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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

The Boston Globe leans into video to build and diversify its audience

October 19, 2023 | By Theresa Cramer – Independent Journalist@Cramerstrasse

In New England, we have a saying: “An ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory.” At The Boston Globe, New England’s largest news organization, the team is taking that saying to heart as they carefully launch and implement a video and larger marketing strategy designed to engage current subscribers and reach new, younger, more diverse audiences. Underpinned by an audience-centric mentality, the team focuses on understanding exactly what its users want and finding innovative ways to give it to them. 

Engaging existing subscribers with video

The centerpiece of the 150-year-old publication’s video strategy is Boston Globe Today. Just celebrating its six-month anniversary, the 30-minute show is broadcast five days a week at 5 p.m. on Globe.com, NESN 360, and NESN’s linear channel. (NESN is the New England Sports Network.) The show focuses on mostly news topics Monday through Thursday, and on Friday, they switch to sports. Rather than just reporting the news, Boston Globe Today focuses on taking a closer look at the news, often from a journalist’s perspective. Host Segun Oduolowu talks to Globe journalists about their stories, sometimes even telling the story behind them. 

“We know our readers watch television… but they weren’t doing it with us because we are traditionally a words-driven platform,” says Peggy Byrd, Chief Marketing Officer at The Boston Globe. The priority for this team is to engage current subscribers by meeting them where they are, no matter the channel. 

“Conceptually, it was coming from who we are rather than what’s out there,” says Michelle Micone, Vice President, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives at The Boston Globe. Over a year in the making, The Globe hired a television producer and other industry pros to help bring this vision to life and ensure its quality is up to readers’ expectations. The TV team is constantly conversing with the newsroom, keeping an eye on interesting stories coming up and deciding which ones will translate well to the television format.

Boston Globe Today is available online for subscribers. However, a segment from each episode is available to all site visitors — potentially giving them a reason to subscribe. “We built this in segments as well as a full show,” says Micone. This allows viewers to engage with the content they are most interested in. Not only does this let audiences use their time wisely, but it also gives The Globe team an idea of what people are most interested in, which allows them to create an even better product moving forward.

While new subscribers are always nice, engagement of existing, loyal readers comes first. Byrd says the goal is to “expand a habit” and that the team wants to “expand the expectation and the experience and give people a new way of consuming.” 

So far, Byrd says they are seeing traction when it comes to engaging existing subscribers, and they have just started to measure conversion for new subscribers.

Reaching audiences wherever they consume video

Giving your audience what it wants is always critical to building loyalty and retention, but no publication can grow without new audience members. As Byrd says, younger audiences and people of color “over-index” when it comes to video consumption, so The Globe knows that video is an essential part of finding those subscribers.

Having The Boston Globe Today available to NESN subscribers is part of that strategy. However, TikTok is also always a part of the conversation whenever publishers talk about engaging younger, more diverse audiences

From topics to geographies to channels, The Globe tries to serve its broad audience in several ways. As Micone puts it, “We do feel like we have to do it all, and these are the ways we’re trying to service everyone in a modern way.” On TikTok, that means creating content specifically for the audience in ways that feel authentic to the platform. 

“We’re definitely committed to video for the long term,” says Micone. “Part of the reason for even starting this conversation with the TV show is to become an organization that’s very skilled at video.”

Strategic approach to audience growth

YouTube has played a slightly different role at The Boston Globe and its many brands. It’s primarily been a marketing tool, which Byrd says provides valuable feedback, allowing the team to take the data they collect into its content rollout on YouTube. “This is a long road we’re on,” Micone adds. “The TV show, YouTube, TikTok, all these pieces are part of it.” 

However, engaging younger audiences isn’t all about TikTok and video. The B-Side is an “email and social forward product,” according to Micone, the idea for which came from a Globe employee during the company’s biannual innovation weeks. After some massaging of the idea, the B-Side emerged, which the website describes as “a hyperlocal email- and social-only daily newsletter that provides authentic and relatable news to keep readers up-to-date and in the groove on local happenings in and around Boston.”

Up next, The Globe team is turning to SMS to expand the publication’s reach. As many mobile marketers know, getting users to opt-in is the biggest hurdle to messaging users on their phones. It’s “another way to meet people where they are,” says Byrd, and as is typical of The Globe’s methodical approach, “we’re taking our time with it.” It will be more of a marketing tool in its first iteration, eventually moving to the content distribution part of this puzzle. “The point of SMS is to learn what people want to get,” says Byrd, “and then once we discover what they want we can start to give it to them through their phones.”

Staying true to their New England roots, The Boston Globe team will continue to prioritize experience over theories as it experiments and innovates with ways to reach and serve audiences old and new. 

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