In a previous post, we predicted that there would be a rapid expansion of brand content with the adoption of generative AI and discussed how publishers can utilize this adoption to fuel growth. I wanted to expand on some strategies publishers can implement to start the conversations with brands and agencies about using the content they have already invested in to drive brand consideration.
Publishers can leverage a brand’s non-promotional content and powerful storytelling to drive new and incremental revenue. Consumers across different mediums are actively engaged with long-form content, increasing brand recognition. Here’s a pathway for publishers that want to help brands use content in order to optimize the revenue potential for their businesses.
Content: A vehicle for influence
Before we jump into the strategies, why should you care about prospecting with content? Here are some numbers to help convince you that consumers rely on content to make purchase decisions:
According to Content Science, 70% of consumers prefer to learn about products and services through content rather than traditional advertising.
According to Nielsen, the average time spent on sponsored content is two minutes and thirty seconds. That’s roughly the same as purely editorial content.
In today’s digital age, consumers are inundated with display and video advertisements. But when it comes to product and service information, branded and sponsored content takes a backseat to these traditional digital formats. The data suggests that consumers are looking for authentic and informative content they can engage with rather than being sold to.
Long-form branded content allows brands to tell their story, provide helpful product and category information, and ultimately guide consumers to make an informed purchase decision on their terms. As a result, companies are changing their marketing strategies to focus on creating content that informs consumers throughout the purchase journey. And publishers are the ideal partner to repurpose, optimize, and scale a brand’s content to connect with a brand’s audience.
Content sells itself
Content marketing has proven to be a game-changer; according to HubSpot, 70% of marketers are actively investing in it. Still, only a few industry partners offer solutions to scale this content outside the brand’s owned channels. The increase in investment in content marketing reflects the fact that marketers not only build trust by providing valuable and informative content but that it also positions them – and the brands they represent – as industry leaders.
Tested tactics to drive revenue
Repurposing content opens up a unique opportunity to create impactful prospecting strategies. One tested method is to pull content from brand marketing channels and create proactive mocks that showcase their content on a publisher’s site.
The best outreaches we have seen involve a multi-touch approach to showcase brands’ content within a publisher’s environment, utilizing content sourced from Facebook, Instagram, blogs, ebooks, whitepapers, transcribed videos, and podcasts. These mocks can be used for prospecting new business or encouraging existing clients to invest in incremental budgets. This outreach allows brands to see how their content can be repurposed for maximum engagement.
Pro tip: streamline the process
The most impactful way to showcase the power of a brand’s content presented in the context of your site is to show marketers what that would look like. Most methods require publishers to do that directly from their CMS requiring development and design resources to create a mockup without actually pushing it live. Alternatively, publishers can use native ad servers to do this work. This way, publishers can upload the creative and content, and generate a preview link. Some platforms include content ingestion tools, which will help streamline this process further. The link can then be shared directly with the client or included as a screenshot in slides.
An alternative method would be to build a mock template in PowerPoint or another design software and copy content into the template. The problem with this method is it requires the manual and time consuming process of finding the content, pasting it into your template, and making design adjustments.
Content is emerging as a critical driver of influence in today’s digital world. Writing content and promoting it on different platforms builds trust and creates an authentic relationship with consumers. But creating quality content is a major investment. Taking the time to repurpose that content and automate the process correctly can help publishers partner with brands so that they can more readily scale their content and drive brand consideration.
In media, “signals” have long driven the business, whether for must-see entertainment or brand-defining journalism. Unfortunately, these signals, which convey value, meaning and relevance, are becoming harder to distinguish amidst the increasing noise of modern digital media. Yet the ability to distinguish between signal and noise is just as important, if not more so, in the age of digital media given the abundance—and velocity—of information.
