Women journalists work on the frontlines of online and offline violence. In the past three years, The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) has documented a significant rise of organized troll campaigns, as well as physical threats, targeting women journalists. This threat is one that should not just trigger anger and outrage, it must inspire political, structural, and societal change.
From India, the world’s largest democracy, to Northern Ireland, CFWIJ monitored cases of violence and threats against women journalists. We documented how women journalists have been subjected to violence both online and offline across 74 countries. These cases included various forms of physical violations, from kidnapping to murder, harassment, and attacks. We also observed increasing attempts to silence women’s journalistic work through state persecution and the weaponization of law, among other tactics.
In 2020 alone, CFWIJ documented 716 cases of threats and violence against women journalists. This was an increase of 138.6% in comparison to 2019, when we documented 291 cases. These include impediments in the field, detentions, imprisonments, legal harassment, and physical attacks — including four murders.
Signs of the times
The significant increase of targeting emerged right after the pandemic. We found most of these violations to be linked to the widespread efforts to suppress Covid-19 related coverage by many governments. Astonishingly, this includes The United States.
2020 was also a year of protests. Despite the fact that the entire world faced a pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people across many nations — from the United States, through Belarus to Hong Kong — took to the streets in protests against government policies and civilian deaths due to state brutality or its indolence. These protests were covered around the clock by the media.
We saw women journalists on the frontline, consistently targeted while trying to document demonstrations. Police brutality against protesters garnered global attention. However, journalists working on the ground to document these unprecedented historic moments also found themselves among those injured, attacked, and detained. Their press credentials and rights to report were not respected by the authorities. The CFWIJ documented numerous examples of physical injuries and other incidents of harsh impediments to women journalists at work.
Trolls, threats, and power
Our work reflects the deteriorating working conditions in which women journalists continue to do their jobs. They remain alarmingly vulnerable to attacks. Certainly, the physical threats are a major call for concern. However, online trolling remains one of the most critical tools that has been weaponized against women in the media. We tracked the sources of many major troll campaigns. And in many countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, Egypt, and the Philippines, online trolls were linked to the state or authorities who have also been aggressively trying to silence the press.
We have noticed that these threats have often also leaked from the virtual into the physical world. This has resulted in physical attacks against women reporters. In Pakistan, one of our members and leading news anchor Asma Shirazi has faced many waves of online trolling. These threats became all too real when she was physically approached by her trolls trying to break into her house one night. In Northern Ireland, journalist Patricia Devlin has faced consistent trolling for over a year, to an extent that her child got rape threats. Her reporting is considered biased by some of her readers. Their retaliation has escalated from online trolling to physical threats. Earlier this month (Feb), some of these trolls sprayed threatening graffiti in several locations with a bullet sign. This followed targeting of another Irish journalist, Allison Morris, in a similar pattern, which included graffiti targeting women journalists.
Big picture, big problem
Threats and violations against women journalists have become more than a job hazard. This is a threat to their lives. And it poses a threat to journalism itself.
These attacks are directly linked to the journalistic work of the individuals. However, there is very little thought or resource invested by media and journalism institutions into thinking about solutions for this massive — even deadly — problem.
Media organizations do not take sufficient responsibility when these threats take place. Often, they do not even report on the violations their reporters face. A lack of institutional support can be especially difficult for the many women who are freelance journalists.
Building a support network
In the absence of information about the status of safety challenges journalists face, we cannot grasp the gravity of the issue. Some of the ways we at the Coalition For Women In Journalism try to offer support is by documenting each and every threat and attack we can track down.
We have learned that support systems are extremely critical to ensure journalists that are not dealing with threats on their own. Through our various regional and local support networks, women journalists can report any violations they face and reach the needed help.
When journalists are targeted, they should be able to reach a trusted colleague, mentor, or organization that can acknowledge and advise appropriately. Newsrooms and media organizations can easily build such systems. And they should in order to defend freelancers, staff, and the institution of journalism itself.
