The Upfronts in New York were always about making big advertising deals before the TV season kicked off. Then came the NewFronts, which focused on digital offerings and innovative formats. Now comes the NewFronts West, an extension of the NewFronts that took place in Los Angeles this month, and which have evolved even further from the original Upfronts. Gone was the talk of making big ad deals. In its place was discussion of new platforms, new formats, and new ways to reach younger audiences with influencers, podcasts and, of course, online video.
In short, the personality and networking surrounding this event fits in perfectly with the ethos of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, the major West Coast hubs that have insinuated themselves into the ad market like never before.
Here are five big takeaways from the inaugural edition of the NewFronts West:
1. Big Ad Deals Take a Back Seat to Relationships and Emerging Models
Closing major ad sales was hardly the focus at this event. One reason is was that it took place outside of the traditional media buying season. Also, because there was a mix of digital-only and legacy media publishers, it offered a chance for all parties to stand out with new types of offerings.
In fact, it was the kind of space where people new to the game could come in and introduce themselves. And it was a chance to think less about traditional models of advertising and more about emerging prototypes that are just beginning to gain traction, like branded content, custom sponsorships and opportunities for publishers within Instagram’s IGTV. These avenues are especially interesting to advertising execs as ad-free platforms take hold and audiences become more and more fragmented.
Even the New York Times, one of the more well-known heavy hitters at the event, saw the NewFronts West less as a space to close deals and more as a brand marketing opportunity to talk to people about how the Times works with advertisers. In this way, the event was much more future-focused. The hope, it seemed, was that building relationships now would reap benefits down the line.
2. Podcasts Are Not Slowing Down
Podcasts have exploded over the past few years, with nearly every publisher producing some or at least considering them. But after BuzzFeed and Slate’s Panoply cut back on offerings, it was easy to think that perhaps the hype had gone too far. Judging by the NewFronts West, those cutbacks might only be a hiccup.
The Los Angeles Times, Gallery Media Group and Ellen Digital all announced new podcasts. The L.A Times announced new podcasts about a drag racer, “Big Willie,” and a reporter’s search for a hospital patient called “Room 20,” following in the footsteps of its popular “Dirty John” podcast co-produced with Wondery.
Podcasts have always been favored for the intimacy that voice offers, but a compelling host is also arguably the best brand influencer for an audience. With 92% of consumers leaning toward product recommendations, according to a FameBit presentation, podcasts are a more personal way for hosts to promote products.
3. Vice Media’s Brand Safety Splash
While there have been a lot of efforts around promoting brand safety for advertisers, Vice Media made a big splash at the NewFronts West by countering widespread use of keyword blocking by pushing a more contextual approach from Oracle Data Cloud.
Vice executives released the findings of an 18-month long study abut keyword blacklists, which are meant to flag potentially objectionable content for advertisers. Turns out they place LGBTQIA-related keywords high on the list, including “gay,” “transgender” and “bisexual.” The study also found that the keywords “Asian,” “Muslim,” and “interracial” also appear at the top of these blacklists.
For a media brand that prides itself on diverse and inclusive programming (as its executives said), Vice’s announcement made a big statement. Vice then said it would be testing Oracle Data Cloud’s contextual brand safety solution, which offers deeper analysis and scores content based on its storytelling context. They also called for other publishers to follow suit. Now we’ll have to see if Oracle Data Cloud stands up to its reputation.
4. Advertisers Will Have to Work Harder to Reach Audiences
Part of why the West Coast’s approach to the NewFronts is so attractive is that advertisers have realized they have to work much harder to secure the attention of their audiences. Thus, they’re more willing to try new platforms and experiment with techniques that are still nascent like Alexa skills, brand-sponsored podcasts or e-commerce enabled videos. Platforms like Netflix and HBO have made commercial-free viewing experiences de rigeur, and readers on the internet can also easily block ads they don’t want to see.
What to do? Create advertising that consumers can’t not pay attention to is the answer. Advertising executives are anticipating that the traditional model of advertising will evaporate sooner rather than later. So, they’re trying to stay ahead of the curve for their own survival and efficiency. That’s a no-brainer. Having influencers on IGTV or other social platforms pitching products for them has become one way to do that.
5. Snapchat Pushes More Scripted Shows
As Facebook has struggled with battles against misinformation (and lost data), Snapchat continues to move forward with its own programming. At NewFronts West, the L.A.-based social app announced a host of new serialized, scripted shows for the launch of what it’s calling Snapchat Originals. It feels a little bit like Netflix’s foray into originals, except the projects will be shot in a vertical format and feature six-second unstoppable ads. It’s definitely a big endeavor, and one to watch – even if it means that other tech giants may want to, ahem, copy this strategy as well (looking at you, IGTV).
The bottom line coming out of this year’s NewFronts West is that it’s much more important to be strategic about new advertising models and partnerships than it is to partner with name-brand entities and existing prototypes. While tried-and-true advertising formats may sound good in theory and work for the time being, they may not be viable in the future. This event gave publishers a chance to zero in on those emerging ideas. If an event like the NewFronts West can continue to present itself as the more future-forward alternative to the East Coast’s spring NewFronts — and reiterate the fact that not all agencies and ad shops are in New York — it has the chance to develop an even larger following for future shows.
As podcast ideas go, it was a cracker. Make a six-part show about Black Mirror and release the entire series for fans to binge on as an accompaniment to the show’s fourth season on Netflix. That was the genesis of Black Mirror Cracked, the brainchild of Trinity Mirror’s editorial trainer Suchandrika Chakrabarti. She also championed the idea of “mojo” thinking, which leverages relatively inexpensive and accessible tools to create compelling content.
“Podcasts have had a huge resurgence, as we all know, and the editors were looking for ideas for new ones, as this format attracts sponsorship and all media companies are looking for new sources of revenue,” she says.
“Having written about Black Mirror in 2016 when the first Netflix series came out, and had good numbers and SEO value from that, I thought a podcast would give us an extra edge, particularly in the US where the show has such a good audience and where podcasts are so popular,” she says.
