Full research report for DCN members only. Register to or login to download (on desktop see top right corner of page, on mobile the top center). Download buttons will appear at the top and bottom of the page.
DCN Members can access the video of today’s virtual event – a review of the study’s topline findings here.
Digital media companies recognize the important role of subscription-based models in monetizing content effectively. Understanding consumer behavior to support this business model is crucial for attracting and retaining subscribers, optimizing user experiences, and staying competitive. DCN’s new consumer subscription study: Digital Media Subscription Tracking offers a deep dive into consumer subscription behavior and covers a wide range of digital subscription services, including SVOD, MVPD, vMVPD, digital newspapers, magazines, and audio – and usage metrics for AVOD and FAST services. The report is DCN members only, please login or register to access (on desktop see top right corner, on mobile the top center).
The Q1 2023 report is available to all DCN members; all subsequent waves will be exclusive to DCN Benchmark participants as part of their Benchmark’s suite of reports offering timely market intelligence each quarter.
This quarterly research, conducted with Screen Engine/ASI, will identify trends and track market penetration, shifts, and growth in the rapidly changing media landscape. The first wave, Q1 2023, surveyed 1,893 adults 18+, representing the U.S. Census population by age, gender, race, and ethnicity. The sample was online-only and represented approximately 89% of U.S. households and adults 18+ with access to the Internet.
One of the study’s key findings is that the U.S. had more than one billion paid subscriptions in Q1 2023 across the digital media landscape – SVOD, MVPD, vMVPD, digital newspapers, magazines, and audio. This indicates that almost all online U.S. households (97%) subscribe to one or more digital media subscription services. On average, households subscribe to approximately nine different pay services when combining all seven digital media services measured in this study.
The SVOD service category has the most subscribers, with nearly a 60% share of total pay subscriptions, followed by MVPDs and vMVPDs, digital newspapers, digital magazines, and digital audio services. The study also indicates that 29% of all subscribers plan to add one or more services next quarter, while 26% plan to cancel one or more, with MVPDs potentially continuing to decline and vMVPD subscriptions potentially increasing.
The study also highlights that free, “ad-only” AVOD and FAST services will continue attracting more traditional media consumers, who tend to be older and watch more linear TV. SVOD with ads and AVOD services will provide a much-needed incremental and growing revenue stream, especially as growth for pay-only services that don’t carry ads slow their subscriber penetration.
The demographic profile of digital media service subscribers shows that the heaviest concentration of subscribers for all services combined are slightly younger (P18-34), more male (M18-34), more diverse (Hispanic and African American), family-oriented (parents with children under 18), higher income (households with income $150K+) and slightly more educated. This demographic profile is extremely attractive for advertisers, making the launch of more digital “hybrid” (pay + ads) services likely.
The Digital Media Subscription Tracking study offers digital content companies essential consumer research to support new revenue models and pricing strategies to stay competitive and retain their subscribers.
Full research report for DCN members only. Register to or login to download (on desktop see top right corner of page, on mobile the top center). Download buttons will appear at the top and bottom of the page.
Digital media continues to transform the way people consume news and information. Native digital news organizations have become a vital source of information for many people around the world. With fierce competition and the role of social platforms as intermediaries, how can digital native media businesses grow, develop, and publish information with greater independence and sustainability? New research, Project Oasis, from Sembra Media, examines the trends, impact, and sustainability of independent digitally-native news organizations.
To help support the growth and sustainability of independent digital native news organizations, the report includes a searchable media directory. This database includes 530 digital native news organizations in more than 40 countries across Europe. It contains information on the types of stories each organization covers, their funding sources, and their audience reach ‒ showcasing the need for diverse voices and perspectives.
The directory is a valuable resource for journalists, editors, and publishers looking to connect with other independent digital native news organizations. It provides a way to easily find and share important stories and sources that offer diverse perspectives, which are essential to accurately informing audiences.
Project Oasis highlights some of the many challenges facing native digital news organizations. One of the biggest is the struggle to achieve financial sustainability. Many of these organizations rely heavily on one or two funding sources, such as donations, subscriptions, and advertising. However, the report found that these sources of funding can be unpredictable and unstable, which can makes it difficult for organizations to plan their future. The research identifies the need for two to six revenue sources as optimal for native digital news organizations to be sustainable and remain independent.
Another challenge facing independent digital native news organizations is the need to build trust with their audience. Many people are skeptical of the news they see on social media and other online platforms. As a result, there is a greater need for independent digital native news organizations to establish their credibility and build trust with their audience.
Despite these and other challenges, the report finds reasons to be optimistic about the future of independent digital native news organizations in Europe. These include several key trends that are shaping the future of the industry, including the growing importance of mobile and social media, the rise of video journalism, and the increasing use of data and analytics to inform reporting.
The research also focuses on identifying profitable business models for independent digital native news organizations. These models include advertising, subscriptions, memberships, events, grants, and partnerships.
An advertising-based model is the most traditional revenue source for digital news organizations. Competition from big tech platforms like Google and Facebook presents a difficult ad sales marketplace for smaller players. However, advertising is still a viable revenue source for digital news organizations. Digital news organizations should differentiate themselves by focusing on building high-quality content, engaging audiences, and offering first-party targeted advertising solutions to advertisers.
Subscription models require high-quality content that engages the reader and convinces them to pay for the content. There are also membershipmodels, which offer a more community-focused approach to revenue generation. Memberships typically offer readers access to exclusive content, events, and other perks, in exchange for a regular fee. The report notes that membership models can be particularly effective for organizations with a strong and loyal following.
Events-based revenue models involve hosting conferences and workshops to generate revenue. The report notes that events can be an effective way to build relationships with readers and generate revenue. However, they require significant resources to organize and execute successfully.
Grants and philanthropy in funding independent digital news organizations are also available. The report notes that grants and philanthropic funding can be an effective way to support journalism that is not commercially viable. Organizations must carefully maintain their editorial independence and avoid conflicts of interest. The report also notes that there may be viable partnershipsand collaborations between digital news organizations and other media outlets, as well as non-media organizations. Partnerships can offer benefits such as shared resources and expertise, as well as access to new audiences and revenue streams.
As the digital marketplace continues to evolve, independent digital native news organizations will play an important role in shaping the future of journalism, filling news gaps, covering underserved communities, and combating mistrust and disengagement.
The Project Oasis report and its searchable media directory offer important resources to support the future of independent digital native news organizations. The research provides a comprehensive look at the challenges and identifies opportunities for sustainable growth. The directory also provides a valuable resource to help protect democracy by sharing resources, collaborating on projects, and amplifying each other’s voices.
Connecting with younger audiences is essential for digital news organizations. And, like each generation, their habits and preferences differ from the ones before. The good news is that today’s young people both consume and pay for content. The trick is engaging them and demonstrating value worth paying for.