About the author
Kiran Nazish is a former foreign correspondent, who reported from several countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Turkey and Pakistan. After working for two decades, she noticed the various difficulties women journalists faced in many parts of the world. To tackle the problems, she launched The Coalition For Women In Journalism, a global mentorship and advocacy organization that aims at an equitable journalism industry worldwide. She is also the Stanley Knowles Distinguished Professor at Brandon University in Canada.
Mobile internet usage continues to climb and 90% of mobile internet usage is spent in apps. This trend is only accelerating due to the global pandemic, which forced consumers to stay home and find new sources of entertainment. In parallel, ad spending continues to grow in the mobile environment, reaching $240 billion last year.
Given the current state of play, mobile publishers continue to require innovative tools and technologies that enable them to connect their audiences with marketer demand. But this isn’t without its challenges, especially given new restrictions handed down by device manufacturers, like Apple.
At their 2020 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple unveiled a new framework dedicated to enhancing consumer privacy—the AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework. ATT will apply to iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14. It represents a fundamental shift in how app publishers engage with consumers.
When Apple requires implementation of ATT, expected in early spring of 2021, app publishers will need to request permission to use app-collected data for tracking and accessing device identifiers. This includes Apple’s mobile ID, the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). Publishers can only ask for permission once. It is persistent thereafter, until the app is uninstalled or the user changes their permissions
Put simply: Advertisers will no longer be able to target users by default, unless users explicitly opt-in.
What’s at risk
Once complete, this profound shift will have far-reaching implications. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of users are expected to opt in to share their IDFA. Without users opting in, the majority will suddenly become unrecognizable. Mobile publishers will be left with a proverbial—and unappealing—black box.
This will affect targeting, suppression, and measurement. Advertiser interest in in-app advertising will likely wane, and with it, the resources mobile publishers require to reinvest in building new products and acquiring new users. These changes may result in fewer free mobile apps, which could dampen the consumer experience and reduce industry competition.
Although ATT is designed with consumer privacy in mind, we need to focus on more than privacy. We must do more to evangelize transparency. Transparency allows the industry as a whole to preserve the consumer experience and consumer privacy in a way that limiting access to free apps does not.
Mobile monetization must-haves
How do we do this? Here are three strategies that will equip the mobile publishers to monetize by delivering transparency:
Users will provide login information (i.e., authentications) and share ATT consent in order to gain a closer relationship with the content they love. We need to champion authentications as a mechanism for transparency. An added benefit is that authentications are people-based and not device based. Therefore, they drive higher revenue.
Additionally, new authentication strategies allow mobile app developers to reach the right end user and increase ATT consent rates. By authenticating themselves, individuals gain access to valuable content, brands are able to deliver better experiences, and publishers can develop closer, trusted relationships with consumers while protecting ad revenue.
Understanding user session times, engagement and in-app purchases at the person level helps publishers hold on to as many unique audiences as possible. This allows them to activate against accurate data to achieve more ad revenue and efficiency. Publishers need frictionless demand pipes in order to seamlessly work with a partner that has strong demand-side connections.
Privacy and Security
Upholding consumer privacy, control and choice is imperative. Mobile publishers must find a way to improve the customer experience while maintaining compliance adhering to global regulations and app store requirements. This is the only way to continue to deliver key workflows necessary for business growth.
The time is now
The impact of ATT and other near-term privacy shifts is nothing short of seismic for the mobile app industry. The stakes are high. App publishers may lose their ability to monetize valuable ad inventory. However, they may also lose also direct relationships with consumers who value the fun, exciting experiences they provide—especially during the ongoing pandemic.
These three strategies are imperative to act on now. They are the foundation upon which app makers can start to build direct connections to audiences seeking trust and transparency in a time when few authentically provide it.
In recent years, the discussion around ad quality has become much more specific and tangible. The goals have become more quantifiable and the insights easier to act on. Today, there’s a lot riding on the publisher’s business in that moment when the page loads, and all page and ad content is revealed. And, frankly, there’s more money riding on that moment now.
As the programmatic market has grown more refined and valuable to advertisers and publishers alike, buyers increasingly pay attention to the environments their ads appear in. Quality advertisers demand that they appear adjacent not only to high-quality content, but also to other high-quality ads.