To promote the podcast on Trinity’s text channels, Chakrabarti arranged an interview with Black Mirror’s creators, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones. The interview was recorded on an iPhone, with a simple clip-microphone that can be bought online for $11, with a view to writing it up later.
But when Chakrabarti and her producer Daniel Jackson listened back to the recording, they felt it was good enough for a standalone seventh episode, as well as to provide content for the other six. “We decided to put a clip from it at the top of each of our podcasts, because it’s great to have Charlie Brooker’s voice as the first thing you hear,” she says.
Smart Phone Thinking
Using a smartphone was a radical move at Trinity, where most podcasts are recorded in a sound-booth with a professional microphone – but less radical for Chakrabarti and Jackson, who have helped pioneer ‘mojo’ at Trinity for capturing video and doing Facebook Lives in the field. The audio wasn’t perfect, but the pair crossed their fingers that the audience would forgive a slightly rawer sound in return for hearing from Brooker and Jones.
It paid off. Black Mirror Cracked went live on 29 December, the same day as the Netflix series, and went straight to Number 2 in iTunes. In all, it spent four months in “Bingeworthy.”
“The numbers were insane – 20,000 listens in the first week – far beyond what we were expecting,” Chakrabarti says. “They were listening very far into each podcast, too, not getting bored or switching off, so we were definitely doing something right.”
“It’s totally understandable that anything less will attract critics. I’d say that we also suffered from putting all seven episodes out at once, because we improved our technique and sound as we went along with the production, but the audience got to hear them all at once,” she says.
“And no one pointed out the Charlie Brooker episode as having worse audio than any of the others, so it definitely wasn’t the smartphone. It was the learning we needed to do along the way.”
A Smart Investment
Black Mirror Cracked added additional episodes, for a total of 22, and completed its run last week. The other equipment used to make it consisted of a podcast microphone from the Blue Yeti range ($130-$270), and a Mac software program called Audio Hijack for recording Skype interviews ($59). Audio editing was done on the free, open-source editor Audacity.
“So our costs, minus our time, were just a shade over 200 dollars, US,” Chakrabarti says.
Other Trinity Mirror departments are now considering swapping the sound-booth for smartphone recordings in the field, particularly when a sense of ‘being present’ is part of the story, like sports matches. Chakrabarti says she wants to see more text reporters give ‘mojo’ – mobile journalism – a try.
As she points out, text journalists are recording interviews all the time and much of what they capture goes to waste. She recommends going into those situations at least thinking the audio might be good enough to publish on its own. Besides, “the combination of my phone and clip mic are small enough to stay in my bag all the time, and of course the device takes great photos and video – so if the chance for a great story comes up, you’ll never miss it.”
Corinne Podger is a digital journalism educator and consultant for media outlets, NGOs and businesses. She is a specialist trainer in smartphone storytelling for television, radio, online and social media, and has taught more than 2500 journalists and communicators to use smartphones for TV and social video, radio, podcasts and photography.
She has worked as a trainer with BBC Media Action, Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Financial Times, Fairfax Media, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung and supported learning for journalists from over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Australasia.
Corinne has also lectured on mobile journalism at universities and colleges in Australia, Europe and the United States, and speaks regularly at journalism conferences.
She runs bespoke consultancies and individual workshops on request. To contact Corinne, click here.
Today, Slate unveiled a sweeping redesign that includes its logo, website, mobile, and events branding. But this redesign runs much deeper than a new aesthetic approach. Slate’s new look reflects the organizations’ emphasis on audience engagement over scale.
“Our last major redesign, in 2013, was at the height of the Facebook boom. Social was the driver.” That design was very successful, according to Slate’s editor in chief Julia Turner. However, like most websites, it prioritized social sharing over increasing user interaction and time on site.
The landscape has changed a lot since 2013. In fact, the only constant has been change—with traffic, audiences, and distribution largely reliant on the algorithmic whims of search and social platforms. This is evident in Facebooks recent decision to de-emphasize news articles and anything published by brands in user’s News Feeds. While many publishers are concerned over how the latest change will affect traffic, few are surprised.
Engagement versus Scale
However, the pursuit of likes and shares was just one symptom of a larger trend that dominated the thinking of digital publishers: the quest for scale. As Dan Check, the president and vice chairman of The Slate Group, describes it “social isn’t about increasing time spent on site; it is about touching more people. Scale is fundamentally the pursuit of uniques.”
According to Turner, “We began to see fairly early on—in late 2104, early 2015—that the pursuit of scale for scale’s sake, didn’t make sense for a brand like Slate.” In fact, last September the company moved to engaged time as its primary measure of success, which enabled teams across the organization to put loyalty at the forefront of their initiatives. “The Landscape has become inhospitable to cheap scale. But even more, it doesn’t suit our audience and values.”
The new design builds upon Slate’s commitment to understanding and serving its audience, which Turner describes as “a highly-informed omnivorous media consumer.” Given that they are looking for “sophisticated next-level analysis,” she said it was important that this new design help guide them to information that will offer a deeper contextual understanding of topics in Slate’s five verticals: News & Politics, Culture, Business, Technology, and Human Interests.
With the new design, regardless of whether the visitor is a regular or lands on a page via search or social, Check said “We wanted to give people stronger signposts and a better understanding of what they can expect from us.” The redesigned Slate (which doesn’t use a third-party recirculation partner) will “show people more relevant content and tell the story about who we are. For years, our message was ‘like us on FB, follow us on Twitter.’ Now, it is more about contextualizing what you’re seeing.”
Listening to Opportunity’s Knock
This, in turn, is intended to deepen visitors’ time-spent on the site and affinity for the brand, both of which translate into revenue opportunities. While Slate CRO Charlie Kammerer says that the company has been able to “baseline monetize purely with our programmatic dollars,” the new design will offer more premium membership prompts for SlatePlus as well as newsletter sign ups.