New research, The Media Insight Project, a collaboration of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute, shows a positive connection between younger cohorts and paying for news content. Their findings state that while news consumption among younger audiences is rooted in social media, more than half (51%) of Gen Z (ages 16-24) pay for or donate to the news. Paying/donating for news content is even higher among younger Millennials (ages 25-31) and older Millennials (ages 32-40), 63% and 67%, respectively.
Notably, more Gen Z and Millennials, regardless of race or ethnicity, pay/donate for some news than not: 68% of Black Americans, 63% of Hispanic Americans, 60% of Asian Americans, and 57% of white Americans.
Those who pay/donate for news content have distinct usage behaviors compared to those who do not.
1. Time online
Twenty-seven percent of Gen Z and Millennials who pay/donate for news reports spending 9 hours or more online. In contrast, only 19% of those who do not pay/donate to any news source report spending 9 hours or more online.
2. Activities online
Gen Z and Millennials do numerous online activities. However, Gen Z and Millennials who pay/donate for news content are more likely to keep up with what’s happening worldwide, do more research online, listen to podcasts, and watch videos.
3. Seeking out the news
Gen Z and Millennials who pay/donate for news are more likely to seek out news (45%) than those who do not (27%). Yet, Gen Z and Millennials who pay/donate are also likely to bump into the news (54%), given their time and activities online.
4. News consumption
Gen Z and Millennials who pay/donate for the news are more likely to get news and information at least daily from traditional media sources than those who do not pay/donate for news content (56% vs. 28%). In contrast, when getting news daily on social media platforms, there is less distinction between those who pay/donate for the news and those who don’t (77% vs. 62%).
Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are the most-used platforms for those who pay/donate for the news and those who don’t. Interestingly, Twitter registers the most significant difference between those who pay/donate for the news and those who don’t (30% vs. 13%, respectively).
Topics of interest
Not surprisingly, the research finds that Gen Z and Millennials who pay/donate to the news tend to consume more across all content categories.
Topics most often followed by those who pay/donate for the news:
Information about Covid-19
News about celebrities, music, or TV
News about national politics or government
Information on traffic, transportation, or weather
Topics most often followed by those who don’t pay/donate for the news:
Information on traffic, transportation, or weather
News about celebrities, music, or TV
News about social issues such as abortion, gun policy, and LGBTQ issues
Information related to health or mental health
Content worth paying for
Younger audiences are likelier to pay/donate to independent news content creators than digital or print newspapers. Gen Z and Millennials also find newer and independent sources relevant, especially among those more racially and ethnically diverse.
The Media Insight Project research shows strong potential for digital news companies to develop younger and more diverse audiences. If news organizations create content valuable to Gen Z and Millennials, these audiences will pay/donate for access. Importantly, news businesses must meet younger audiences where they are, which means developing relationships with younger cohorts on different platforms.
The Association of Online Publishers’ (AOP) new report, Digital Publishing: Outlook and Priorities 2023, offers insight into this year’s top priorities for media companies – which unsurprisingly featured revenue growth. Publishers are also focused on talent and building a diverse and inclusive workplace.
As digital media companies look to grow their businesses, they assess internal strategies and external macroeconomic and legislative influences. Both publishers and solutions providers report being well-positioned for the year ahead and rate their confidence level a 7.2 based on a 10-point rating scale.
The AOP surveyed 92 digital publishers and 16 solution providers; 26% of respondents are at the board level in their organization, and 51% are heads of departments.
Internal business priorities
Revenue remains a top priority for publishers. Subscriptions (17%), sponsorships (15%), and lead generation (13%) rank as top revenue sources for growth among consumer-based publishers. B2B publishers see stronger growth opportunities in lead generation (28%), events (22%), and sponsorship (20%). Digital publishers targeting business and consumer audiences rank developing new revenue streams through product innovation as their highest priority (3.9).
Developing new audiences is important for revenue growth. To that end, consumer publishers work across multiple platforms to drive content discovery while B2B publishers are more reliant on LinkedIn (44%).
For advertising, publishers targeting consumer audiences report they depend more on advertising deals in the open marketplace. In contrast, B2B publishers divide more evenly across open and private marketplaces and non-programmatic. Further, 44% of all publishers expect revenue growth from private marketplaces and 42% from non-programmatic revenues.
Publisher respondents appear to be highly focused on their employees. Asked to rate how important different organizational priorities are [where 0 is not a focus at all and 5 is a very strong focus], B2B publishers ranked recruiting and retaining new talent as the most important priority, with a score of 4.1. Consumer publishers ranked ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace as the most important priority, at 3.9.
With new legislation a key focus, digital media companies are mildly confident of their knowledge of the UK’s Online Safety Bill. This legislation establishes a new regulatory framework to ensure tech companies protect users from illegal content and activity, specifically social platforms, and other user-generated content-based sites. Publishers rate their confidence in understanding the Online Safety Bill’s impact on their organization at 5.6 on a 10-point scale and solution providers at 5.3.
Some publishers report that their companies are preparing for this new law by consulting with their legal teams, providing a comprehensive editorial policy, and relying on browser options. However, many also reply that no actions are needed because quality content publishers do not target children.
Further, publishers’ confidence rating is 6.5 regarding their readiness for the end of third-party cookies, while solutions providers report lower confidence in readiness (4.8). Publishers prioritize their investment in first-party data and user experience in preparing for the end of cookies:
Enhancing the engagement funnel to build better first-party data (23%);
Implementing tech solutions to provide a 360-degree view of audiences (15%); and
Investing in solutions to deliver a more personalized user experience (15%).
With a strong focus on first-party data, 58% of publishers are working to ensure their audience informs their business decisions and their investment in a data-led organization. Another 21% highlight the importance of internally managing and communicating audience insights throughout their organizations.
The AOP provides a snapshot of important focus areas for the year. A strong confidence level among media companies reflects positive internal alignment on essential strategies to develop and grow their businesses further. They are focused on building a diverse and strong talent pool. In terms of strategy, they are taking an audience-focused strategy and look to diversify revenue growth beyond advertising sales and subscriptions and increase sponsorships, lead generation, and event revenues.
Successful digital publishers produce content that connects with audience expectations. These publishers are committed to engaging audiences more deeply with an audience-first approach. To assist digital publishers in attracting new audiences, the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), in partnership with Google News Initiative, created Table Stakes Europe (TSE). Their latest report, Building and engaging specific audiences, outlines case studies in which publishers tackle core challenges to connect to new and distinct audience segments based on targeted demographics or psychographics.
The TSE identifies seven core strategies for news publishers to employ in developing new audiences. Notably, the process is relatively the same, regardless of the target audience — whether they be younger, sports-minded or niche, religious, and cultural segments.
Serve targeted audiences with content and experiences they want.
Publish on the platforms your targeted audience uses.
Produce and publish constantly to match your audiences’ lives.
Funnel occasional users into regular and paying loyalists.
Diversify and grow the ways you earn revenue from the audiences you build.