Today, there are fewer and fewer high-value signals that can cut through the noise without interference. Brands invest upwards of seven million dollars for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl or six figures to run a page in the September issue of Vogue so that they can send a signal to a large and focused audience, not only about their product, but also make a statement about the significance of their market position. In other words, “we have so much confidence in our offering that we can spend this kind of money to tell you about it.” There is very little noise surrounding these types of advertisements. The message is clear. And everyone makes bank.
However, there are also high-value signals that must compete with endless noise. To see this in action, just take a stroll through Times Square in New York City, one of the busiest and noisiest places in the world, with a constant barrage of sights and sounds competing for attention. Amidst all this noise and the tens of thousands of people rushing about their days, one might think it would be challenging for any brand to resonate. Yet countless companies do just that by spending millions to share their message in this hub of entertainment and commerce. With their brand messages broadcast on LED screens hundreds of feet wide, or plastered on buildings that stretch to the sky, they send an unambiguous signal of value and importance.
The Super Bowl offers one of the year’s must-watch experiences—both on the field and in the ad breaks. The pages of September Vogue overflow with lush photos and unparalleled fashion coverage with ads deftly woven into the fabric. Times Square is one of the most exciting, chaotic, and sense-stimulating places on earth. In every case, the context provides a signal boost: What you see here has value.
In the world of digital media, the rise of the tech giants has allowed them to suppress signals and amplify noise. Amidst the endless content scroll are interchangeable commodities and it’s hard to differentiate between much of anything on these platforms. In many ways, they’ve turned the world upside down by turning traditional signals into something else altogether through their black-box algorithms.
Often these secret signals happen below the surface shrouded in mystery, as seen in the case of the Google search engine. This tool was built in a revolutionary way, using “signals” to sort all the world’s information. This grand innovation offered a way to create structure by ranking a site’s ability to collate high value links around the web. Fortunes have been won and lost in how Google values those signals. Over time, Google matured and evolved into using authority and other proxies to value sites across search and YouTube. The signals favored by this search superpower frequently recalibrate, but we know they are there under the surface, controlling what people see.
Amazon has built the world’s largest retail store where its Prime signal, in a classic flex of monopoly power, has arguably become the most important indicator of whether the customer will buy a product or not. Sure, there may be dozens of vendors offering nearly identical products, but a single signal undeniably tilts the scale.
However, we have also seen that signals can be “lost.” Facebook built what is arguably the most powerful targeted advertising business in history by mining and exploiting data across the web and mobile app ecosystem. Targeted ads have consistently comprised more than 97% of the company’s revenues for more than a decade. This was never clearer than in 2021: When Apple stepped up its privacy efforts, Facebook lost nearly half of its market value, which the company’s CFO attributed to “signal loss.” That loss continues to haunt the company’s fortunes as the company scrambles for a new moat to protect its empire.
The value of signals amidst the noise is also key to the rapid-fire (and controversial) development of large language models, such as those used by Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s Bing to train generative AI. The value of an answer engine will undoubtedly lie in the quality of its results. Therefore, such models must differentiate between things learned through Financial Times versus Reddit, Washington Post versus Twitter, and so on. Although they may claim to treat all domains generically, there is little doubt the source matters. All content is not equal.
As digital technology continues to advance, distinguishing between signals and noise becomes ever more challenging. Like Times Square, the noisiness of the digital world can be stimulating and provocative. However, with so much noise, signals that can convey meaning and relevance to a broad audience have more value than ever.
Media companies must focus on developing strategies that allow them to differentiate themselves and their messaging, so they can send signals that cut through the noise and resonate with their target audience. And they must seek out platforms, partners, and technology companies that fully recognize and fairly compensate these valuable signals as they launch, thrive, and grow into maturity.
Amidst the nearly infinite access to content created by anyone and everyone—from influencer-ally or trusted brand to bot armies and monetizers of disinformation, signal has never been more valuable. Ultimately, the ability to differentiate between signals and noise is essential to success in the digital age, and those who can do so effectively will have a significant advantage, and that advantage will be one shared by the audiences they serve.
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.
