation

As digital publishers evolve their businesses to reach more customers with higher bandwidth content, they often encounter technical constraints created by legacy CDNs. Inflexible architectures fail to address fundamental content delivery requirements, including real-time visibility and control, as well as the ability to scale on demand. 

Often, publishing workflows are complex and contain custom-developed technology stacks. Thus, modifying deployments for better scale and performance while maintaining uninterrupted workflows is fraught with risk and can feel daunting, if not insurmountable. Traditional CDNs routinely lack full API support, granular control, and real-time configuration changes. This flexibility is necessary in order to integrate with custom tech stacks, as well as other emerging technologies, and thus impede digital transformation efforts.

Don’t let outdated technology stand in your way

In a highly competitive market, often with thin margins, digital publishers striving to stay relevant must have modern systems in place that deliver content to readers and aggregators the moment it is ready. As you set out to architect and build your next delivery platform, be sure to evaluate the practical challenges a legacy CDN will impose when it comes to meeting the expectations of your audience.

Publishers know that competition for audience time and attention is fierce. Given increasing challenges, and rising consumer expectations, it is critical to make smart investments in order to deliver fast, excellent audience experiences. 

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