Partner to expand your capacity and capabilities at lower and more flexible costs.
Drive audience growth and profitability from a “mini publisher” perspective.
Finding younger paying readers
Using the TSE framework, FWT, a regional and local news publisher in the region of Värmland, Sweden, sought to appeal to a younger audience. Their case study deals with the publications’ concerns around their aging audience and the need to attract readers under 45.
NWT’s business model is subscription based, with a hard paywall. They offer articles free only for the first hour after their publication. Their current reader revenue contributes 70% of their total revenue, with advertising the remaining 30%. NWT’s first step is to learn about the interests of a younger audience. Focus groups and research studies immediately provided needed intelligence. They found that adults 18-29 like to read about entertainment, relationships, careers of other young people or celebrities, and breaking news. While adults 30-45 are interested in society and investigative journalism, real estate, new stores and restaurants, and topics about kids and family life.
NWT identified five goals to measure their effectiveness in attracting a younger audience:
20% of subscribers will be under 45
65% of all new digital subscribers will be under 45
30% increase in subscriptions on e-paper
20% of page views from logged-in users under 45
37% percent increase in digital subscriptions
Notably, NWT increased its digital reach among the 18-39 segment from 24.4% to 35.1%, and digital reader revenue increased too. NWT identified six steps attributing to these achievements.
Learn about the younger audience’s needs, interests, passions, and problems.
Produce relevant content for the right people on the right channels at the right time.
Educate and recruit both current and new staff.
Make changes to the current digital product to serve a younger audience.
Constantly test and evaluate product(s) against set goals.
Develop and implement a social media strategy.
Identify tactics to target new audiences
Another case study using the TSE framework to help attract a younger audience focused on Le Parisien in Paris.
The French publisher used vertical videos on TikTok to appeal to new and younger subscribers.
The plan for TikTok was to focus on “explainer” videos, offering essential details and insight during the French presidential elections. They hired a dedicated TikTok journalist, introduced an experiment-to-learn attitude, and included segments of hard news in addition to their explainer series.
Le Parisien’s TikTok following grew from zero to more than 400,000. While Le Parisien is not monetizing on TikTok, the vertical videos are essential to building brand awareness among a younger audience – their future paying subscribers.
TSE offers an important framework for digital news businesses to identify and attract new audiences. While the two case studies offered here focus on attracting younger audiences specifically, the report includes additional target audiences. Importantly, the transformational process includes a similar process regardless of the target audience. Connecting newsrooms to audiences and personally resonating with each is essential for publishers’ success.
Amid market inflation, media companies prioritize the subscription segment of their businesses as they question the longevity of economic uncertainty. Early headlines this year illustrate financial concerns with layoffs, hiring freezes, and other cost-cutting efforts. In this year’s Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2023, Nic Neuman analyzes business plans and identifies next steps for growth and sustainability. One of the trends he explores is strategies that publishers are employing to support the subscription economy.
Reuters’ findings include survey responses from 303 participants across 53 countries and territories. Participants are in senior editorial, commercial, or product positions in traditional or digital-born publishing companies involved in digital or media strategy.
Doubling down on subscription growth
Given elevated revenue concerns, publishers see subscription growth as a top priority. Eighty percent of publishers report that subscriptions are one of the most important revenue priorities, ahead of display and native advertising. Many publishers are using price cuts and special introductory offers, reducing their revenue short term while looking to increase it in the longer term.
Digital publishers are also engaging subscribers through bundling efforts. Neuman cites The New York Times as a prime example. The Times identified strong consumer brands (i.e., Wirecutter and The Athletic) to combine with its core news product. NY Times. CEO Meredith Kopit Levien notes that “bundled subscriber” pay more over time and are less likely to cancel.
Publishers also highlight an audience-first approach as an essential strategy to attract and retain subscribers. As subscription growth continues, more publishers are collecting first-party data to advance their direct sales efforts. Further, many publishers see the programmatic marketplace as a leading contributor to poor user experience.
Unfortunately, traffic reports appear to be very mixed among publishers. Approximately 42% say website traffic is up year-over-year, while 58% report that traffic is flat or falling. Compounding these traffic reports, 72% of publishers report concerns that users are avoiding the news.
To combat avoidance, many publishers mention their efforts to explain the news better and offer insight and solutions, not just to identify the problem. Publishers look to new and different formats to showcase news stories and offer more context, like explanatory journalism (94%), Q&A formats (87%), and solutions and constructive journalism (73%).
Notably, three publishers in Germany, Deutsche Welle, RTL News, and Rheinische Post, created the Bonn Institute for Journalism and Constructive Dialogue. The organization’s mission is to support more positive debates and generate awareness of journalism’s social responsibility. There is a renewed focus on ethics and providing accurate and reliable information. The report also notes that publishers like the BBC and Guardian share inspiring and feel-good news stories to help counter news avoidance.
Attracting younger audiences
More publishers are using video platforms like TikTok (+63 net score/more effort than last year), Instagram (+50), and YouTube (+47) to engage younger audiences. In contrast, they report putting less effort into Facebook (-30) and Twitter (-28) compared to a year ago.
Most publishers also say that they will focus on podcasts and other digital audio (72%), email newsletters (69%), and digital video (67%) to build a deeper connection with audiences. In contrast, only 5% report interest in developing applications for the metaverse or voice assistants.
Subscription businesses with diversified product offerings strongly position publishers in this marketplace. Focusing on an audience-first approach with a positive consumer experience combats news avoidance, builds engagement, and fuels retention. Pivoting to new platforms and product offerings like newsletters and podcasts offer opportunities to attract younger and different audience segments.
Inflation often triggers consumers to assess their budgets and rethink essential spending and lifestyle changes. Included in this evaluation are subscription choices. New research, Subscription Economy: a Transformed World, from FT Strategies, Savanta, and Minna Technologies’ identifies the impact of current marketplace conditions on consumer attitudes toward subscriptions.
This research surveyed over 1,000 consumers in the U.S. and the UK, 20 financial services, fintech, and media leaders, and 50 subscription business executives across different content verticals.
The report shows that 25 to 34-year-olds have the most subscriptions, with only 12% reporting no subscription services. The research also indicates that approximately one-third of consumers in the 25 to 54 years old bracket have six or more subscriptions. While 73% of consumers pay for the services they use, 23% pay for some of their services while also using password sharing of accounts paid for by family and friends.
Notably, nine in 10 respondents (93%) report greater awareness of subscription spending than 12 months ago. Nearly half of the consumers state that they know their exact spending on subscriptions and said they are spending more than they did a year ago.
Discretionary spending decisions
Consumers also report that non-discretionary spending (including broadband, utilities, and financial services) on entertainment-based services ‒ TV and film streaming services are the most common subscription-based spending across all age groups. However, entertainment-based subscription offerings are the most likely to be canceled.