It will also better surface and integrate Slate’s popular roster of podcasts on the homepage and throughout the site. Check points out that for many years, podcasting was a medium awaiting a business model. However, in the decade between the company’s first podcast (in July of 2005) and the explosion of podcasting a revenue driver, Slate remained committed to the format—in large part because its audience was. “Podcasting was something that garnered a lot of audience interest for about a decade. There’s rabid listenership. So, though it wasn’t a business for a number of years, it always made sense from an audience perspective.”
Today, Slate claims 2% of the podcast market share. Kammerer said “We’re glad we stuck with it because when the model matured, we were already in a good position in terms of expertise and audience.” And, with this redesign, Slate will also be investing more in audio, further increasing its roster from a current 24 podcasts and putting out more original shows like its hit Slow Burn, about the untold stories of Watergate, which hit #1 on iTunes on its first day out.
However, Slate’s emphasis on audio and the written word is not an indication that it has “abandoned video” said Turner. “Our video focus is what we can do well.” And, as Kammerer pointed out, the “the case for the pivot to video was a case for scale. The CPMs were higher so a lot of outlets chased those CPMs forgetting that video is expensive to produce well, and that the margins aren’t that great.” In his experience, the CPMs for audio are as good or better than video. “It’s about focus for us and we continue to focus on maintaining a super-premium audience. The written word and podcasting delivers that audience in a very meaningful way.”
And, while engaging its existing audience is a critical piece of Slate’s strategy, they plan to continue to build a quality audience without embarking on an unbridled quest for scale. As Turner put it, “It isn’t that social isn’t a good way to drive traffic. But what you want is a real relationship with your audience that isn’t dependent on social media.” She reports substantial growth in Slate’s Google and Apple News-driven traffic.
Referring to Facebook’s decision to downgrade publishers’ content in News Feed, Kammerer said “If they really want to drive more meaningful interaction, I like our chances. But who knows what changes they’ll announce two months from now?”
As Check put it, “You saw big publishers reach huge audiences through Facebook; a lot of people discovered content they wouldn’t have otherwise. Unfortunately, it has also given rise to a lot of things that aren’t great like fake news and low-quality content.” He sees a genuine market opportunity for existing or emerging aggregation partners who “want to be more responsible.”
Ultimately, Turner sees a real upside for Slate in Facebook’s move to back away from media distribution. “My instinct is that being an arbiter around the news space requires a whole set of real responsibilities and rigor that they’ve been fairly freaked out about. Now maybe we’ll see the return of news judgement to the institutions that have been cultivating that judgment for years.”
Millennials – the ‘distracted demographic’ between the ages of 18 and 34 were weaned on the Internet and spoiled by content choice. They have grown up to become the largest generation in the U.S. with a wallet to match. If you think it’s a lucrative audience ripe for the taking, think again.
Tapping the significant opportunities and tackling the even greater challenges around influencing this massive audience requires a deep understanding of digital content consumption trends and how their evolving media habits make them different from the rest of the population.
This is where Millennials on Millennials, the research program and research report series from global performance management company Nielsen is breaking new ground to offer critical insight into topics that impact Millennials and the media industry as a whole. The inaugural report and the second in the series, released in August by Nielsen’s own Millennial associates, leverage Nielsen audience datasets to shed important light on the “why’s” behind key engagement trends and highlight the ways brands, marketers and content companies can seek connect with this highly coveted demographic.
While the first in the series uncovered hard truths about Millennials (they are glued to their smartphone, they are distracted by multitasking and they are bothered by advertising -unless it is a precursor to accessing free content), the second volume of research reveals hard numbers around their digital media and social media usage.
It’s no secret that Millennials are engaged with digital content during all waking hours of the day and keep their devices close by – and turned on – when they sleep. In fact, Millennials are glued to their smartphones (1,179 minutes each in Q4 2016 on their devices compared to 659 minutes for those aged 35-49).
Top of the list, and leading by a massive margin, is communication via social media platforms and apps. Unsurprisingly, these platforms have grown up with Millennials and are now an integral part of the daily routine. While social communication use has plateaued at an extremely high level, growth is getting a boost from Millennials that have broadened the number of services and apps they use. Specifically, 70% of Millennials report using two or more apps for messaging. Notably, Millennials are also 8% more likely than users 35 and older to use messaging apps for group conversations.
Millennials aren’t just connecting in more ways; they are consuming more content across more platforms. Digital music consumption, a topic examined in the report, is witnessing the most significant – and surprising shift.
You would imagine that digital consumption via Internet and apps is reducing Millennials’ appetite for traditional radio tune-in. However, Nielsen has found the opposite is true. The research pegs weekly reach of broadcast radio among Millennials at a whopping 93%. At the same time on-demand streaming is going strong. More than half (60%) of Millennials say they use two or more apps to stream music.
Interestingly, podcasts are also winning over Millennial audiences and a growing share of their attention. Nielsen reports 37% of Millennials listen to podcasts at least once a week, while 13% say they listen every day, compared with 5% of consumers 35 and older who tune in on a regular basis. (Little wonder media companies, including the Washington Post, are scrambling to turn readers into listeners with the help of compelling podcasts that mash up news, analysis and celebrity.)
More Content, More Consumption
The good news: Nielsen confirms the plethora of content offers and options “has actually inspired increased consumption” among Millennials. With so much digital content to choose from Millennials aren’t opting for one or the other; they are consuming all of the above.
The not-so-good-news is that more isn’t always better. “Millennials are an unfocused audience and they are less likely to stay loyal to specific media the way other generations are,” the report states. Millennials may be making more space in their lives for more digital media consumption, but this also increases competition for their attention.
Winning the loyalty of this demographic will be an uphill battle, and winners will be the companies that adapt their offer to the evolving media habits of multitasking Millennials, not seek to limit them.
From the advance of AI and bots, to the explosion of mobile and apps, media companies must understand and evaluate a myriad of “hot” technologies. Business outcomes are linked to technology choices. Make the right choices, (and investments in the right platforms) and media companies can send traffic into the stratosphere. Miss a step, or a trend, and media companies can lose their shirt. Either way, the ability of media companies to determine their destiny as publishers is inexplicably intertwined with their willingness to experiment and innovate as technology companies.