Every once in a while, a trend rippling through the digital media industry that springs up from the trade publications and into general-interest media. The launch of ChatGPT has been one of those times. AI content generation feels like more than ones and zeroes to media consumers at large. It feels tangible, even visceral, because it has direct ramifications on the production of content itself. Clearly media leaders need to make their voices heard in order to help guide the conversation for users as well as AI developers.
It would appear every Big Tech business wants in on AI chat to power search. But like identity and privacy, media companies are not about to sit back and watch which of the tech giants “wins” generative AI. They need to understand how AI will change content consumption, how they can use it to their advantage, and how to keep walled gardens from absorbing more of their revenue.
A new era for the search business
We’re seeing real and atypical disruption today in AI chat’s applications for search. Bing’s ChatGPT search function removes the onus of poring over multiple search results, and simply generates what feels like a coherent response upfront – be it right or wrong, strong or flimsy, fair, or biased. And history shows that human nature tends to prefer convenience over perfection. Search providers are already investigating how AI search may be monetized, to avoid losing out on the serious revenue search advertising traditionally has delivered (58% of Alphabet’s total revenue last year, for those keeping score).
That brings us to media companies’ reliance on search traffic to monetize their own sites and content. The prospect of users being disincentivized from visiting publisher sites to verify and provide context for information looks ominous to publishers. Today, 26% of all publisher traffic comes from search, in an environment where open web publishers are already competing against walled gardens for traffic and advertisers are reducing their budgets. And as it stands, not all AI search tools link back to their sources, and marketers are still trying to understand how the AI search ad experience should appear. And while search bots already crawl publisher pages, AI chatbots present a less balanced exchange between publisher and search engine.
Publishers that control their data have an advantage
Let’s avoid tunnel vision here, though. Publishers’ imperative to soften any blow to revenue from search traffic overlaps with their existing efforts to reduce reliance on revenue from the programmatic open market. Those efforts involve building loyalty among users and advertisers alike. For users, publishers are offering subscription packages, exclusive newsletter content, and the like. For advertisers, they’re offering private marketplaces and direct deals. Publishers can better navigate AI disruption by continuing and evolving those business strategies. They need to position themselves as sources of trustworthy, high-quality content worthy of the lifetime audience loyalty that can grow CPMs and incentivize deeper advertiser relationships. And AI has real benefits for those strategies.
If and when search becomes a less reliable source of traffic for media companies, they’ll need to ramp up efforts in driving traffic from channels such as social and video. In finding the best channels and business partners, they can turn to AI to analyze large volumes of first- and second-party data, and to do lookalike modelling. Leading publishers have already been doing this as part of their data strategy for withstanding third-party cookie deprecation. Advertisers are taking bold data strategy steps, too, and have the resources to be very advanced here. Publishers should compare notes with their brand partners to learn how to best leverage AI and machine learning for predictive audience creation, modelling, data cleaning and processing, and probabilistic matching.
We’re also seeing publishers take interest in generative AI’s capacity to accelerate and personalize content production, with human staff overseeing and completing the job. AI can do some of the lifting on lower-level SEO writing, bolster production of sponsored content, and source background from the publisher’s content archives. With ad revenues dipping on account of economic pressure, publishers are actively seeking new workflow efficiencies and content initiatives simultaneously without cutting headcount.
IP law will establish new limits for AI crawling
While we’ve all heard chatter about AI displacing human creative talent, media companies have more leverage than they might appear from a slight distance. That human-created input that drives AI output is guarded by intellectual property law. Rights holders are pushing back, and we can expect to see more robust IP regulation, and even technology that protects content from being scraped by AI tools, coming into play in the near future.
But publishers shouldn’t simply wait for regulators to clear up these issues. That’s a path with unpredictable length and outcomes. At the top of publishers’ to-do lists should be bracing for shortfalls in search traffic, powering their data resources, and finding applications for AI to embolden content production. And Big Tech businesses should be forewarned: AI can’t be a higher priority than the sustainability of the digital publishing business that generative AI models depend on. An input of quality content makes the difference between useful output and unappealing nonsense.