In terms of churn, 20% of consumers say they would first cancel TV and film services, followed by music-related consumer services (11%), TV channels (8%), and magazines (7%). Interestingly, younger consumers, ages 18-34, are the least likely to cancel TV and film services first.
Media business leaders identify the ‘watch and go’ mentality of consumers as a critical problem for video streaming services. Half of the executives note that their churn rate is higher this year than last year and are worried about a global rise in subscription cancellations.
Customer focus and retention
Consumers believe subscription services should deliver exceptional user experience, choice, and customer support. Business leaders interviewed by FT Strategies agree and think that subscription businesses must understand their customers’ functional and emotional needs to deliver a first-class customer journey. Further, as consumers understand that their data is part of the value exchange for services, they expect this information to inform a better user experience and advanced personalization.
Managing spending and managing subscriptions is a delicate balance. Consumers desire both “flexibility and control.” Nearly three-quarters of consumers (74%) say they are interested in a single app to manage all subscriptions in one place.
Subscription market forecast
Consumer interest in bundled offerings where several providers make their services available within a single, shared platform will grow. Consumers want to make their money go further, and bundling services may help, i.e., Disney’s exploring how to bundle its theme park benefits alongside its Disney+ content subscription service.
Consumers are also looking for trusted sources of information and thought leadership. This will lead to more subscription offerings incorporating experiential-like events and one-to-one interaction with specific influencers.
Subscriptions and personalization will expand into new business verticals, especially among financial products that offer more control and convenience over consumer financial needs.
The report concludes with retention strategies to create a meaningful and ongoing customer relationship. Subscription businesses must invest in personalization and deliver a positive user experience to meet consumer expectations. If they do not, consumers will easily switch to other services. The customer experience should include pricing sensitivity and choices – i.e., offering a subscription pause option instead of only canceling. Subscription businesses need to identify the right mix of choices and provide a positive value exchange to drive subscriber loyalty and retention.
Subscription fatigue is a major concern for media brands, as top performers consolidate their market position, while new challengers vie for audience attention. Add to that the current economic downturn, and media businesses are rightly concerned about churn rate and revenue. According to recent research, two out of every three people surveyed have canceled at least one service in the last year.
To combat subscription fatigue, media brands need to focus on providing clear value propositions and high quality content, as well as giving consumers more flexibility and control over their subscriptions.
“We have identified two pain points for consumers,” says Sheri Bachstein, CEO of The Weather Company and GM of IBM Watson Advertising. “The first is managing tons of subscriptions in multiple places, and the second is the cost of those multiple subscriptions.”
Innovative bundling solution
One solution is subscription bundling, which can help lower both pricing to the consumer and investment from the brand. Bundling is most viable and financially rewarding when a brand is part of a larger media portfolio, such as Disney or Apple Services. However, not all businesses have such clout.
The Weather Company has come up with an innovative solution by developing a platform that enables bundling across media portfolios. “We are striving to disrupt the subscription economy by going across media companies that aren’t traditionally connected,” says Bachstein.
These bundled subscriptions are another way for the Weather Channel to provide additional value, by aligning with brands that help people make more informed decisions in their daily planning. One surprising collaboration is with ratings organization Consumer Reports.
“The Weather Channel helps consumers make daily decisions about their day, and Consumer Reports does the same thing, by offering valuable information and services. So it was a very natural fit,” explains Bachstein. “I expect we will see more collaborations like this in the future, but it is certainly one of the first.”
This latest bundle helps consumers access the latest weather along with news, ratings or shopping information in one location. Other partnerships include USA Today, MightyNest Shop and TripAdvisor Plus.
A compelling package
“It’s unusual to have different companies together, offering discounts on a bundle, but our partners are carefully chosen,” states Jason Fox, VP Chief Digital Officer at Consumer Reports. “Both the Weather Channel and Consumer Reports are highly trusted, non-partisan organizations, so we compliment each other well. You could call us ‘post partisan’ as we represent the larger demographic of society and we are proud of that.”
As a non-profit organization, subscriptions make up the bulk of Consumer Reports’ revenue. Therefore, Fox says it’s critical to bring their product to a new audience, while creating a more compelling package for their current customers in order to reduce churn,
“The average U.S. consumer is willing to take out between five and eight subscription services,” Fox explains. “The likes of Netflix, Disney Plus and larger media companies, such as The Wall Street Journal and New York Times take the bulk of this, so we are fighting for remaining slots.”
In addition to driving subscriptions numbers, Fox says the bundle with the Weather Channel is part of their wider growth strategy. “It’s about brand awareness and getting our name out there as a leader in the space,” he says. “While this is an ancillary benefit, and not the main reason for this partnership, it’s an important part of our growth strategy.”
Bachstein agrees that partnering with businesses who share the same mission and values helps strengthen their brands overall, while leveraging their audiences. “I honestly can’t think of a reason to not bundle,” Bachstein states. “You extend your reach, extend the brand and extend your direct to consumer relationship. And if the technology is already built for you, as it is with the Weather Channel, then it’s a win win.”
So, what should media executives be thinking about when evaluating the opportunity to bundle?
“It’s important that both brands complement and trust each other,” says Bachstein. “You don’t want to share a competitive space, you should be adjacent verticals, with shared values and orientations. That’s the sweet spot. To use cable channels as an analogy, you want to have a portfolio approach that offers a value proposition to your consumers.”
Value is key in the current climate. Statista predicts that by 2025 there will be 1.5 trillion subscriptions in the US alone, with the average person spending $1k a year on subscription services. However, consumers increasingly want more value, more advanced features and a more premium experience.
“At a high level it’s really important for a company to think about subscription innovation,” says Fox. “It’s one thing is to set up a paywall, but anyone can do that. It’s about what makes you distinct from others. I really believe that in the world of commoditised content if you are not offering something special it will be a hard sell to create a meaningful subscriptions business. This idea of coming together and offering something greater than we can do individually, is really powerful.”
From audience analytics to programmatic advertising and automated story creation, media companies have used Artificial Intelligence (AI) for some time. However, this technology is rapidly maturing and opening up new creative and business possibilities that media executives need to be aware of.
ChatGPT, an AI chatbot, is the current poster child for this robotic reckoning. Garnering a huge amount of column inches in recent weeks, the application can provide detailed answers to questions and prompts. Along with other AI-generated innovations like the portrait app Lensa and OpenArt – a gallery of works created by AI – these tools have inspired the latest wave of discussion about the implications of this technology.
Amidst copious innovation and optimism, concerns have also surfaced around AI-generated content, consent, bias, labeling and regulation, as well as the impact on labor markets. None of these issues are going to go away any time soon. Nevertheless, while media companies and policymakers navigate this unfolding landscape, the roll-out and adoption of AI continues to gather pace.
Artificial intelligence at work in the media
With AI having a real moment right now, this is the perfect time to explore the ramifications for media companies. Here are six uses of AI technologies that need to be on your radar:
1. Driving engagement
One of the most common ways publishers are using AI and machine learning is through AI-powered algorithms which personalize content recommendations.
