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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Regulation, revenue, and relationships top of mind at the 2022 DCN Next: Summit

February 7, 2022 | By Jessica Patterson – Independent Media Reporter @jesspatterson

Held virtually January 31-February 3, the 20th annual members-only DCN Next: Summit was a gathering of digital content companies from all over the world.

CEO Jason Kint opened the event by offering his perspective on how the last few years have underscored the need for quality information. He also reinforced the need for trust, particularly as we move toward web3. “Where people have choice and a competitive market, where they spend their time, attention and relationships, trust will matter. Trust matters more than ever,” Kint explained.

Keynotes and discussion sessions touched on subscriptions, paywalls and reader revenue, video, film, audio strategy, and AI. The event also explored the political and technical forces shaping the media landscape today, with sessions focusing on cookies, identity, trust, privacy, and platforms.

The personal is political, and platforms

The opening keynote featured 2021 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Maria Ressa speaking with investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr. They discussed platforms and the critical role a free press plays in healthy democracies. As Ressa put it, “Until technology gets guardrails around it, until we get to the point where the platforms that deliver the news are redesigned so that lies laced with anger and hate do not spread faster and further than facts, journalists will be under attack.”

Investigative Journalist Carole Cadwalladr in conversation with Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler

Platform concerns and necessary regulation arose again throughout the event, notably in Thursday’s final keynote. Attendees heard from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, mere hours after a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights hearing.

Klobuchar, who has been working to hold big tech platform accountable, provided an update on the bipartisan antitrust app store bill that just went through committee, as well as other bills she’s leading.  “We just had an incredible vote on a bill that Senator Blumenthal and Blackburn and I … put out a few months ago on app stores: 21 to 1,” she said.

The bipartisan legislation, called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would enable news organizations to collectively negotiate terms with platforms to provide fair compensation for news content. Klobuchar  told attendees, “The big issue is advertising money and fair compensation. These companies are sucking up the ad dollars using the original content that you produce and they’re using the data they collect from your audiences to compete against you.”

Chris Pedigo SVP, Legal Affairs of Digital Content Next, interviews Senator Amy Klobuchar

First-party data and identity

Unsurprisingly, the upcoming deprecation of the third-party cookie was a topic of much discussion at this year’s summit. The change has destabilized the advertising ecosystem. Experts discussed how to prepare for the post-cookie reality and how publishers could invest in their first-party data.

To prepare for the post-cookie reality, Rachel Parkin, CafeMedia’s EVP, Sales and Strategy, suggested publishers strengthen relationships with advertisers and build up their arsenals and come up with the right framework for identity and authentication for users and content.

TRUSTX CEO David Kohl suggested that publishers, by acting as a group to create scale, can create competitive advantage. ” We are in transition and there’s tremendous chaos in identity and audience data. But here’s the thing: Chaos creates opportunity,” he said. “And the question is, how can publishers take the lead in organizing the chaos? How can we band together? It is time to create an ‘easy button’ for scale.”

Another session discussed how publishers are leveraging consent-based visitor relationship data sources to fuel monetization as the industry moves forward into a cookie-less future. David Rowley, senior director data and identity products at News Corp. said they feel first party data is going to be one of the most important assets to a publisher. News Corp is assessing what’s out there for external identity solutions, Rowley said, and building out a proprietary identity solution.

“Publishers use so many different types of technology, DMPs, CDPs, analytics platforms, you name it, all of them spit out and create their own identifiers. Being able to stitch all of those together to have a unified view of a user is critical, so you can have that one-on-one relationship with a user,” he said.

People and empathy

Another theme that echoed through the conference was that of managing during these difficult times. As Agnes Chu, president of Condé Nast Entertainment remarked, “I think it’s hard to drive change during a time where people are experiencing so much anxiety themselves.”

Lindsay Peoples Wagner, editor-in-chief of The Cut, outlined that it’s important for leadership to have and bring a sense of empathy. Leaders must “be able to step outside of yourself and understand that, yes, we’re all employees and work at a company, but we’re human beings,” Peoples Wagner said. “People, especially in the past couple years, have had a really hard time with mental health or their family issues or being sick. It’s important to understand, I think, that people may need time, and that push and pull as a manager, I think is more important than ever.”

Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director of DCN interviews Lindsay Peoples Wagner, Editor of The Cut

The biggest shift for TripAdvisor’s Christine Maguire when the pandemic hit, was from building products to empathy. “I had to sort of take a step back and realize where everybody was in their journey,” she said. “Having empathy for what goes on in their day to day is so important, because oftentimes we come in to make a change when there is a problem, and that’s too late.”

The future of work

The newsroom of the future may look nothing like the pre-pandemic one. Indeed, as publishers move forward, they’re stepping into a future which doesn’t look much like the past. There’s upside, such as the ability to create more flexible working situations, which facilitates broader recruiting.

However, as author Anne Helen Petersen noted, when companies allow their employees to live anywhere and work any time, they may run into a lot of sticky situations.

“The larger question that a lot of companies are dealing with is if we say that people can have really flexible work schedules and can go in when it is most convenient for them, are we also going to put stipulations on the states or countries where they can live,” she said. “Are we going to say that they get into New York within the day, that they take the train in? Is that okay? Or are we going to say that it’s one flight away? What are our boundaries?”

The future of the industry

On the last day of the summit, Co-founder and CEO of Insider Henry Blodget and Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson engaged in a spitfire conversation about the digital media industry. They discussed the complicated relationship with platforms, new technologies like AI, NFTs and blockchain, and made predictions for web3.

Blodget was optimistic about the future of local news. However, he sees a different scenario play out for others going forward. As the industry evolves, he thinks there will be three to five big generalists, a bunch of targeted specialist publications that serve a particular niche, and everyone else is in the middle.

Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson in conversation with Henry Blodget Co-founder & CEO of Insider

“I do think we’re all going to face pressure and there’s going to be a lot more consolidation because there are enormous returns to scale,” Thompson replied. “We see that every day with The New York Times, when they roll out some cool new tech feature that they can spread across their 10 million subscribers.”

“Let us just acknowledge that The New York Times is Netflix of journalism,” Blodget said. “My view is in five to 10 years, they will have 25 million subscribers and they will still be growing strong and they will become one of the most powerful English language journalism publications in the world. And the rest of us are gonna have to find places to carve out what is left.”

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