“Digital Content Next is the only trade association in the industry that solves problems for the content companies of today and the future.”
—opening remarks Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next
In keeping with this vision, on November 4th, 2014 Digital Content Next and FirstMark Capital co-hosted their first-ever “Meet the Startups” event. Seven start-ups were given ten minutes each to talk about the problems publishers face today and how their companies are innovating to solve these problems now and in the future. The goal, according to Lawrence Lenihan, FirstMark Founder and Managing Director, was to provide an opportunity for DCN members to get to know how the technologies presented may affect and impact the media industry.
Lenihan called out several trends currently causing disruption and that he thinks publishers should be monitoring: mobile; brands are going direct to consumers; the internet of things, big data and the cloud. While most of these themes were touched upon throughout the day, the need to keep up with rapidly evolving consumer expectations around content discovery, consumption and delivery dominated the presentations. The FirstMark funded companies on the agenda were TapAd, Testfire, Pinterest, Artisan, Tubular, Disconnect, and NewsCred.
It certainly doesn’t’ come as a surprise that mobile and device proliferation continues to change user behavior, communication, consumption habits, content discovery and shopping. As such, many of the day’s featured startups address the evolving expectations of today’s consumers and the innovation required by publishers seeking to grow audiences in a crossplatform world.
Are Traasdahl, Founder and CEO, TapAd pointed out that today’s consumer moves seamlessly across devices up to 27x per hour. As content companies strive to be mobile-first (or mobile-only) and master mobile’s very different platform, they are investing a huge amount of resources. It is necessary, though, because Traasdahl says that the publishers with which TapAd has worked are seeing as much as 75% of traffic coming from mobile. He finds that a key focus for his company is helping publishers keep pace with consumer demand for content on any platform at any time and maintaining user experience and trust across these platforms.
And keeping pace is no small undertaking. According to Testfire founder and CEO Robert Chea, publishers are investing vast amounts on mobile app development. Companies like TestFire and Artisan aim to increase resource efficiency in these areas by offering their improved QA tools and “instant publishing” technology, which enables real-time modifications. These innovations are designed to improve consumer engagement and product satisfaction, and to free up developer resources and increase productivity.
TapAd’s Traasdalh noted that advertisers are also demanding better targeting, consistent messaging and cross-platform measurement–overall, improved results–from publishers. Their device-bridging solution that “connects a billion devices to individual consumers” provides advanced measurement and increases consumer satisfaction by enabling brands to create consistent experiences across devices.
While device proliferation provides a multitude of challenges for content companies, it also provides opportunities to stand out and improve user experience, which several of the startups also addressed. Smartphones and tablets provide consumers with additional hours of media consumption but in return, they are flooded with many more options. David Ives, CRO of NewsCred said that 200MM pieces of content are shared a day, 1.8 billion photos are uploaded, 500 million tweets are posted, and 400 million Snapchats are sent. Companies like NewCred are stepping in to aid in the process of content discovery and creation for both brands and publishers.
Citing a statistic that 70% of consumers prefer getting to know a company through content vs. advertisements, Ives pointed out that as brands strive to become publishers and connect with consumers through great storytelling, third-parties such as NewsCred are bridging the gap. The company offers a software platform in addition to content strategy, licensing and creation for brands and publishers.
Perhaps the best-known start-up of the day was Pinterest, which has had a big impact on the way users consume content via its visually-focused content discovery and sharing platform. Pinterest is growing as an important traffic driver for publishers, driving highly-qualified, passionate consumers to their sites. Rob Macdonald, head of Media Partners for Pinterest, emphasized the ways in which the platform can help publishers leverage evergreen content, plan editorial calendars and uncover additional audience insights.
Tubular is also focused on providing insights, in their case all focused on video content. Data, according to co-founder and VP Enterprise Allison Sterns, drives successful content offerings, distribution and promotion. The company works with brands and publishers to leverage YouTube data to create content that resonates; partner with aligned influencers; and effectively engage fans and advertise to the right audiences.
Perhaps one of the most disruptive startups on the agenda was Disconnect, which offers users an alternative paid browsing experience in which they control their personal data and keep their online activity private. While consumers increasingly offer information about their preferences through participation in social content, the increasing number of ways in which data is collected about them across the digital ecosystem has turned the subject of privacy into one of the most important technology discussions of the next decade, according to founding member and COO Gus Warren. For publishers, the Disconnect solution decreases the “leverage” held by Google, Facebook, etc. and drives higher CPMs by offering “private and secure advertising.”
These FirstMark startups are building their businesses by helping content companies such as A&E, RueLala, DIY, Vice, Jamie Oliver and Time Inc. keep up with a rapidly-changing consumer environment and market demand, increasing labor and workflow efficiency. The over-arching goal for these startups, it seems, is to help publishers better serve their customers demands and desires by improving content discovery, maintaining trust, and offering advanced analytics and consumer insights.