This can help increase engagement and keep readers on your site for longer. That’s particularly useful if time on site is a key performance metric. Of course, it can also enable you to serve more adds to your audience too.
Personalized recommendation technology has long been the mainstay of platforms like Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix. Now it’s becoming increasingly common for other forms of content too.
One early proponent, The Washington Post, uses AI to personalize the news that they deliver based on readers interests and preferences. It’s an approach they’ve been using for some time across their app, newsletters and now the homepage.
As Digiday explains, the Post offers a personalized “For You” section on the homepage that taps into information provided during onboarding. At sign-up, subscribers or registered users can select their topic preferences. Recommendations are further augmented by your reading history and other performance data.
It’s an area the Post looks set to double down on, as they and other outlets seek to move to a more tailored content offering and away from the “one size fits all” approach of yesteryear.
One of these models, dynamic paywalls, deploys AI to change free article limits. As a result, users hit the paywall at different times, based on their behaviors and other indicators that help to determine a consumer’s propensity to pay.
“Piano has seen visitors subscribe after a single pageview. Others take much longer to make the decision to convert, while some aren’t likely to ever subscribe at all,” Kaufman observes. In response to this variance, he argues, we need “smarter, more satisfying automation.”
AI can help. New York Media and Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ, Switzerland) are just some of the publishers to adopt this model. They have used AI to determine individual paywalls, based on variables including geography, consumption habits and visit behavior, as well as subject matter and the device being used. Expect more publishers to follow suit.
3. Creating content
Many early newsroom experiments with AI focused on the potential to craft stories that typically follow a predictable formula.
One of the earliest to leverage AI for content creation, The Associated Press (AP) has been using AI since 2014 to generate summaries of earnings reports from publicly traded companies. This allows them to quickly and accurately provide readers with key information, freeing up reporters to do other work. “Prior to using AI, our editors and reporters spent countless resources on coverage that was important but repetitive,” their website notes, adding that this “distracted from higher-impact journalism.”
Alongside freeing up reporters, the technology has allowed AP to create more of this content. Automated story generation has enabled AP to increase the volume of these corporate stories by a factor of 10.
At a simpler level, AI is also being used to liberate resources otherwise hoovered up by resource-heavy work such as interview transcriptions.
AP is currently working with local newsrooms to help them increase their use of AI tools. In a survey asking what would be the most useful use of this technology, automating transcription came top.
4. Distributing content
A further potential benefit of AI can be seen in its ability to support publishers in their desire to get material in front of audiences – wherever they may be.
This type of technological solution can help publishers manage their resources more efficiently, as well as distribute content to different platforms in a timely and cost-effective manner.
A further mainstream iteration of this idea is also being developed by Google. Dyani Najdi, Managing Director of Video and Display EMEA, has highlighted how the tech giant is experimenting with a tool to reformat landscape videos for YouTube. Viewers will see videos in square or vertical formats, with the shape automatically determined by how you are accessing the platform.
Although currently only available for certain video-ad products, it’s not a big leap to imagine this being used for other content in the near future. If it is, that would be a huge time-saver for many publishers. A further boon is the possibility of this technology opening up new distribution avenues, without the time and expense of repurposing everything.
Where we go from here: two trends to keep an eye on
Within that, here are two key AI-trends for publishers to closely follow and potentially adopt.
1. Leveling-up content, and ad, personalization
Based on their interests and preferences, AI can personalize the news that publishers deliver to readers. Its usage is only likely to increase and become more ubiquitous.
More than 9,000 publishers use Taboola’s recommendation platform. Earlier in the year, they announced that AI functionality had been added to their homepage techstack. The company said that in beta testing companies such as McClatchy, The Independent and Estado de Minas in Brazil, had seen a 30% – 50% increase in clickthrough rates for homepage sections personalized by Taboola.
Alongside content, AI can also be used to deliver a better ad experience. Publishers like Condé Nast are using machine learning to find patterns that can lead to more personalized and contextual ads. In a cookie-less future this type of approach will be essential if ads are to be targeted and relevant.
2. Improving and streamlining workflows
With cuts being seen across the media landscape, a key challenge for publishers in 2023 will involve maintaining output levels (never mind launching new products and verticals) with fewer staff.
AI may help here, given its ability to be used for A/B headline testing and other forms of predictive analysis. It can also tag and generate content such as business, sports and real estate stories. Or, as seen at Forbes, provide detailed prompts for writers.
It can further support social media and off-platform strategies too. The South China Morning Postsaved resources akin to work done by 3.9 full-time employees by using AI to streamline its social media management.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has used AI to help editors understand which stories to put behind the paywall. This matters given their freemium model, and the need to balance free content that drives subscriptions with premium subscriber-only content that readers value.
The big picture
This list of uses is far from exhaustive. To it we can also add important developments such as the ability of AI to help address inequalities (through the automatic creation of audio articles, and work to measure gender disparity in news coverage), as well as the rise of automated fact checking and many others.
Although no one knows how this technology will play out, it’s clear that AI can play a valuable role in helping publishers with their operations. As a result, it is no surprise that key activities unlocked by this technology – such as data analytics and automation – are among the top investment areas for publishers in the coming year.
Previously, as the Knight Foundation has found, “when we talk[ed] about AI in newsrooms, we seem to lean heavily on the newsgathering part of the process and maybe do not pay as much attention to the product or the business side of the ecosystem.”
In 2023, that may begin to change, as we see an overdue shift in the thinking about the role that AI plays in supporting the strategic needs of publishers.
From shaping the content you see (Pink News’ positive news filter), to aiding with translations of new international editions (Le Monde’s digital English language product) and improving your SEO (Summari and other tools), AI is here to stay and increasingly integral to publisher strategies.
Against a challenging business backdrop, as outlets begin to focus more on areas like product, subscriptions and retention, AI’s contribution to a publisher’s success will become more prominent and important than ever.
It’s been another breakneck year for the media industry. Every year at Media Voices we round up the biggest moments from the past 12 months, and explore how they impact publishers. This year was certainly not short of industry-defining events, and Media Moments 2022 summarizes these across 10 chapters, from advertising and subscriptions to newsletters and emerging technology.
Stepping back from the big moments of cookie delays, Twitter takeovers, and bumpy ad markets, there have been a number of developments this year which have the potential to shape publishing strategies in 2023 and beyond. Here are seven key themes from the report that will inform your approach moving forward:
1. Adblocking has returned to an all–time high
The days of adblocking causing sleepless nights for publishers seemed to be long–gone. Between the demise of third–party cookies and vigorous blocklists costing huge amounts of revenue, executives in the ad department have had plenty of other things to worry about.
Unfortunately, adblocking needs to move back up on the agenda. It has returned to levels last seen at the peak of the phenomenon in 2018, with 290 million web users actively blocking ads worldwide, according to the 2022 PageFair Adblock Report. This is an average of 21% across all geos and verticals. Solutions to tackle the problem are in short supply, and are likely to remain so unless it is prioritized again.