Meanwhile, increasingly sophisticated users expect publishers to host trustworthy, relevant ads alongside the content they’re engaged with. At the end of the day, reputation and revenue are on the line – from the moment the page loads and the ad content is revealed.
The simple fact is that you can’t separate page content from ad content and from the content of the ad’s landing page. The user certainly doesn’t make that separation. The user assumes every ad on the page must be intentional, and the publisher must have co-signed on any page any ad links out to. It is time publishers view the page as a unified piece while also thinking about the ad experience beyond the page.
Today’s users are sensitive to ad content that sends a noticeably different message than the page content. They are sensitive to offensive, dishonest, or salacious ad content. They are also sensitive to clickbait-style, irrelevant, inappropriately partisan, and disruptively designed ad content. Unwelcome messages like those can lead users to lose trust in (and decrease monetizable engagement with) an otherwise high-quality publisher. And clicking through to a landing page containing misinformation, fraudulent products for sale, a phishing scam, or any other type of questionable environment can ruin a user’s relationship with a publisher for life.
Let’s face it, for publishers, there’s always been a push and pull between maintaining the integrity of the user experience and opening up ad inventory to the broadest range of programmatic buyers. And the traditional QA means to verify any and all ads on the page are relevant, on-brand, and legit often comes down to inefficient and inexact methods. This requires ad ops teams to manually refresh pages, or to check samples of ads from earlier scans.
The big picture
It may sound daunting to manage. However, today’s technology solutions help empower publishers to retain user trust and loyalty far better than, say, posting a disclaimer that explains to the user the complexities of programmatic.
Now, publishers seeking the highest level of ad content quality and control can view all 360 degrees of their ad inventory in one dashboard. This allows them to solidify their brand’s content strategy, avoid ad related annoyances, and ad quality issues. Considering how elusive real transparency in ad content/page content alignment has been, it’s about time.
When it comes to content quality control, publishers, have long been familiar with categorizing ad and page content by parameters like keywords, content vertical, domain, and blocklists. However, broad categorization is not good enough and leads to an abundance of inappropriate ad experiences.
Even worse, using blunt force to block entire categories of ads will fail to make good on the full revenue potential of premium ad inventory. In fact, 91% of publishers feel blunt-force blocking is hurting their rightful earnings. And 88% think that more customizable ad quality automation would increase their revenue.
Publishers know best
As a publisher, you recognize unwanted ads when you see them. But first, you’d have to see them. Without full transparency and vision into all of the ads on your site, that can be a tough ask. It’s tricky, time consuming, and resource draining. To streamline the process, publishers should employ ad quality tools that are customizable to the requirements of their own page content and the expectations of their particular audiences and advertisers.
Ultimately, though, the publisher knows those requirements and expectations better than anyone. Publishers absolutely need to apply a human layer to their QA process, which gives them complete control over what appears on their pages. When it comes to quality, it’s best not to simply “set it and forget it.”
Publishers need an ad content management solution that provides a full, unified view of all the ads on every page on the site, and that allows the publisher to instantly remove any unwanted, off-brand ads. Content quality QA might seem pedestrian, but it has the power to accelerate a publisher’s business, revenue, and relationships. Indeed, this is the level of real transparency the digital industry has talked about for years. Now’s the time to act.
Since its founding, Digital Content Next has been at the forefront of emphasizing the importance of brands as proxies for trust and advancing the future of trusted news and entertainment.
We share this message about trusted digital publishers with policy makers, advertisers, and the public. We share how the trust DCN members’ brands have built – both their reliability and integrity – is critical to their on-going relationships with advertisers and consumers. And today, we also share that message through an innovative new way – through the trust.txt framework.
What is trust.txt?
The idea is disarmingly simple.
Trust.txt is a machine-readable text string that enables any web-crawling robot to easily understand there is a relationship between DCN and our members who also choose to install a trust.txt file on their sites. The concept will be familiar to anyone familiar with robots.txt or the more recent ads.txt. Scott Yates, founder of JournalList.net is the caretaker of the trust.txt framework, along with a few members of his non-profit board.