Since Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013, the publication has become a sandbox for digital ideas that span a wide spectrum. At one level, efforts to re-imagine old-school audio podcasts have won the company recognition as a top 10 podcast publisher, according to May 2017 data from podcast measurement company Podtrac. At the other end of the spectrum, experiments with Alexa and Snapchat are breaking new ground, and building new audiences.
Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove, spoke with David Merrell, Manager of Product Development at The Washington Post, to discuss how the company is harnessing audio content, exploring voice interfaces, and preparing for the opportunities and challenges of storytelling on new platforms.
Peggy Anne Salz: Podcasts are popular, with almost 20% of U.S. adults ages 18 to 49 listening to them at least once a month. It’s a trend the Washington Post embraced early. Now you have a string of podcasts, several of which hit 1+million downloads as early as a month after launching. Tell me about the chief factors you considered before making your move.
David Merrell: We saw that smartphones are ubiquitous and—because podcasts are now available in everyone’s pocket whenever they want—we saw the opportunity. We then reviewed the studies, did research with our own readers and made the decision to go this route. We saw a fit with our efforts to expand our audio offerings in general across voice platforms such as Alexa and Google Home. But we also knew this was not a core competency. Our traditional competencies in news and storytelling were not what we would need to have a big impact in podcasts since podcasts are not about breaking news. We had to look at storytelling beyond breaking news, and really bring the analysis piece of it, as well as our own perspectives, into the podcast.
Since taking the plunge, we’ve launched several podcasts. There’s the historic focus podcast called Presidential, which was a huge success last year with one episode focused on each president. Now history wasn’t what you could call a core Washington Post product, but we were able to take our expertise and apply current thoughts and questions to historic aspects of the country and create a very compelling podcast that counts more than 9 million listens since it launched in January 2016. We just launched a sequel to Presidential called Constitutional that looks at the history of the Constitution and applies this to current events. With our lineup, we recently cracked the ranks of the top 10 publishers in the U.S. for podcast listens, which given the size of our team and where we were just a year ago is pretty incredible.
Podcasts and traditional news and investigative journalism—both are forms of storytelling delivered by mobile and apps. Some publishers might have been concerned one product would cannibalize the other, but you obviously weren’t…
It is a concern that comes up a lot. But we balance. Our big focus, in terms of business growth, is on digital subscriptions. Sure, it would appear at first glance that podcasts do not drive that since they are also available on iTunes. But we have seen very impressive results from successful marketing campaigns where we will tell people, “This is part of the wide breadth of Washington Post content that your subscription supports.” We’ve also seen huge engagement with our podcasts by our subscribers. So, even though this is a product that is widely available, it’s also a product that is highly engaging – and Washington Post subscribers access and appreciate the content.
Is this important in your efforts to attract new audiences?
When we’re talking about getting in front of new audiences, audio is a component of that. But we’re not limited to one way to get to this goal. Take our presence on Snapchat Discover. It’s also allowing us to get in front of people who wouldn’t necessarily have seen the Washington Post otherwise. Like all traditional media, we have an older audience that is very engaged, like other newspapers, we have had trouble reaching a younger audience and showing them who we are and what we offer in a way they can understand and see value in. And that’s important because don’t have to just get in front of them; we have to demonstrate value and show them why they should make the Washington Post part of their daily lives. Podcasts offer a way to do that, but so does Snapchat.
The Washington Post also launched a Reddit public profile, so another example of being on a platform to reach new audiences and find what a new home for your content. How do you choose and pursue these opportunities, without spreading too thin?
In the case of audio and podcasts, we made up our mind early that it was a boat we wanted to make, not miss. We launched Presidential, and after we were convinced of the success we hired people for audio roles. That’s what’s fueled the explosion is bringing in people with audio experience to help with the recording, to help with the scripting, to give feedback to the folks, internally, who are recording the podcasts. Since then, we’ve hired a product manager, who is almost wholly-focused on audio, and especially on Alexa, and then another hire in the newsroom focused on conversational audio. Now we are at the point where we are figuring out how do we record for new platforms like Alexa and Google Home, and what can we do to create a really sticky voice UI experience?
Frankly, the answer is always part tech and part user experience. What’s your approach?
There are different pieces to our Alexa strategy. The biggest one, is what you just described: the user experience. Right now, it’s like you wake up in the morning, you go to your kitchen where your Alexa likely is, and you say, “Alexa, what’s news?” Alexa cycles through a list of sources that you choose when you first set up your device, and that’s called your flash briefing. Alexa plays the briefing and you hear short bits of news from each of those sources. We’ve determined that this is the the stickiest news experience on Alexa right now because it’s so simple and baked-in to the device itself. It’s one word: news. The user just says news and gets news.
But it’s also a huge learning curve—for us as well as the consumer. As it works right now, people need to install a skill, which you can think of as an app. But there’s no home screen on Echo to remind people to tap on a Washington Post icon. Instead, users have to remember to say, “Alexa, open the ‘Washington Post’” in order to get to our news on the platform. We’ve found that is really difficult. It’s a whole lot easier for people to remember to say, “What’s news?” and then go into their flash briefing.
So, how do you plan to change that behavior or introduce new habits?
We’ve found it starts with marketing. We have to direct people to install our skill, and that means promotions to get our skill in front of people. So, we either need to reach them in exactly the right moment to tell them to enable “Washington Post” on their device, or we need to market to them on other channels away from the device. In which case, the marketing has to also educate them to remember to say, “Alexa, open the ‘Washington Post’” when they are back in front of their Echo. It’s a hurdle for every company with a skill. To encourage habits and get people to remember, we have also introduced a news quiz feature that’s updated fairly frequently to get people to come back in so they can play. They can only access the news quiz by saying, ‘Alexa, open the ‘Washington Post.’
As you said, every company that has a skill, or plans a skill, will struggle with this. What is your advice about how should they approach this?
