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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Media execs share strategies for navigating a challenging market in 2024

December 12, 2023 | By Dorinne Hoss, Head of Marketing – Arc XP@arcxp

The media industry continued its remarkable transformation in 2023, with shifts in audience behavior and the emergence of AI as a potential threat to newsrooms. As we head into an uncertain 2024, we spoke with four content industry leaders to understand the strategies that are helping media companies and content creators successfully navigate these challenges.

1. Focus on the lifetime value of your audience

During the COVID pandemic, media companies focused on acquiring subscribers. And then in the immediate aftermath, they focused on retaining those subscribers. Now their focus must shift to lifetime value, which doesn’t start when someone subscribes, but from the moment they arrive on your site—even if they’re not yet ready to subscribe. This means providing the right content at the right time with the right paywall, pricing and messaging.

“FT has gone through that journey of being acquisition-focused to then engagement-focused, retention focused and now lifetime-value focused,” said Daisy Donald, Principal Consultant and Head of Americas at FT Strategies. “There are interesting opportunities that FT has started experimenting with to create different levels of subscription products. What do you get as a registered user that’s free?” For example, one of these new subscription products is FT Edit, which is app-based and has a specific persona in mind of someone who has news fatigue and wants to pay a smaller amount of money to still get quality content.

2. Dive deep into audience segmentation

Maximizing lifetime value is difficult without understanding your audience at a more granular level. “It’s all about actually putting your audience first and thinking about their needs from day one. What are their interests as individuals rather than as a whole audience? And how can you really serve those needs?” said Madeleine White, Head of International at Poool and Editor-in-Chief at the Audiencers.

White recommends that audience teams invest in user needs analysis, with every piece of content that is created focused on meeting a specific user need and furthering a related revenue strategy. For example, one user need might be valuable for converting users into subscribers, while another is valuable for advertising revenue.

Adley Bowden, Head of Individual Investor & Editor-in-Chief at Morningstar Wealth concurs on the importance of understanding audience members as individuals: “Yes, there is an audience. But within it there are unique individuals. They segment in different ways and you can see which content drives engagement from these different profiles. We’ve done a lot of work to better understand these groupings within our audience and then better design content.”

3. Elevate human expertise in the age of AI

No discussion of content industry challenges in 2024 would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room: AI. Instead of fearing AI, media companies should recognize the important role that human expertise plays in making an AI-enhanced content strategy successful.

“I’ve seen a lot of publishers who are starting to use AI-personalized homepages based on what you’ve read previously,” said Poool’s White. “And every single one that is doing it has a maximum of maybe 70 percent of their homepage that’s personalized through AI. The rest is still in the control of their editorial team to really push the stories that matter because a machine can’t know what’s going on in the local community right now, what everyone’s talking about in offline conversations.”

Morningstar’s Bowden said that the company has found value in using AI for content translation, which leans into the strength of large language models. But maintaining the trust and authority of Morningstar’s content is critical, so “we can’t just do Google Translate, and off we go.” Instead, the company’s AI-assisted translation process includes humans in the process to perform some manual translation and ensure the quality of everything that’s published.

4. Remember that quality content is at the core of everything

New trends, tools and technologies shouldn’t obscure the fact that quality content that engages audiences is at the core of a successful media company. “I was speaking to a client of ours in Denmark, and one of the worries that they’ve been having is that they are overinvesting in their ability to perform well on SEO. So, they’re worried that their articles are written in a way that is not journalistically valuable,” said Birger Soiland, VP of Sales at Norkon. “When your focus is too much on serving up content on SEO, then you might fall into a trap of your content not being engaging enough.”

The definition of high-quality, engaging content will vary based on audience needs. Norkon’s Soiland has seen many of the company’s publishing clients successfully emphasize short-form content that is easily consumable, whether text, audio or video. For Morningstar, Bowden says that emphasizing data content gives its audience something more than just written or video content to come back to and re-engage with.

FT Strategies’ Donald aptly summed up media companies’ ability to navigate the challenges of 2024 and beyond by saying, “The media industry is the most resilient industry in the whole world. That’s why we love working in it… we are just so resilient. We adapt so well. I believe we will continue to adapt and survive.”

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