This simple idea helps to solve a long-standing challenge: Research has repeatedly shown that membership in DCN is a clear positive signal of trust to the industry, press and others. However, that “trust signal” is not actionable for social networks, search engines, programmatic ad networks, researchers and others that wanted to transact only with trusted publishers. Over the years, platforms, agencies and advertisers have asked us to manage lists of trusted publishers however we’ve always been concerned those lists would be too narrow unless they recognized the entirety of the media ecosystem – not just DCN members. And that’s what the trust.txt framework does.
In support of this framework, DCN has placed a small text file on our website. You can actually look at it here.
We recommend that all of our members install a similar file. It’s easy. And, significantly, it signals that the trusted publishers that do so have a relationship to DCN. It confirms our association with each other in a decentralized and secure way.
Why do this?
As you likely know, DCN has consistently expressed concerns about how Google and Facebook have undermined the power of brands to serve as proxies for trust. We’ve held their feet to the fire in many ways. But they do have one valid excuse for why they do not send more users to more trusted publishers: They don’t have a way for their web-crawling robots to see that trust relationship. The same can be said for automated advertising systems and brand safety filters begging for automated inclusion lists.
What they need are machine-readable signals that they can plug into their algorithms. With trust.txt they will have that and their last excuse for why they don’t more prominently feature trusted digital publishers evaporates.
When these trust.txt tags are on more trusted publishers’ websites, DCN will have a new way to hold the platforms accountable. We’ll also be able to use it with new and emerging advertising systems to encourage smart ad spending on trusted content creators.
Members of DCN: I encourage you to install your own trust.txt file. The instructions to do so are here. I also encourage you to join JournalList.net, a member-owned cooperative that manages the whole system. It also means that Yates, the founder of JournalList, can help you get your trust.txt file built and installed.)
DCN is pleased to be the first national organization to sign up for JournalList, and we encourage every other membership organization to start using this tool right away so that the network effect of trust will be visible as quickly as possible. The framework was built as a starting point that is truly open and available to all. DCN is, and will be, only as trusted as its members. The same holds true for any other membership, whether it be a new coalition or an organization that has stood the test of time like the Associated Press.
The last few years, and especially the last few months, have provided stark evidence that the underlying problems that plague society are made worse when the information ecosystem is weak. It’s time to strengthen our digital infrastructure with trustworthy information, We are hopeful that trust.txt is another powerful step in the right direction.
A lot of mobile app developers are looking toward March and sighing something along the lines of: “It’s been fun, but the salad days are coming to a close.”
As promised in the iOS14 update, Apple will begin enforcing the user consent requirement for apps to share its Identifier for Advertisers (aka IDFA) in March. This was delayed from September; however, it’s been a dark cloud rapidly approaching for anyone advertising or monetizing in the mobile app space.
IDFA was a giant boon to mobile advertising. Arguably, it kick-started in-app programmatic by enabling cross-app targeting and measurement for advertisers similarly to the way third-party cookies function in browsers. While third-party cookies are (reportedly) hitting the end of the road in 2022, Apple’s IDFA will live on. However, advertisers, adtech companies, and publishers alike are pessimistic about the percentage of users who will opt-in due to a rather negative permission window from privacy-centric Apple.
Unfortunately, those developers may get hit with a double whammy. They face severe revenue loss and a storm of malvertising and malicious ads taking advantage of a drooping programmatic marketplace and mobile vulnerabilities.
Publishers’ incessant mobile troubles
Mobile has been a long, hard road for digital publishers. As more and more of their traffic creeped over to smartphones and tablets during the last decade, publisher revenue opportunities dwindled. Less screen real estate was available to show display ads, visitors scrolled by impressions at warp speed, and the available formats not only failed to satisfy advertisers, but also alienated audiences.
And that was before Apple’s Safari, the most widely used mobile browser in the US, introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) and cut off third-party cookie support. Eventually, Apple plans to put even tighter restrictions on first-party collection.
