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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

The omnichannel approach to navigating media industry disruption

October 26, 2021 | By Chris Hansen, SVP Media and Information Services – 3Pillar Global @3PillarGlobal

Media disruption has become a fact of life in the digital age. Media disruption is a fact of life in the digital age.ons become more diverse, new channels are emerging more rapidly than most media companies can respond.

This pace places an extreme burden on media companies. They don’t want to throw money at every novel channel in our here-today, gone-tomorrow culture because they can ill afford to waste time and resources. Nor can they afford to overlook the next big trend and risk irrelevancy. 

When an ad-supported model drove revenue, companies could risk complacency. With the depreciation of the cookie, there is a growing need to move fast to attract attention and leverage first-party data to drive engagement.

New channels, new strategies 

Media companies and publishers have re-adjusted their revenue strategies to focus on subscriptions as per-page revenue from advertising has dropped. In a recent interview, New Yorker editor David Remnick noted that advertising sales in their print magazine largely subsidized the content in the magazine for most of its life. Now, digital and print subscriptions pay for the newest Borowitz Report.

Can a successful subscription service be enough for a media company to thrive in the years ahead? For the New Yorker and loyal reader base, the answer is likely yes. For many others, survival means embracing a truly omnichannel strategy that distributes content everywhere that content can be consumed. 

The New York Times went through a tumultuous transition a decade ago as it dealt with substantial drops in print readership and revenue. Yes, they have done well with digital subscriptions. However, the Times has also developed a plethora of content products, built for the changing habits of their audience. 

The Daily, a long form audio content for the passive Times’ listener, is an excellent example. It demonstrates how companies like The New York Times provide a range of content formats that meet the broad expectations of today’s audiences. Products like these also access emerging digital engagement channels, which offer new revenue streams and drive subscriptions. 

New revenue: ecommerce and events

The definition of media is continually evolving. ESPN and Barstool Sports are content companies that also support new endemic opportunities such as sports-betting. Synergies like these not only create new revenue streams but drive ongoing multi-channel engagement. You don’t just read about or watch the game, you participate in the game along with your favorite content brand. 

Ecommerce is also becoming a way to leverage brand recognition and build stronger relationships with consumers by supplementing information with a physical product. It may not be a surprise that HGTV sells doormats. But did you know that Barstool Sports now sells One Bite frozen pizza?

Media company events are nothing new. However, they are becoming an ever more common way to drive revenue, engagement and brand loyalty. ComplexCon, the event put on by Complex Networks, is an excellent example of meeting their Millennial and Gen Z audience how and where they want to engage. The New Yorker Festival just saw its second biggest revenue earnings ever in its new hybrid format. 

True omnichannel lies ahead 

What are some of the promising omnichannel opportunities going forward? As The New York Times has demonstrated, audio is proving to be quite popular. (As well as a bit of what’s old is new again). Given that audio is a fairly passive content channel, it can exist in the background without demanding focused attention from the consumer. In our multitasking culture, having the freedom to absorb ambient media while also exercising or mowing the lawn is highly valuable. 

The once-taboo is now an opportunity for media companies looking to engage. As states begin to legalize online gambling and sports betting, there are opportunities to drive new branding and co-branding revenue streams, creating one of the most direct opportunities for the right media brands to surround and interact with the content. It is critical that companies keep their eye on changing trends and emerging opportunities that align with their brand and target audience.   

The long game

Indeed, whatever activity a media company chooses to tap into, they must do it authentically and on-brand. The excellent podcast series  on systemic racism Who We Are, created by Vox Media and Ben and Jerry’s, is an example of high-quality brand extension. 

What direct revenue will these and other emerging markets create? That’s the billion dollar question. But it also misses the point. Creating a content ecosystem that authentically connects great content to your audience supports behavior that drives subscriptions and ultimately sustainable revenue. The key is being open to experimentation. And experimenting does not mean developing a TikTok strategy in 2022 to gain younger viewers. 

Some (well, many) attempts will fail. However, those that succeed could become significant new revenue streams. The advent of 5G all but guarantees a turbocharged environment of innovative new channels for media companies to explore in the coming decade.

The future for media companies demands an omnichannel approach. While content is still king, customers now dictate how and where they will consume it. To win a battle fought on many fronts, media companies need to jump into the arena and embrace change. This means combining insight-driven experimentation with new emerging channels and technologies. That’s the kind of customer-centricity that will ensure content drives new revenue opportunities. 

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