We have not figured it out, so we don’t have a magic bullet solution. But I would say that content companies should go through the process of building a skill as a way to find out if there is a fit and find what users will value. If you are a smaller newsroom, and you have fewer resources in both engineering and editorial, then I would start with a flash briefing. Direct and educate your audience to add that to their flash briefing lineup, and go on from there since that is really the most engaging way and easiest way to get news on the platform.
Specifically, which channels and formats work to move users from accessing news via mobile apps or whatever platform they are currently using to consider getting news from Alexa.
We are in the very early days of experimenting with that now. To start, use a survey to figure out how many of your users have Echo devices. Then also look at your engaged users and target them. For us it’s our subscribers because they are the “Washington Post” super fans likely to switch. If anyone’s going to remember to say, “Open the ‘Washington Post’” every day, it’s going to be people who are already subscribing to us. As far as the precise channel, we start with email.
The Washington Post is exploring a plethora of platforms and technologies. But it’s also a company that has the resources to do so. What is your advice to companies that can’t be early adopters, but can’t afford to be late to the party either?
First, let me tell you about our approach. We dive in and define a period of time when we’re in all the way. After that, we look at the data to determine if what we are doing is worth further investment, or if we need to pivot. We do this will all the platforms. We go all in with AR, we go all in to test new storytelling format in Facebook Instant Articles, and we did it to create content for Apple News. We do this because we feel like that’s the only way to get enough data. It tells us where these new platforms fit strategically for us, and, it’s not working, we use the data to see how it could work for us and how we could work with these large tech partners to move their roadmaps in a direction that we would want to travel.
The point is I think media companies should be experimenting all the time. The status quo is not going to sustain anyone’s publishing business for very long going forward. So, I would encourage everyone, no matter their size, to experiment. I think it’s the scale of the experimentation that matters, not the company. If you’re a smaller publisher, look at where your audience is. If you have a huge percentage of your audience coming from Facebook, then I think it makes a lot of sense to focus some energy on Facebook products such as Instant Articles.
But don’t just look at your audience; look internally at the skills sets you have. You know, it’s a very low technical bar to start a podcast. I’m not saying that anyone can do it – you need some setup and training – but many companies and even individuals have achieved and engaged huge audiences with podcasts. It’s really a matter of trying it, seeing what resonates, and doubling down on that. And that’s the ethos of experimentation. Doubling down on the success to grow that success is something that any newsroom of any size can tackle.
So, is the post-Bezos Washington Post a publisher or a tech company?
Both. We think of ourselves as a technology company and a publisher at the same time. Our Arc Publishing [software-as-a-service] business continues to expand its client base, and we’re now licensing our tools to other companies including Tronc, which has adopted Arc as its fundamental platform throughout its nine-city metro chain. And there are more clients in the pipeline. Now that isn’t a business for a traditional publisher, but it’s something that we do and that’s all technology that we develop.
I’d say, we defy classification. We are a journalism company, we are a storytelling company and we are a technology company. You know, next to where I sit is a quote on the wall from Jeff Bezos: “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.” And that’s what it feels like to be owned by Jeff: to be constantly evolving and realizing that staying static is not an option. Staying static is the most dangerous thing a publisher can do.
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. Full disclosure: She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.
The lack of metrics and tracking in the world of podcasts has kept many advertisers away from the space. However, podcasting has been a boon for direct response advertisers like Squarespace, BlueApron, and Samantha Bee’s favorite, MeUndies. Apple recently announced that it will finally share analytics on listener behavior in aggregate. This is a tremendous advancement for podcasting. The data will help producers understand what content hooks listeners and where they drop off. But, beyond measuring listener behavior, Slate wants to answer one big question for brand advertisers: Do podcasts work?
To answer this question, Slate Group Studios partnered with Prudential Financial Inc. on a program called Wealth Wits and paired it with the first study of it’s kind to assess the impact of a branded podcast program.
Slate was an early pioneer in podcasting and has been a leading force in the space for more than 12 years. As listeners flock to the medium, brands are keen to experiment. In 2015, Slate created its first branded podcasts with HBO, GE and Prudential. However, the lack of measurement has hampered aspirations to build out robust, long-term podcast marketing strategies.
Our Wealth Wits Investigation
The Prudential Wealth Wits program offered a customized content experience powered by the listener’s own financial behavior. The capstone of the campaign was an interactive self-assessment quiz, promoted on Slate, that served up a personalized podcast. The branded podcast was created in partnership with Prudential and hosted by journalist, comedian, and author Faith Salie. Wealth Wits intended to help people of all walks of life think about their retirement and plan for the future.
Slate Group Studios created a custom methodology in order to understand and assess the overall impact of the Wealth Wits campaign on Prudential’s brand favorability. The study looked at overall brand awareness, favorability and consideration. GFK Research measured the results.
For the study, control survey responses were collected prior to campaign launch to ensure no exposure to branded podcast. Exposed survey respondents were collected via a host-read at the end of the podcast to ensure exposure to branded content. The survey was hosted at an easy-to-remember vanity URL.
Measuring the Results
One positive result was that nearly 20% of survey respondents reported that they were very or somewhat likely to recommend Prudential to their friends and family.
Because this was a cross-platform program with interactive, display and audio elements, the study allowed us to compare the impact of different media types. These comparisons produced the most exciting findings, offering up valuable, statistically significant evidence of podcast advertising’s effectiveness. In short, the study found that podcast units were more than twice as successful than banner ads in driving statistically significant lifts in Brand Awareness (+14%) and Ad Recall (+21%).
In addition to finding that podcast units were more than twice as successful than banner ads in driving statistically significant lifts in Brand Awareness and Ad Recall, the units’ display creative also led to statistically significant lifts of 7% in Favorability and 8% in Consideration.
It was encouraging to see the success of Wealth Wits reflected in meaningful metrics. However, it’s even more exciting that the results offer up much-needed data on the effectiveness of branded podcasts as a medium. While the creativity afforded within the podcast space and the deep engagement have made branded podcasts desirable, the data to support the investment has often been elusive. With our custom methodology, the industry at large now has a model to follow and hard numbers to measure against.
We can now say emphatically that, yes, podcasts do work.
