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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How media companies can fuel innovation in 2024 and beyond

Innovation for media companies comes down to having the courage to try new ideas and tactics to grow audience and increase revenue.

February 19, 2024 | By Mike Holland, Vice President of Product – Arc XP@arcxp

As publishers look for ways to accelerate audience growth, engagement, and monetization in 2024, they have a multitude of options for driving change and innovation. Last year I worked with Nick Nyhan, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Upside Analytics, to develop a model for roadmapping the innovation journey in the publishing industry. As part of that effort, we uncovered some key strategies and ideas that publishers can use to accelerate their organizational velocity in the coming year across three areas: audience growth, audience engagement and monetization.

Grow audience reach

Most publishers are already working on the obvious top-of-funnel audience growth strategies, like social media and SEO. But we identified some opportunities beyond those obvious strategies that we encourage publishers to consider.

Idea #1: Add new sites or apps for specific audience segments

Breaking your audience down into sub-segments is a critical tactic for any publisher. When you’ve identified sub-segments with strong subjects of interest, you can build on that knowledge with more advanced strategies for targeted growth in each segment, including adding new properties.

A great example of this is Gray Television, one of the largest broadcasters in the U.S. Gray owns a large number of television stations across the country, and they decided to launch “City Weekend” sites in each of their local markets featuring location-specific lifestyle content on events, food, art and culture. This segmentation-based strategy helped Gray expand its audience, increase traffic, and boost ad revenue.  

Following Gray’s example, you could identify a segment of your audience that’s very interested in sports, or local business, or any other specific topic, and introduce a microsite that’s easy to market to that audience.

Idea #2: Create mobile apps for fans

Your brand’s power users – the segments of your audience that engage with you the most – are also the most likely to download your mobile app. To take your mobile strategy to the next level, tailor your mobile app to hyper-engage your power users.

This presents the opportunity to align other elements of your business with your mobile strategy. For example, you can use your website mainly to attract, engage, register, and then drive new users to your mobile app, where you can employ additional strategies to keep them engaged.

Increase audience engagement

Once you’ve gotten your audience onto your site, you need to get them to stay there and have longer session lengths. More content views and more time on site equals more affinity to your brand.

Idea #3: Cater to multi-scenario consumption

People don’t just ingest news while sitting at a computer. They could be stuck in traffic and want an audio option. They could be on the go in a subway and need an offline mode. Some people want to save stories and listen to them later on audio or watch on video when they’re sitting in front of their TV at night. There is a lot of churn going on across all of these modalities, so publishers need a strategy to consciously cater to different audience scenarios for consuming content.

At the simplest level, this might involve letting users create reading lists of stories they can access later. At the most sophisticated level, you could have a completely native team building a custom OTT app. In between are opportunities to experiment with and test modalities for various content consumption scenarios, from podcasts to mobile to TV “sit back” options.

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) presents an exciting opportunity for publishers. In its current state, AI is well-positioned to take on some of the more tedious or repetitive tasks in content creation workflows. For example, AI-powered tools are emerging for auto-summarization and auto-tagging.

Your content creators like to write and create content. Maybe they don’t mind summarizing. But nobody likes tagging—so why not let AI tools do that work? Auto-tagging for text, video, images, and captions makes it easier to suggest related content to your audience, keeping them on your site longer and increasing the amount of content they consume.

Monetize by segment

Before you start trying advanced monetization strategies, make sure you have the basic building blocks in place. That includes the ability to enable and measure customer loyalty, clear calls-to-action across all of your properties, and an optimized checkout process. Beyond those basics, we identified some innovative strategies publishers are using to monetize audience segments.

Idea #5: Provide special content consumption options for subscribers

As I covered in the last section on audience engagement, your audience is consuming your content in many different scenarios, whether it’s sitting in front of a computer, on a mobile phone while on the go, or in front of their TV at night. Providing special consumption options that cater to these preferences can be used to entice people to subscribe.

For example, The Irish Times uses a text-to-speech provider to convert most of its stories into an audio version. A small headphones icon appears in the corner of these stories to indicate that an audio option is available—but only for subscribers. The Irish Times incurs a cost associated with doing the text-to-speech conversion. However, by enticing higher value users to subscribe, this cost is balanced out by the revenue gain. 

Idea #6: Try a freemium approach

With a freemium strategy, publishers offer a selection of content that’s available without a subscription, but make higher-value content available only to subscribers. Readers are able to see headlines and short snippets of the high-value premium content featured amongst the free content, enticing them to subscribe to get full access.

We believe that sports-related content, especially if it’s local, will be among the highest value content that publishers can offer in the future. Sports-related stories would therefore be a great candidate to offer as premium content in a freemium model (and also a great testing ground for new monetization approaches).

Ultimately innovation for media companies comes down to having the courage to try, whether it’s one or more of these ideas, or any other tactics for growing your audience and increasing your revenue. We recommend crafting a one pager that outlines the new ideas you’ll test in 2024, including where you are today, where you want to go, and the KPIs you’ll use to measure your progress. Then share that document throughout your organization and take the next steps on your media innovation journey for 2024 and beyond.

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