2. Streaming accounts for the majority time spent with TV
In August, streaming officially topped cable as the most popular method by which people in the U.S. consume television content. According to Nielsen, which runs a monthly Gauge study of TV consumption, streaming now makes up more than one–third (34.8%) of all television consumption, overtaking cable (34.4%), and far ahead of broadcast (21.6%).
Unsurprisingly, streaming powerhouses like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are leading the charge. However, this is a notable milestone for streamers across the board. It marks a major shift in how audiences – especially younger people – engage with what we’ve traditionally thought of as television content. This opens more opportunities for publishers in the video space to get well–told stories in front of audiences. But it also means that the video landscape is more fractured than ever.
3. Local news can be profitable on just reader revenue
The past five or so years has seen local news start–ups grow all over the world as access to publishing and revenue tools has opened up. Some have shown real promise this year, offering tantalizing glimpses of a sustainable future for local publishers.
In the U.K., The Manchester Mill, a Substack–based local news publisher, reached profitability last month with just 1,600 paying subscribers. The two–year–old brand says they are profitable off annualized subscription revenue of around $164,000. Founder Joshi Herrmann has launched two sister titles off the back of its success: the Liverpool Post and Sheffield Tribune, which are at 650 and 900 paying subscribers respectively.
For local news to truly thrive, we will need to move beyond models of just one or two reporters per city. But the early green shoots of success are encouraging.
4. There’s no sign of subscriptions decline…yet
Following Netflix’s Q2 subscriber tumble, many analysts have forecast a downturn in subscriptions. As economic pressures begin to bite, almost 30% of consumers polled by Toolkits and the National Research Group said that they planned to reduce the number of online subscriptions they hold.
But the second half of 2022 has shown that the subscriptions market is resilient. Netflix saw a spectacular bounceback in Q3, adding 2.41 million new subscribers and beating its own and analyst expectations. Publishers are seeing continued growth too: AOP members reported digital subscriptions growth at almost 15% over the last 12 months. Some have reported record performances, from the New York Times’ 9 million subscriber milestone to The Economist posting its most profitable year since 2016 on the back of 1.2 million subscribers, and total subscription revenues accounting for more than 60% of its revenues.
We may yet see a downturn depending on how pressures on consumers play out over winter. But for now, people are happy to pay for content they find valuable.
5. Email newsletters are an unexploited revenue opportunity
Email may be one of the oldest forms of digital communication, but as a revenue driver it is still very under–used by mainstream publishers. Despite the wave of Substack–led paid newsletter creators over the past few years, few publishers have attempted anything similar themselves.
A recent report from WAN–IFRA highlighted the opportunity gap around email newsletters. 48% of publishers they surveyed did not monetize their newsletters. Of those that did, advertising and exclusive sponsorships were used by 32% and 16% respectively. Significantly, newsletters were used as part of a subscription bundle rather than standalone offering were used by 30% of publishers.
Quartz is one publisher who dropped its paywall entirely this year. Interestingly, they still kept the membership scheme, and instead have a suite of premium emails they send to members. “We found that 75% of Quartz members read us primarily through email, so we’ve been putting more of our best stuff directly in their inboxes,” said CEO Zach Seward.
When it comes to advertising, I wouldn’t wish the ad tech that plagues the rest of the internet on our email inboxes. But the tech to improve the advertising experience in email via personalisation and segmentation is getting there. Now, we just have to behave responsibly with it. Newsletters have a reputation as a premium engagement method for a good reason.
6. News headlines are in a negative spiral
Following the headline findings from the Reuters Digital News Report about the growing issue of news avoidance, there has been much discussion this year on how to rebuild trust with audiences. As publishers compete for attention online, they have found ways of standing out and getting readers to click and share content. But this isn’t necessarily positive.
One study in particular from PLoS ONE showed just the extent to which media headlines have become increasingly negative over the past two decades. The research showed headlines expressing anger were up 104% since the year 2000, fear, 150%, and sadness 54%. This isn’t because the world has got worse, even if “permacrisis” is the word of the year for 2022. Rather, negative and emotionally–arousing headlines are more likely to attract clicks and attention, which in turn means more revenue for publishers.
It’s a difficult cycle to break. The sheer amount of competition for attention means that it’s understandable publishers have to find ways of breaking through the noise. But the long–term effects of stoking outrage and despair on a near–constant basis are just beginning to be recognized.
7. Some emerging tech is good to jump on early. Others, not so much!
Publishers who tried early experiments in NFTs have been richly rewarded. From digital covers to archive images, NFT projects have generated millions for brands like TIME, The Economist, Forbes, and Playboy over the past few years.
However, the bottom has since fallen out of the NFT market, driven by the tough year cryptocurrency has had. NFT trading volumes collapsed 97% between January and September this year. So it’s not surprising to see publishers like CNN wrapping up their NFT marketplaces and projects.
Caution in other areas, however, is wise. Apart from a couple of publishers like Vogue testing metaverse experiences, it has been mainly consumer brands rushing to the space.
Audiences so far have not followed. Meta had aimed to have 500,000 monthly active users for its flagship platform Horizon Worlds by the end of 2022. By October, they had revised that figure down to 280,000, although the current tally is allegedly less than 200k. Other metaverse platforms are also struggling; audits on Sandbox and Decentraland have shown that user numbers are small. Platforms seeing success like Roblox are primarily built for gaming. As yet, there is little justification for publishers to lever themselves into the metaverse at great expense.
Trends and strategy
What is more evident when compared with previous years is how quickly things can crash. We suspected when authoring last year’s edition that, for example, that the NFT bubble would burst. We couldn’t have foreseen that would happen just months later.
Instead, innovation – whether that be audience-building, revenue generation or product – is to be found in formats that have been around for decades. Podcasts, newsletters and apps have been used by publishers of all shapes and sizes this year to deepen relationships and reduce churn. The key is to be where your audience is with a product that they need. And so far, you won’t find them in the metaverse.
Content may want to be free, but that’s not always a sustainable business model. So, what content are users — especially the highly coveted younger demographic — willing to pay for, and why? It’s a broad question but one that’s worth trying to answer.
Massive amounts of time and money have been spent trying to figure this out. So we are aggregating many of the most salient data points to find out what younger generations are opening their virtual wallets for — and what they can do without.
Gaming is hugely popular among all generations — especially for young people — and it holds more meaning than mere entertainment. According to 2022 research by Deloitte, 80% of U.S. adults report playing video games, and the practice is almost universal among younger adults: a whopping 96% of Gen Z and Millennials identify as gamers. The study on media trends in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, and Japan found that these young adults play 11 hours per week. 57% of Boomers and Mature audiences identified as gamers in the same survey, reporting an average of six hours per week gaming. Gen Z adults rank video gaming as their favorite entertainment activity in all countries surveyed.