About the authors
Charlie Kammerer is Chief Revenue Officer of Slate, where he focuses on developing ways for brands to tap into Slate‘s audience through editorial content, podcasting, video, and custom programs. Kammerer joined Slate in 2017 after spending twenty years at Time Inc., where he was a brand builder and revenue generator across a diverse portfolio of brands, including Real Simple, Fortune, Food and Wine, Cooking Light, Golf, and This Old House. He’s based out of Slate‘s Brooklyn office.
Jim Lehnhoff is Vice President at Slate Group Studios, Slate’s in-house branded podcast agency. Formerly, Jim was Director of Advertising Strategy at Gawker Media, where he was responsible for overhauling the company’s go-to- market strategy while managing a team of six strategists. Prior to Gawker, Lehnhoff cut his teeth at Serious Eats, Curbed Network, and The Onion.
Podcasts are earning a strong foothold in digital media. The popularity of podcasts such as “Serial” and “This American Life” aided the medium in reaching new audiences. In fact, Edison Research reports an estimated 57 million Americans over the age of 12 listened to a podcast in January and February of 2016.
The Knight Foundation recently made several investments to support podcasting programming and on-demand audio formats. In the report “From Airwaves to Earbuds,” the Knight Foundation partnered with Lutman & Associates and Dot Connector Studio to identify and assess the impact of these investments. To date, the Knight grantees are successful in growing their audiences and finding new ways to attract younger listeners as well as revenue.
The grantees in the digital transformation of audio content include:
Project Carbon supports the development of a seamless digital listening platform across all NPR affiliates and available through all digital devices.
Radiotopia helps independent media makers develop audiences and revenue for their work.
Gimlet Media develops and release podcasts for its network.
New York Public Radio develops and share the Discover app, WNYC’s mobile app for on-demand listening.
RadioPublic PBC helps listeners discover, engage with, and reward creators of stories, podcasts, and other audio.
The research identified 10 key themes:
Podcast audiences are growing. At least one-fifth of U.S. consumers (21%) have listened to a podcast compared to 12% in 2015 according to Edison Research. As you can see from the chart, the podcast audience listens to less radio and more podcasts than the average.
Digital-first companies are building podcast audiences without a need for legacy broadcast systems or audiences to maintain and are more agile to develop strategies to capture useful audience data.
On-demand listening offers new and creative ways to offer local news stories.
Racial and gender diversity is needed in podcast hosts, only 22% of podcasts are hosted by women, although that’s up from 12% in 2015.
Public Radio is a key talent pool for the podcasting medium.
Podcasting is a great space for experimenting new skills, styles and techniques.
Data standards and methods of shared metrics are needed in on-demand audio and podcasts.
Identifying new revenue paths is important. Podcasting recently used CPMs to enlist advertisers.
Podcasting and on-demand audio formats are partners in the radio space. Leveraging this synergy could prove a positive move
Podcasting can offer a powerful discussion. It presents a unique experience because the content evolves in the mind of the listener.
The report raises several questions about the future growth of the medium: Is there enough scale in podcasting today to be a profitable medium? Can it serve as a medium for interesting and original brand integrations? At this stage, there’s no one-answer-fits-all for how podcasting should generate revenue. However it is clear that podcasting offers a level of engagement with audiences that offers an opportunity to experiment with new forms of revenue generation.
With trust in mass media at a record low, publishers look to 2017 as an opportunity to distinguish quality journalism from the fake news landscape and bot traffic of big tech platforms.
CEOs, editors and digital leaders today recognize both the opportunities and the challenges in 2017. Reuters Institute surveyed 143 senior publishing executives in 24 countries to recognize current business sentiment, uncover trends and identify new developments in the digital marketplace. Interestingly, Reuters found that more than two-thirds (70%) of executives believe fake news offers them a chance to strengthened their brands. More than half (56%) say that Facebook Messenger will be an “important/very important” part of their offsite initiatives this year (53% for WhatsApp and 49% for Snapchat). And at the same time, just under half (46%) of these same respondents are more worried today than a year ago, about the role of offsite platforms.
Platform and algorithm changes allowing for easier reporting of false news (and feeding these signals back into the core algorithms so these sources get devalued).
Regulation threats to remove fake news from sites.
Algorithms are expected to challenge our bias.
Fighting for quality news brands.
2. Redefining publishers’ relationship with platforms
Publishers fight back by creating platforms of their own (e.g. Schibsted, started its own platforms for content and advertising to create the scale and data competence to compete with Facebook).
Platforms pay hard cash for content.
Mergers and acquisitions happen more often as scale will mean operating across multiple platforms.
3. Digital advertising and sustainable business models
Subscription payments will focus more about membership and less about paywalls. News publishers, especially, will need to attract new customers, offer new pay services and earn more money from their current subscribers.
Data, loyalty and personalization will help with converting unidentified web users into loyal customers by creating more relevant and personal experiences.
Mobile alerts and the battle for locked screens signifies the shift to mobile notifications to attract consumers back to apps and websites.
Acceptable ads and ad-blocking apply pressure on the marketplace to ensure a more positive user experience with non-intrusive advertising.
Sponsored content replaces the displayad model.
Pop-up newspapers and magazines will offer in-depth coverage on certain topics but for only a limited period of time.
4. Messaging applications and news bots
Voice news bots with voice-activated platforms gain strong penetration (e.g. Alexa and Google Home).
Fact-checking bots are activated (e.g. Full Fact, a UK based company, is already looking to developing a service that fact checks live press conferences).
Conversational commerce emerges (e.g. Crosby, a travel bot service, that reads your email or group messaging conversations and send you recommendations for where to eat, what to do and when to leave for the airport).
5. Voice as an operating system and the rebirth of audio
Podcasts and audio books get a big boost in the car.
Improvements to data and advertising around podcasts lead to significant investments by publishers. A new measurement system form Nielsen’s and a Swedish start-up platform Acast offer metrics for podcasts to support advertising models.
Businesses start to deploy Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers (e.g. hotels use voice-controlled devices to enable guests to order room service, check the weather and find TV channels).