At AdMonsters Publisher Forums, ad ops professionals described their mobile web environments like ghost towns. “Oh yeah, the advertisers know that iOS users skew more affluent and that we have solid first-party data segments. But they won’t bite without client-side measurement capabilities and attribution.”
Scammers step in
No surprise then that the scammers saw a weak mobile programmatic marketplace and came to play. The current age of ad quality challenges started with omnipresent mobile redirect campaigns. For a while in 2018, it seemed like every weekend you could be greeted by scam announcements that you’d won a gift card if you dared to brave the mobile web.
And their interest in compromising mobile users has only grown. The biggest named malvertising threats of 2020, including LuckyBoy and IcePick, used fingerprinting to pinpoint mobile devices.
Late 2020 and early 2021, The Media Trust saw a dramatic rise in malicious ads on mobile devices. (And when we refer to an incident, we mean a specific malvertising campaign; the amount of infected impressions is exponentially higher.)
As Pat Ciavolella, Digital Security and Operations Director at The Media Trust, explained on a recent webinar, “Mobile is a juicy target for bad actors…. Most people access the Internet through their mobile devices and malvertising is harder to detect. Malicious actors are starting there to make sure their code is working before expanding onto desktop and reaching anyone and everyone.”
A significant slide in in-app programmatic CPMs—due to unidentifiable or unmeasurable traffic— will simply open up new testing grounds for malvertisers.
So, the enforcement of consent for IDFA—with Apple messaging that’s likely to dissuade users from opting in—couldn’t come at a worse time. As noted elsewhere, even rosy opt-in predictions could have devastating consequences on app developers’ revenue. We know because we’ve seen how advertisers pull out when users are unidentifiable and unmeasurable on Safari. (On mobile and desktop).
And when benign advertisers step back, we’ve then seen how the malevolent ones step forward. A simple examination of the rise in malicious advertising during the early days of the pandemic is enough to set your hair on end. An explosion in supply with lowered CPMs is a scammer’s paradise. The scam opportunities around Covid will once again hit fever pitch as bad actors try to capitalize on vaccine distribution.
App developers face a dual threat. First, the are likely to see a serious drop in revenue as in-app programmatic CPMs decline when users fail to opt-in to IDFA-sharing. And then a host of bad advertisers will try to infect their users with malware or rope them into some kind of scam.
As tempting as it may be to send the programmatic bid floors to the basement, app developers – and mobile publishers in general– have to keep their guards up against malvertising. The must also demand better protections from their upstream demand partners. It’s never been more important to scan and track where bad ads are coming from.
In the long run, infecting your users with malware or a credit card skimmer could have far worse ramifications than a revenue shortfall.
Physical and digital provisions are no longer silos in themselves, and are forming parts of a more unified strategy
Payments and subscription dates can be disconnected for greater flexibility
Offering the ability to pause subscriptions rather than cancel outright can reduce churn
Bundling products together to form more focused packages can be more enticing than the all-you-can-eat approach
Streamlining registration and payment journeys is critical to maximizing conversion
A common strategy in the publishing sector is to provide a certain amount of content for free. This might be a limited number of free articles, or content types/genres that is free to unregistered customers. Meanwhile, in OTT and SVOD, the general rule is to have content locked behind a paywall or have all content available for a limited free trial period. This is a commercially restrictive “all or nothing” approach.
An alternative value exchange would be to provide a metered registration wall. In this way, you offer customers the ability to watch selected content for free in return for creating an account and sharing their personal details.
For services that do not provide a free trial, this can help entice new customers who get the opportunity to see the quality of the service. For churned customers, it is an opportunity to bring them back in. It also generates an opportunity to increases customer loyalty through other strategies.
A common scenario within the publishing sector, particularly those publishers that operate physical delivery, is where customers wish to “pause” their subscription for reasons such as going on holiday, or a financial decision. These customers do not want to churn. In this “subscription holiday” approach, access and payments are paused for a set length of time agreed by the customer and the provider.