More than three-quarters (78%) of U.S. gamers in Deloitte’s study report that the practice relaxes them; 61% said gaming helps them express themselves. In addition, 59% agree gaming has helped them through a difficult time, and 53% say gaming keeps them connected socially. These numbers show video games’ importance to people’s lives, especially the more immersive, complex games.
Gaming also leads users to discover other media content. For example, in Deloitte’s survey, 51% of U.S. and 71% of Brazilians said they often discover new music while gaming. While online immersive gaming worlds like Second Life are typically free to join, gamers often choose to spend money on branded virtual goods or even physical merchandise bought in-world. In-game live events such as music concerts are popular, with a quarter of U.S. gamers attending an in-game event last year. According to Deloitte, 82% of those attending live in-game events have made a purchase because of the event. Worth noting is that 65% of the purchases were digital goods, and 34% were physical merchandise, an indication of the overlap between real-world and virtual selves.
Over half of Gen Alpha and Gen Z players have spent money on a game over the past six months, according to a recent report by Newzoo, and 33% of them did so on a mobile device. While young users appear less likely to pay upfront for games on mobile devices due to the prevalence of free games, they are likely to spend money in-game for virtual goods such as currency, gear, or characters. Newzoo reports these are a particular draw for young users, with 93% of Gen Alpha and 91% of Gen Z gamers reporting having made such purchases over the past six months.
According to Voxburner, the most popular games among Gen Z are Minecraft (76%), Call of Duty (73%), and Fortnite (68%). Roblox and Animal Crossing are also popular. While the mobile versions of these games are free or low-cost to install, companies are raking it in via ads and in-app purchases. For example, Fortnite made over $9 billion in its first two years, even though it is free to join and optional purchases such as skins are aesthetic with no impact on gameplay.
Streaming Video on Demand (SVOD)
Perhaps habituated by customizable gaming experiences, younger audiences seem to be customizing their video streaming experience — at least when it comes to spending. As a result, younger users of SVOD services are more likely than older users to churn through services — by joining and then canceling, sometimes repeatedly, according to Deloitte.
The study found Gen Z consumers are especially sensitive to more expensive services, engaging in “churn and return” — repeatedly canceling and rejoining. This behavior enables them to acquire desired content — like a new season of a favorite series — while avoiding paying for a service when they aren’t using it. In the U.S., 35% of Gen Z users and 38% of Millennials surveyed had canceled and renewed streaming video services during the last 12 months, compared to just 7% of Boomers and older generations.
Similarly, a Morning Consult study demonstrated users of all ages prefer ad-sponsored content that is free or lower cost to higher subscription costs — and Gen Z adults are the most cost-averse when it comes to monthly fees. Only 16% of Gen Z adults surveyed spend more than $30 a month on streaming services, compared to 31% of Millennials. These findings suggest ad-funded tiers could cut churn rates, as subscribers are unlikely to cancel a service with no monthly fee.
Research also suggests that combining media offerings is appealing to younger users. For example, 51% of Gen Zs and Millennials in Deloitte’s survey indicated they would stay with their SVOD subscription if it included gaming, a music service, or another SVOD service.
While social media platforms offer free admission, time spent there often leads to purchases. Deloitte found 70% of people in the U.S. say they follow an influencer, and more than half of Gen Z and Millennials say these influencers sway their purchasing decisions.
Social media ads are highly targeted and personalized. More than half of American respondents, 72% of Brazilians, and about 40% in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan surveyed by Deloitte say they see ads on social media for products or services they have been seeking. Additionally, 39% of Japanese respondents say that shopping is among the top three activities they engage in on social media.
Research by The Knight Foundation found most U.S. Gen Z and Millennials surveyed (65% and 64%, respectively) said it is fair to pay for news, at least under some circumstances. Only 39% of Boomers agreed. About half of Gen Z and Millennials say it is reasonable for news organizations to charge for events; 37% of Gen Z respondents say it is reasonable to charge for exclusive or special content.
Although Gen Z through Gen X report paying less attention to all forms of news compared with the national average, more Gen Z and Millennials say they are willing to pay for news in the future, compared to older generations (22% of Millenials versus 12% of Boomers). Conversely, younger audiences were also more likely to agree that news should be free for all users via government funding and/or private donations: 30% of Gen Z agreed news should be free, compared to 17% of Boomers. Gen X and Boomers are more likely to agree it is fair to support news through advertising (38% and 31%, respectively) than Gen Z (20%).
According to the Knight report, 52% of Gen Z — compared to 45% of Boomers— say they look elsewhere for news content when encountering a paywall. About twice as many Gen Zs (10%) as Boomers (6%) and the Silent Generation (5%) say they try to find the story on social media instead. In addition, boomers (29%) and Gen X (33%) are more likely to skip the news story altogether when encountering a paywall compared to Gen Z (21%). So while younger adults may believe it’s fair for news organizations to charge fees, they also appear to think it’s fair game to try to evade those fees by seeking similar content elsewhere.
Key takeaways for media companies
Young consumers avoid paying for costly subscriptions by churning through the service. Therefore, SVOD companies should explore low-cost or free ad-supported tier options less likely to be dropped by frugal users.
Young people tend to be committed gamers willing to spend money on in-game enhancements. So bundles and perks that include gaming could help SVOD services — and other media companies — retain more subscribers.
While younger generations believe it’s fair for news providers to be publicly funded and/or charge for unique content, they also seek news elsewhere when faced with paywalls. A twofold approach of bundling subscriptions while enabling premium single-serving content to be purchased ala carte may succeed with younger users who expect interconnected experiences with optional or customizable payment options.
Younger audiences may be highly sought after, but their preferences are pretty straightforward. Publishers paying attention to these desires can build packages that cater to them and build a loyal audience for years to come.
“Only journalism will save journalism,” says Juan Señor, an award-winning journalist andPresident of the Innovation Media Consulting Group.It is heartening that, as he points out, “people have rediscovered journalism.” Its importance has been cemented over the past several years, he says, “starting with The Trump Bump. Then the pandemic. Now we have a war.”
Señor argues that high-quality, distinctive reporting produced during these tumultuous periods has had an impact. Now, he says publishers need to “keep this momentum going.”
This is a point he emphasizes in the latest Innovation in News Media World Report*, which Señor co-edits. He and fellow editor Jayant Sriram write that “we need to build from this position of strength, even as the media world at large is in a period of unprecedented flux.”
How can publishers do this? Based on our conversation with Señor, and his latest Innovation Report, here are fiverecommendations for publishers as they look ahead to the uncertainties of the New Year.
1. Keep your foot on the subscription gas
“The key thing is to press on with subscriptions,” Señor recommends. He is bullish about reader revenue, stressing the subscription spike many publishers have witnessed in the past few years. “People know they have to pay for news,” he says, “so be the one that they pay for.”