6. Online video and the future of TV
Disillusion with Facebook Live shifts a live focus towards sport and exclusive music, both strong vehicles to attract audiences and advertisers.
Oversupply of short form video leads to falling advertising premiums.
New opportunities with feature-based videos for brands integrate messages into videos.
Video-selfies to experiment with new fantastical filters (e.g. Splash is a new app that allows you to create and annotate 360-degree experiences).
7. The blurring of television and online video
Top content will increasingly be watched on big screens.
Competition for talent and rights heats up to drive new subscription and retain existing users.
News bulletins lose audiences triggers new ways to appeal to young (e.g. CNN acquired video-sharing app start-up Beme, co-founded by YouTube creator Casey Neistat, is building a new brand around distinctive reporting and commentary for millennials).
New reality tech offers huge potential to shape experiences for entertainment, education and commerce. Forecasters suggest around 30m devices will be sold by 2020 generating revenue of around $21 billion.
9. AI and algorithms under fire (e.g. An example gone sour was Microsoft’s friendly AI driven chatbot Tay. Within its first 24 hours on Twitter with Millennials, it was spouting offensive and racist messages such as “Hitler was right”).
10. Automation and a jobless future means robo journalism on the way
More automated stories.
Intelligent content production systems.
Computer and networked assisted investigations.
Filters and alerts are being developed to help manage the information overload (e.g. SamDesk and Dataminr are deployed in newsrooms to pinpoint and manage breaking news in social networks).
11. Cyber-Wars, and Personal Security
Encryption and surveillance are on the rise.
12. New technology
Sharper screens, fold out phones, better batteries.
Faster and more reliable networks (e.g. 5G).
Clothes as a platform with wearable technology.
Biometrics, the end of passwords and checkout-free shopping. A new shopping experience, Amazon Go, that automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves using computer vision and sensor fusion.
13. Start-ups to watch
Cheddar is a new business news video network for millennial. Founder Jon Steinberg of Buzzfeed is charging $6.99 for premium services on its own website and is looking to drive carriage fees from services like Facebook Live, Twitter and Netflix.
Zipline is a small robot airplane designed to carry vaccines, medicine and blood in developing countries.
Houseparty is a new group video chat, up to 8 people can chat at a time, from the creators of Meerkat.
Accompany aims to provide an automated briefing of all the information you need before you walk into any meeting including relevant files, email conversations with attendees, details about their lives sucked from the web plus up-to-date information on company performance.
2017 provides many opportunities for publishers to rebuild consumer trust in digital media. The Reuters Institute predictions suggest that publishers must help scrub the digital environment from bot traffic, annoying ads and fake or misleading news. They must hold themselves and others responsible and keep a watchful eye on the algorithmic accountability tied to the digital experience. Importantly, publishers must continue to build their digital brand and diversify their revenue streams beyond digital display advertising.
Content marketing continues to mature and is now used by over 85% of all marketers (B2B and B2C). But with that maturity comes the hard realization that reaching meaningful results—for example, a significant lift in site visitors, increase in conversions or in brand perception—requires continuous learning and improvement.
It’s not a shiny magic tool that solves all business challenges. It’s a daily struggle that requires tremendous investment. CMI’s Joe Pulizzi has said “the industry is in the middle of “downhill slide (as part of the Gartner Hype Cycle) into a ‘trough of disillusionment.’”
By now, most brands have tried to create content. A couple of videos here, maybe a few blog posts there. For many of them, doing so didn’t really move the needle and inevitably, they have given up on their efforts.
But for the successful ones, their ability to stay on top has stemmed from an understanding that they need to address creative, cadence, and measurement in a very different way than previously.
To help prepare for what’s next, here are some of the main themes we’ll hear in 2017:
Chatbots are the new CRM Six months after Facebook launched chatbots for Messenger, there are already over 33,000 chatbots on the platform. Why are chatbots so exciting? Because they can offer brands the opportunity to interact with consumers in a direct and personalized way. Chatbots enable brands to create a one-on-one relationship. It’s like the future of CRM—a conversation rather than blast emails.
Bots can either be scripted or based on AI. Some serve a utility function (like ordering flowers or opening a support ticket) and some can provide answers using content.
In 2017, we’ll start to see many brands who will start to create sophisticated bots that engage with audiences using a combo of their social and support teams as well as their content to enable engagements at scale.
Video Storytelling Most online videos promoted online by brands are still repurposed TV commercials. In 2017, we’ll start to see the shift towards “made for web” videos, not as commercials but rather as stories, both long and short. When creative teams are not constrained to 15-30 seconds spots or how to create a pre-roll that isn’t skipped over after five seconds, they can really focus on storytelling and providing real entertainment or educational value.
Podcasts Just as season one of “Serial” changed the world of offline listening, transforming millions to into huge fans of podcasts, “the Message” by GE is a turning point in how marketers should think about leveraging the medium for content marketing. You can become a sponsor to podcasts, but that’s just another form of interruptive advertising like commercials on radio. Conversely, you could create your own podcast, and make it great. Ebay’s “Open For Business” collaboration with Gimlet Media (the company behind podcast hits like “Startup” and “Reply All”) is another great examples of how brands can evolve from interruptive push advertising to become real content marketers.
Bring Content Expertise In-House While it is important for all marketing endeavours, high-quality content is vital to connecting with Millennials. The challenge is how to keep the right balance between quality and quantity. Many brands are now realizing that the best way to create a scaled operation is to bring the expertise in house. Research by Curata shows that in 2017, 51% of companies will have an executive in their organization who is directly responsible for an overall content marketing strategy (e.g., Chief Content Officer, VP or Director of Content). These people are hiring content specialists (someone who may even be ex-journalists and editors) and having them produce great content that takes advantage of the in-house collective experience in the product and category while conforming to all corporate policies and regulations.
Content Analytics and Content Attribution With the evolution of creative skillset comes the realization that measuring content marketing success requires not only a different approach, but also different tools.
