just returned from our annual summit where a couple hundred senior
executives gather in a closed-door meeting to discuss the most pressing
issues and exciting opportunities that we, as an industry, have before
us. It was my sixth year of having the honor of setting the table to
open the executive summit, after more than a dozen years listening from
Everyone in the room is a premium publisher – with the exception of
a handful of supporting sponsors, speakers, and invited guests. The
attendees at the DCN Next: Summit are among the most knowledgeable
people in the business of digital media anywhere. It is a daunting task
to capture the proper sentiment for the direction of our industry at a
gathering of such key leaders. That said, here are the main points from
my kickoff remarks this year.
This new year also marks the start of a new decade, 2020.
Yes, perfect vision. Optimal focus. As we begin this decade, I believe
that DCN’s members are uniquely positioned. As a group focused on
creating premium content experiences, we have never lost sight of the
importance of our audiences. We’ve remained steadfast in their trust and
our direct relationships.
I see three key facets to this 2020 vision:
we find ourselves rightly renewing our resolution to put the
expectations of our audiences first. To meet, to exceed, their
expectations. To be their trusted ally.
Second, we’ve defeated the myth content has to
be free and finally defined what it means to be premium. It simply
means to have real value worth paying for whether by distributors or
given too many years of platform dominance – in which they have
indiscriminately hidden the real costs to their services and vacuumed up
as much consumer data as possible while, at times abusing trust – we
find ourselves in the best position to align with new user expectations.
To believe that data is the lifeblood of the Internet is to look past
the trust and audience expectations which underpin it now, and in the
some of those who seek to cravenly capitalize on consumer attention
merely to collect data and target ads, we celebrate an unwavering focus
on the wants, needs, and expectations of our audiences. The experience
across platforms can be rich and elegant. But even more importantly,
digital allows us to use multimedia to tell stories in ever more
engaging ways, better informing the public – something that has never
been more important.
In this case bringing it altogether, I’d like to point to the brilliant Wall Street Journal report
on Google’s ad tech business. It informed a public conversation and
made its way not just across the industry but into meetings of
regulators investigating Google – this is true impact in journalism.
Storytelling at its best
technology enables us to better tell our stories, it also becomes more
deeply embedded and entwined with every aspect of our audiences’ lives. The New York Times 1619 Project
was one amazing example featured at a DCN Storytelling Member Day. It
not only brilliantly told the story; it reexamined the legacy of slavery
and made its way into other media – not just audio and video but it
also found its rightful place in classrooms and libraries as educational
material – this is true impact in journalism.
The past couple of years have been particularly promising around subscription-based and other Direct-to-consumer (DTC) models. While ad vendors chase “DTC”, the latest acronym in their alphabet soup, DCN’s members have always focused on direct, trusted relationships with their audiences.
While concerns have loomed around subscription fatigue, recent DCN research
found the opposite. In fact, consumers aren’t even aware how much they
are spending on subscription products. (DCN’s research shows an average
of $54 per month across 4.3 products). So, it’s clear there’s room for
more! And we now see that younger audiences who grew up in digital are
willing to pay for satisfying experiences. The DCN research backs this
up showing that they see value well beyond their cost.
we build our subscription-based offerings, and optimize ad experiences
across platforms, we must keep these audience experiences top of mind.
We serve neither our audiences, nor advertising partners, if we do any
members – and the industry as a whole – are seeing a hearty appetite
for audio and video content. We see robust revenue around licensing of
our content and IP, which also allows us to impact ever widening
audiences. This is backed up by a renewed effort to preserve copyright
over their art, notably including last year in the EU.
We are also seeing true diversification in our busiess models.
desktop display eroded over the past years, mobile display has offset
it. And other forms of advertising including native, sponsored content
and leads have helped drive growth. Video advertising, where inventory
can be created, continues to carry the highest price and growth in
advertising. And arguably the most important growth of all, we’re
seeing direct audience revenues grow more than 20% per year where
content companies are being paid directly for their content recognizing
its premium value.
estimates that a combination of 16 media firms will spend $100 billion
to produce content in 2020. In fact, it has been predicted that more
than $35 billion will be spent on streaming video content alone. And
with over 60 media companies among the DCN membership, we know that the
total investment will be much higher. And rightly so. Hulu has been
investing in premium content for its streaming video platform. So is CBS
All Access. Disney+ launched in the last few months with an absolutely gorgeous experience. Peacock will launch in April and then HBO MAX a month later. And those are only a few examples.
we continue to monitor the power of platforms, their own investment in
content demonstrates that information and entertainment are the
lifeblood of social experiences online. And now the platforms are
starting to pay for it. No
DCN member is surprised that film, television, news, sports and other
topics engage audiences and ignite conversation, debate, and discussion
it delivered on the big screen, small screens, smart speakers, or the
myriad delivery channels in the digital content ecosystem, the work our
members do forms a nexus of cultural impact. We have reached new heights
of digital storytelling. And, undoubtedly our craft, the art of
storytelling, will continue to surprise and delight as its evolution
continues in the decade to come.
while we face challenges like broad-swath and blunt keyword
blacklisting masquerading as “brand safety” and the ease of data-driven
scale, we also see signs that marketers too are shifting their focus to
quality contexts and making genuine customer connections.
it is “easier” to pull a series of data-driven levers and reach
purportedly targeted audiences with generic messaging. However, as a
growing number of consumers opt out of advertising and intro tracking
prevention, savvy marketers too are reviving the art of storytelling.
They have a renewed understanding of the power of delivering compelling
messages in trusted, engaging, inspiring environments and an
appreciation for the cost to their brand when it’s associated with
experiences that abuse customers’ expectations. They see that being part
of exceptional experiences creates the kind of cultural resonance and
relevance that a click cannot compare to.
get me wrong. Certainly, data is a powerful tool for understanding
audiences. It is also critical for storytelling and we see it leveraged
in stunning executions to create vivid narratives built on numbers.
user expectations around data collection and use are of critical
concern. With increasing consumer awareness around data practices online
and looming enforcement when they’re abused, we must continue to focus
in on what’s best for our audiences and only then for our marketing
partners. The ability to micro-target, to force an action with a digital
ad is not the same as engaging audiences around trusted content. It is not the way to build long-term customer relationships.
Fans and friction
up to us to keep our customer focus razor sharp as we embark on this
2020 vision. We need to minimize complexity and reduce friction while
continuing to innovate and enhance experiences for our audiences.
Certainly, challenges abound including news deserts impacting local
communities, anti-press rhetoric from none other than our own President which sends dangerous signals globally, and continued platform competition and unequitable marketplace control now under investigation by Congress, FTC, DOJ, states, the EU among others.
I’m feeling good this year about where things are headed. I’m feeling really good. And I’m thrilled at the programming lineup we assembled for our annual summit to talk about it.
I’ve seen in my time in digital, particularly the years I’ve been
fortunate enough to spend on the team at DCN, has taught me is that we
are at the forefront of something great here. We are on the frontlines
of storytelling and communication. We have the power to shape minds, to
touch hearts, to fill the world with laughter and tears. Here’s to 2020
bringing the roar of the crowd as we focus on what matters most: the
audiences we serve.