OTT, on the other hand, is either active or inactive. Customers who need to make this decision must typically cancel their subscription and then remember to reactivate. Once churned, they may choose not to come back at all. There are some services, particularly sports services such as BT Sport and Sky Sports, which offered to pause subscriptions in part of 2020 due to a lack of sports events. In the case of BT Sports, the payments could be halted, or donated to the NHS. Other sports-based OTT services offered payment holidays to their customers during this time.
For OTT Sports, this is helpful for retaining customers who would otherwise churn in the off-season. Instead, customers can be at ease knowing their subscription and billing will only be active when they need the service.
Bundling is the process of combining multiple products and offering them in a single package. Using customer data insights and personalization solutions such as Zephr, businesses can get clear insights into the reading and viewing habits of their customers.
This data can be used to identify products that often perform well together. Then, those products can be offered in a package to the customer dynamically as an acquisition incentive. For publishing, this could be discounted access to certain articles based on topic, a group of magazines, or relevant discounts on third-party services. For larger OTT providers, this can be access to specific categories such as kids shows or movies.
Express registration and checkout
Netflix offers a model example of easy signup. Provide an email address and password and the customer account is ready. Amazon and Now TV both have simple sign-up pages to get customers viewing their content quickly. The key element is reducing the amount of personal data collected at the point of sign-up. The typical registration flow will offer email and password, or Social Sign On. Long signup forms are rare in the OTT space.
Publishing can stand to learn from this lesson: Customers expect as frictionless a sign-up process as possible. Where metered registration walls are used, it is a good idea to put the single sign-up process in a prominent place, using SSO and email/password only.Ensuring the registration and payment appears on a single page also reduces time and friction, which can increase acquisition rate. Publishers and OTT providers based in the European Economic Area (EEA) should also be aware of regulations around Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) and factor customer identity checks into their billing journeys.
Best of both
Acknowledging that content does not have to be an all or nothing approach. Using data to personalize offerings and create bundled content tailored content is a great way to win signups from customers.
Physical and digital are no longer separate silos but are both key parts of the acquisition strategy. The popularity of video only continues to increase and is now the expected content format of any brand. The lines between OTT and publishing are continuing to blur. So, organizations that learn from this shift in expectation early stand to see major gains in customer acquisition.
Held virtually and expanded to five days, the 2021 edition of the member’s-only DCN Next:summit (February 1-5) was certainly unlike any that came before. Fittingly, CEO Jason Kint kicked things off by reflecting on all that has changed over the past year and, perhaps more importantly, what has not.
“Publishers have been covering three of the biggest stories of our generation, all intersecting at the same time,” he said. “Your ability to stay true to your brands and to the public trust, despite personal and professional obstacles, has been remarkable.”
Amid all of this, Kint reminded attendees that the industry will need to keep its priorities straight to fuel a stronger digital media marketplace. Indeed, a broad theme of the event was the many ways publishers are adapting to shifts accelerated by the pandemic by deepening their direct relationships with audiences.
Platform power plays
Constellation Research founder and chairman Ray Wang expanded on that topic in the opening session, an interview by BBC correspondent Larry Madowo. Noting increased competition from outside the industry, Wang called for greater cooperation among media companies.
“What we have is a fracturing in the marketplace, which is making it very hard to compete with the digital giants,” he said. “In order to succeed, you have to band together.”
Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner told Axios media reporter Sara Fischer that the “immensely powerful position” of tech platforms will need to be addressed by regulators. At the same time, he shared an optimistic outlook for the future of journalism. Unlike the print-centric business he took over 20 years ago, digital journalism carries lower costs, he said, allowing media companies to invest more heavily in editorial.
“You have no deadline. You have unlimited space,” Döpfner said. “And you can combine all aesthetic forms of journalism. It can be video, it can be audio, it can be text, it can be all combined. I think we are still in the early days of digital journalism and its creative potential.”
Monopolies and media models
Döpfner added that there’s a future for both subscription- and ad-supported journalism on the web, and that many organizations will continue with a mix of both. The future of advertising, however, depends on the role of platforms.
On the contrary, NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway said the key to survival for media companies will be subscriptions. He said that giving content away for free to “innovators and algorithms” was “the biggest mistake journalism ever made.”