Google Analytics often falls short in providing a clear map of how each channel of promotion is driving engagement with the content and how an engagement with one piece of content at the top of the funnel influences a CRM registration at the bottom of it. Moreover, it is hard to use it to see how a blog view leads to a Facebook app download or a Google search and conversion.
That’s why more and more companies are turning to solutions like Trendemon or Chartbeat to better understand and optimize their true content attribution and engagement.
Mobile It is simply not good enough anymore to ensure that your content is responsive and looks okay in mobile. The whole experience with your brand needs to be evaluated from the perspective of mobile first. If you aren’t making sure of this already, then you are way behind. In 2017, the majority of engagement with your website will happen on a mobile device. How fast does your site load? How easy is it to navigate? How is the design optimized for a mobile vertical view and scroll mode? Do you have experiences especially made for mobile, like a one-click button to call your office, or a link to open Waze to navigate easily? Most brands websites are repurposed desktop experiences, and those will just not suffice.
VR/AR VR is still niche and not mass market. But don’t ignore the hype. It’s important to start thinking about how you can create content for that world, given the expectation that this tech will become mass market in 2018.
If 2016 was all about realizing how hard it is to break through the noise of content, 2017 will be about experimenting with new mediums, skillsets, and measurement techniques. With so-called disillusionment also comes breakthroughs and innovations. We hope to see more of that in the year ahead.
Gilad de Vries (@giladdevries)is the Senior Vice President of Strategy at Outbrain. Gilad brings more than 19 years of experience in the digital media and technology fields. Before joining Outbrain, Gilad was VP of Digital Media and Principal at Carmel Ventures, one of Israel’s top-tier venture capital firms, where he was highly engaged in Carmel’s investments in digital media, Internet and mobile startups. Before Carmel, Gilad was a Senior Director of Marketing and Product Management at Comverse Technology, a leading provider of value-added services for Telco Providers. Gilad holds a B.A. in economics and business management from Bar-Ilan University and a Global MBA cum laude from the IDC Herzelia. Gilad is also a first lieutenant (reserve) in the Israeli Army’s technology unit (Mamram).
One in three podcast listeners expect to increase their podcast consumption over the next six months, following a similar increase in their behavior in the past six months. The results were revealed as part of comScore’s first study dedicated to podcasting, commissioned by audio on-demand network Wondery.
Significantly, among all forms of advertising on mobile devices, podcasts create the highest improvement in perception. And among all forms of digital advertising, podcast ads are considered the least intrusive.
Key findings include:
Over two-thirds of online Americans aged 18-49 are aware of podcasting and nearly one in five listen to podcasts at least once a month.
Incidence of podcast listening is highest among males aged 18-34, at 30%, who spend an average of more than 11 hours per month listening.
About half of podcast consumption is done via mobile devices.
Podcast listeners like the educational and entertainment value of the experience, and report an increase in positive emotions after listening to an episode.
Two-thirds of podcast listeners say they have engaged in various research and/or purchase related behaviors as a result of advertising exposure from podcasts.
More than half of non-podcast listeners say they would be interested in listening if they knew where and how to find podcast episodes.
The study was commissioned between March and April of 2016 among over 2,000 respondents in the US aged 18-49. Full results are available upon request at wondery.com/contact-us.
This year, Pew is leading with the impact of mobile, noting that at the start of the year, 39 of the top 50 digital news websites derive more traffic from mobile devices than from desktop computers.
Among Pew’s Findings:
For half of the top 50 news sites, desktop visitors spent at least 10% more time per visit than did those coming to the site or app on their mobile device. For another 15, the time spent was roughly equal.
A certain buzz has been building in the media industry lately. It started getting louder with the ascent of the smash public radio podcast, “Serial,” and it’s since grown into a full-on craze: Podcasts are making a major comeback.
But crowdfunding doesn’t work for every publisher. Take Invisibilia, a new NPR podcast launched in the beginning of this year. Its staffers set aside about $1,500 to purchase Facebook ads to promote the show ahead of its release. They also promoted previews of the show on two of the most well-known radio shows, “This American Life” and “Radiolab.” That promotion worked so well that its staffers cancelled the Facebook ads after spending around $400.
Most popular podcasts have cashed in with a very personal form of advertising — hosts speaking about brands in conversational mode just as in the early days of radio. That has been “the dominant advertising model for podcasts,” according to Andy Bowers, the executive producer of Slate’s podcasts. Listeners generally feel a certain intimacy with the host, and to hear that personality speak an ad therefore has an effect that’s specific to the medium. You could call it an audio version of a native ad, and they bring in a higher CPM in the $20 to $45 range.
Trying to Scale
The downside to this form of advertising, however, is that it’s very difficult to scale and remain personal.
Slate, a longtime podcast hub, also recently launched Panoply, a “podcast network for media brands, authors, personalities, and premier organizations” that currently includes podcasts from New York Times Magazine, HBO Documentary Films, the Huffington Post and Popular Science. The network not only helps audiences to discover new podcasts, but it’s also out to assist with the advertising and revenue side of podcasting as well. Slate general manager and Panoply co-creator Brendan Monaghan told DCN’s Michelle Manafy that “acquiring programs that can fit into “audience- and advertiser-friendly categories such as news and politics, culture and lifestyle, sports, and women’s issues”—categories he says are currently underserved.
Unfortunately podcasting has its own “viewability” issue, similar to the problem where humans don’t see web ads. In this case, it’s difficult to tell if people who downloaded a podcast actually listened to it, and for how long. But that varies depending on the app, as some of the apps such as Stitcher and SoundCloud can give more depth, and are readying their own ad networks.
Another possible podcasting revenue model is subscription based or pay-per-listen. This tactic debuted with Ricky Gervais in the first round of the podcasting boom and these days, Marc Maron and Fox News are charging for some of their content. Given the desire for revenue diversification among media companies, we may see more experiments with subscription models around podcasting.
One thing is certain with podcasting, though: Technology is helping to drive this boom, with easier synching and updates to in-car apps. Podcasting remains a very personal medium for listeners on the go, so expect more and more publishers to add audio as another platform to conquer, while incrementally increasing revenues and experimenting with monetization methods.