FIPP’s new Q3 Digital Subscription Snapshot finds that “growth for most brands remains healthy, with period-on-period gains of 5% or more for many.” But growth is slowing, cautions CEO James Hewes. Gains are “significantly down” from this time last year, “when low double-digit growth might have been expected each quarter.”
The cost of living crisis, coupled with rises in many subscriptions, may all be contributing to this. FIPP also points to a maturing of this market. That means that “it is inevitable that growth percentages will begin to decline.”
Despite this, Señor urges publishers to stay the course. “Keep pushing [subscriptions] first and foremost as a strategic priority,” he says, “even if it means heavy discounts.”
A key factor behind this rationale is the cost of attracting new subscribers, which is typically more expensive than keeping new ones. That’s one reason why many publishers are increasingly investing in efforts to reduce churn.
The habitual, relationship-based, nature of media consumption also matters. As economic conditions improve, you may be able to nudge up prices or upsell existing consumers. That’s harder to do with audiences who have churned off.
2. Continue to explore opportunities for revenue diversification
Alongside maintaining relationships with existing audiences, publishers need to continue to find new routes to revenue. To help them do this, the latest Innovation Report outlines 14 different business models publishers can adopt. Publishers can mix and match these efforts to pull together a good range of diversified offerings.
Aside from subscription-led approaches, other possibilities include a blend of B2B and B2C models such as memberships, events, affiliate marketing, and “think tank” style output. Educational activities, such as those offered by The Economist’s Executive Education program and Family Handman’s DIY University, may also be a good fit for some publishers and their audiences.
As many publishers know, if you wait long enough, then everything old becomes new again. In this regard, Señoris excited about what he describes as “the original habit-formation tool for newspapers – puzzles and games.”
The New York Times’ acquisition of Wordle is the poster child for this, having brought “unprecedented tens of millions of new users to The Times.” And, as The Innovation Report points out, “If even a fraction can then be converted to paying subscribers it would make for an excellent business proposition.”
Puzzles and games are again in vogue as gateways for publishers to capture new subscribers, generate fresh revenue streams and increase the “stickiness” of their relationships with audiences.
Nevertheless, as Esther Kezia Thorpesuggests, “offering games is not a strategy in itself … Publishers need to find ways to bring regular puzzlers into a deeper relationship,” she says, “whether that be through newsletters, social features, or additional layers to the games themselves.”
3. Unlock the power – and results – of product thinking
Publishers have invested – and continue to invest – considerable resources in areas such as games, newsletters, and podcasts. Much of this is driven by a belief that these ventures can serve as a gateway to your content and drive subscriptions and aid retention by deepening bonds with their consumers. Señor calls them “conversion monsters.”
These efforts reflect product thinking, which has risen to the forefront of media strategies over the past decade.
“Product thinking begins with realizing that every way people experience the news is a possible product or feature,” the Innovation Report observes.
Each of these touchpoints, of course, is also potentially monetizable.
As a result, “publishers must now become product companies and not just news media publishers,” Señor believes. That’s a sentiment increasingly applicable to revenue strategies, as well as content propositions.
“Product is changing everything,” agrees Luciana Cardoso, the Brazil-based Vice Chair of News Product Alliance’s Board Of Directors. Cardoso comments on how product is a driver for innovation “because we need to have the customer at the center of everything.”
4. Be tech-led, not led by tech
This desire to be more consumer-centric, is accentuated by the need for publishers to prepare for a world without third-party cookies. Describing this as a ”first-party data moment,” Señor says these developments are “the key to a stronger future for our industry.”
“First-party data gives us the chance to have a direct relationship, control the pricing, content and dialogue with our readers without intermediaries,” the Innovation Report states. “This is a massive shift and one we must prepare for.”
Publishers must also look to the possibilities of Web 3.0. Señor points to the availability of “journalism without browsers” as one critical dimension of this brave new digital world.
“When you look at how Condé Nast is experimenting with this, it’s very, very interesting,” he told us.
One of their titles, GQ magazine, recently launched on Discord. “The way that we are thinking about it is we are throwing a party, GQ is the host, Discord is the venue and you are invited,” says Joel Pavelski, GQ’s Executive Director of Global Audience Development & Social Media.
Condé’s approach enables them to engage with communities in private online spaces, potentially reaching new audiences and serving existing ones in fresh ways. It’s part of a “conscious uncoupling” some publishers are having with traditional tech platforms; and part of a wider shift in media habits seen within the creator economy.
Tapping into these emerging spaces and behaviors may reveal insights that can inform continued product thinking, drive subscription models, as well as support and shape first-party data strategies.
5. Invest in content, especially visual media
Despite encouraging publishers to keep a watchful eye on emerging tech trends, Señor emphasizes that organizations shouldn’t go overboard.
In terms of the industry’s wider financial footing, “the Metaverse, Web 3, none of this stuff will make the difference,” he contends. “What will make the difference is investment in journalism.”
“We need to do original reporting. A lot of people want that,” Señor says.
As part of this, he stresses the importance of high-impact visual journalism, which he believes is “absolutely essential,” and “perhaps the most exciting new field in journalism right now.”
Product thinking can also shape how – and where – these visual-first stories are told. ”This is transformative,” Señor says, pointing out how many of these efforts are driven by a “story first, platform second” dynamic.
Memorable examples, such as video Op-Ed’s pioneered by The New York Times and The Miami Herald’s award-winning “House of Cards” investigation, can also yield multiple outcomes for publishers. Impactful content can be integral to industry recognition (e.g. awards), and a key driver for unlocking new subscriptions, as well as the retention and upselling of existing consumers.
Strategic synergies: bringing these principles together
Noting that next year’s Innovation Report will be their 23rd annual publication, Señor says the examples they feature are focused on reach, relevance, or revenue. Often, these elements are deeply intertwined.
Parlaying that relevance into different spaces and products, and encouraging audiences to pay for it, remains essential if publishers are to traverse stormy economic waters and successfully navigate their way through 2023.
“Whatever you do, put all your efforts into gaining and retaining subscribers,” Señor advocates. Everything should be “about sustaining, developing, [and] amplifying your subscription strategy.”
There’s a myriad of interconnected ways to do this. This includes multiple means to generate revenues, distinctive products to attract and retain subscribers, the knock-on effect of memorable – often visually-led – journalism, as well as deepening relationships with audiences both on and off-platform; including in new and emerging digital spaces.
This consumer-centric model eschews the shiny object syndrome that many media players have been guilty of in the past. Instead, as a new year begins to loom on the horizon, focusing on solid content-led foundations should be their guiding light.
As the sun sets on 2022, publishers will once again set sail and steer a path into an uncertain future. Meeting audience needs through the trifecta of content, product and subscriptions, must be their North Star as we quickly advance into these unchartered waters.
*The Innovation In News Media World Report 2022-23 is available to WAN-IFRA members (for free) or for purchase via INNOVATION’s website.