Interviewed by Henry Blodget, the CEO of Axel Springer-owned Insider Inc., Galloway added that regulators should further address platforms’ data collection capabilities to mitigate their harmful effects.
POLITICO antitrust reporter Leah Nylen and Yale economist Fiona Scott Morton then explored potential regulatory remedies to the anti-competitive practices of tech companies. Scott Morton encouraged media companies to help educate regulators on the impact of “dominant advertising intermediaries,” such as Google.
“These markets for digital advertising are not something that most people understand,” she said. “It requires effort on the part of the affected parties to help move the conversation forward and push regulators in a direction that’s good.”
“There’s plenty of room for other digital journalism outlets to survive and thrive,” she said.
“We’re still in the early days of the pay model. It wasn’t that long ago that everybody said things like ‘digital news wants to be free.’ Some of our journalistic competitors are having great years for subscriptions. We look at all of that as making a market.”
To build on the 2.3 million digital subscriptions the Times sold in 2020, Kopit Levien said the outlet will be investing in covering live and developing news. Additionally, she suggested that publishers should work to reduce their dependence on third-party data to help create better digital experiences for subscribers.
Meeting audiences whenever, wherever
CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter sat with CBS News president Susan Zirinsky for a discussion on how the pandemic has accelerated shifts in the TV news business. Gone are the days of holding major scoops or interviews for primetime, Zirinsky said. Even broadcast news must adapt to a 24/7, cross-platform model.
“We want to give people facts,” Zirinsky said. “We want to share information. This is really what it’s about: being on every platform that is available, taking our unique content and putting it in as many places as a consumer is.”
One of those rising platforms, audio, was the topic of conversation between Gimlet Media head of content Lydia Polgreen, Pineapple Street Studios co-founder Jenna Weiss-Berman, and Recode’s Kafka.
While advertising remains a lucrative source of revenue, Polgreen said the medium needs some advancement in terms of measurement and audience-based selling, similar to other formats. Weiss-Berman added that the mechanisms for connecting ad buyers with content creators need development. Both agreed that there is still tremendous room for growth. The next big challenge will be reaching people who don’t currently listen to podcasts.
“If you look at the research, podcast listening has tripled since 2014, in terms of share of time, but only from 2% to 6%,” Polgreen said. “In a world where audio is completely on-demand, the possibilities are pretty endless.”
The future of media and journalism
Elsewhere on the program, Snap CMO Kenny Mitchell and Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison each explored growth strategies for their respective platforms. They also touched on the importance of creator relationships and the intersection of content and community.
Julia Angwin, editor-in-chief and founder of The Markup, took attendees behind the scenes of The Atlantic’s highly successful COVID tracking project. Staff writer Alexis Madrigal, who co-founded the project, reflected on the many challenges involved in merging numerous disparate sources of data to meet a critical need for information in the early months of the pandemic.
Angwin noted that the project exemplifies the tangible benefits that journalistic endeavors can provide to the public, particularly when providing information that might be “politically inconvenient.”
On the final day of the Summit, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, editorial director at The Texas Tribune, led a lively conversation with 2PM Inc. founder Web Smith and The Washington Post’s VP, commercial, Jarrod Dicker, on the future of media. In line with the trends, the discussion largely focused on the rise of independent creators.
“Twitter and other platforms have enabled individual people to build their own reputation. It’s created an entirely new landscape,” Dicker said. “Creators can see what their individual value is. I think that’s a change in the discourse.”
New year, same values
In closing, Kint said that, despite adapting well to a virtual event, he hoped to see everyone back in Miami for the 2022 DCN Next: Summit. In the interim, he advised those in attendance to focus on three key things: strengthening bonds with audiences and partners, understanding the core needs of both, and emphasizing agility in response to change.
“Every member of DCN has a direct and trusted relationship with their users and advertisers,” he said. “Our Summit is the one place where, in the comfort of a closed-door environment, surrounded by others who share our values, we can also share our successes and vulnerabilities.”
Covid-19 hit some sectors of the media industry hard (live sports, concerts and trade shows). The global entertainment and media industry saw its largest revenue decline in more than two decades. However, the pandemic has also presented an opportunity for companies embracing digital strategies that are aligned with consumer trends and expectations.
Disney, for example, lost over $6 billion in revenue from the closure of its theme parks. But Disney+ reached 50 million subscribers worldwide two years ahead of schedule. In January, Fortune – once just a print magazine – announced its redesigned website, an immersive video hub, and other premium offerings. All of this strongly positioned them strongly to counteract the advertising slump that hit the industry last spring. In October, the company launched Connect, a membership community and online platform for purpose-driven, mid-career professionals.
Here are three trends we’re likely to see this year:
1. The relationship with the content consumer matters more than ever.
Cookies were a convenient crutch. They were the building blocks for digital advertising and helped drive revenue for media companies as they transformed. Now that cookies are nearing their end, some companies are panicking while others are evolving. The ones that succeed will be the ones that focus on creating a continuing relationship with the consumer. This means engaging with them differently, through a soft or hard paywall, or as a curated member experience (e.g. Fortune Connect). This not only preserves advertising, which is a significant source of revenue, but opens the door to new, diversified revenue streams.
The ultimate death of the cookie will turn out to be a blessing for the media industry, even if it creates disruption in the short term. Necessity drives innovation. The cookie’s demise will revamp the way companies post content and interact with their consumers. In 2021, we will see even more innovative media business models that will define the coming decade.
2. Pandemic-driven changes won’t revert.
There is no going back, so let’s embrace the change. Let’s highlight some of those changes. In the first 28 days on Netflix, The Queen’s Gambit was watched by 62 million households. No, it didn’t reach M.A.S.H. season finale numbers of 106 million. However, M.A.S.H. aired on a major broadcast network at a time when there were only a few.
We’ve seen an acceleration in media companies following in Netflix’s footsteps. Peacock is betting on a network show that first aired in 2005 – The Office – to drive premium subscriptions at $5 a month. Who is the largest audience for that show? People who aren’t old enough to have worked in an office.
Just as the music industry needed to evolve and find new ways to engage and monetize consumers when streaming took off, so must media companies. Experiments bringing what would have been blockbuster movie releases like Mulan, Soul, and Wonder Woman 1984 to Disney+ and HBOMax will forever change, but not completely destroy, the theater industry. (Alamo Drafthouse-like experiences may well be the theater experience of the future). And let’s be clear, the definition of media is evolving. Consider Peloton: a fitness company? Sure. A hardware company? Maybe. A media company? Absolutely.
Successful media companies aren’t embracing a move to digital. They are disrupting their own legacy business models to become digital. Spectator events have become intimate digital experiences. (Think DJ D-Nice spinning to 120,000 live viewers including Diddy, President Joe Biden, and Janet Jackson on IG Live in the early days of the pandemic).
Sporting events are better with fans in stands. However, sporting experiences can, and should be, complemented with connectivity to the players, drivers and coaches. Leagues have already embraced fantasy sports, but could they openly embrace sports betting? And are there opportunities to connect with online gaming to create a full-surround fan experience, digitally?
It is critical to focus on the consumer and how they consume and where they consume and providing new ways to consume – directly. This will create new and stronger revenue opportunities.
3. Legacy media companies can succeed. But they have an uphill climb ahead.
Legacy media companies have the most to gain from transformative change. However, they start at a massive disadvantage compared to new media companies like Complex Networks and Spotify. (Yes, Spotify particularly with the acquisition of podcast content companies such as Gimlet).
These brands and what they represent have lasting value. However, they demand reinvention with a focus on digital channels, habit-forming digital products, multiple streams of monetization and libraries of content. When Maven bought Sports Illustrated last year, it did so with the intent of “revitalizing and strengthening” the publication for a new era by focusing on technology.
While most software products were once developed on a 6-to-12-month timeline, the pace of change has accelerated. Consumer expectations are far more immediate. But with the right digital product strategy, the media industry could see a game-changing resurgence in 2021.
About the author
Chris Hansen is senior vice president of 3Pillar Global’s media and information services client service vertical.