In an increasingly crowded and competitive landscape, media companies are constantly seeking new strategies to increase revenue and customer loyalty. Bundling can play an integral part in achieving these goals. By combining multiple products or services into a compelling package, bundling can unlock new subscribers and revenue streams, as well as help reduce churn.
According to Meredith Kopit Levien, Chief Executive Officer of The New York Times Company, bundle subscribers pay more over time and are less likely to cancel. As a result, bundling can support strategies for customer acquisition and retention. Subsequently, it’s currently an area of growing strategic focus for many media companies.
Here are seven features that can strengthen your bundling strategy:
1. Make it financially compelling
You may not realize it, but you’re probably already bundling.Many publishers offer products, such as combined print/digital subscriptions, at a discounted price. These are often attractive to audiences due to minimal price differentiation, and dual access can improve their experience of your product(s).
For publishers, this also opens opportunities to sell advertising across both mediums. This can be especially valuable given the importance of print advertising, and the premium it can demand compared to digital.
The Seattle Times demonstrates this principle by offering a Digital +SundayDelivery subscription for the same price ($4.99 a month) as their digital-only package. Bundling in the Sunday print edition, complete with home delivery at no extra cost, is potentially very persuasive for readers.
2. Show consumers what they are missing
Alongside appealing pricing, a further tactic media companies can deploy involves highlighting the benefits each subscription tier – or bundle – offers you.
In doing this, publishers typically point to subscriber-only content such as articles, newsletters, podcasts and events, or access to their archives. In many cases, this content is not available outside the requisite subscription bundle. And that’s a benefit that publishers are keen to emphasize.
Interestingly, the New York Times also utilizes a different approach, by stressing what you don’t have access to. This is most explicit for those accessing their news-only package (see below). The FOMO here is potentially very real, making an upgrade to “All Access” seem like good value.
It’s hard to say exactly what role this tactic plays in their continued subscriber growth. However, the company added one million new subscribers in 2022. Commenting on this, CEO Meredith Kopit Levien observes that “with each passing quarter, we saw more proof that there is strong demand for a bundle of our news and lifestyle products, hitting records on both total bundle volume and the share of new subscribers choosing the bundle.”
3. Prioritize building your stack
The cost of living crisis means that many people have less money in their pockets. To offset this, households are looking carefully at their expenditure and cutting back where they can. CNBC reports that Americans are more likely to cut back on groceries and gas than subscriptions. But this headline overlooks how low down the subscription food chain non-streaming content is.
Given publishers’ emphasis on reader revenue and subscriptions, this belt-tightening brings with it a certain vulnerability. To offset this, it is incumbent on media players to ensure that their offering is one consumers feel they cannot afford to cancel.
Alongside the approaches outlined by Piechota, we should also add peacocking. Media companies with deep portfolios can prominently display this to potential suitors (i.e. subscribers) by creating bundles that tap into the sheer breadth of content at their disposal.
We have already seen this in the form of the Disney Bundle, which includes Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+. These three content-rich services are considerably cheaper when purchased collectively. The “trio” bundle also comes with ad and ad-free versions too, another model that more publishers can emulate. (NB: ESPN+ comes with ads regardless of the package.)
In Europe, Scandinavian media giant Schibstedhas also put this notion into practice. They launched “Full Tilgang” in Fall 2022, a bundle of their Norwegian titles including national, regional and finance news, alongside magazines and their podcast platform PodMe.
For national subscribers, this regional and local content is a potentially useful value-add that they might not otherwise have consumed. It’s a model other companies might look to replicate. twipe reports that Schibsted is rolling out a similar model in Sweden.
5. Partner for growth
Of course, not every outlet has the deep pockets – or the smorgasbord of content – enjoyed by The New York Times, Disney or Schibsted. Nevertheless, many outlets can deepen their bundles via partnerships.
These can come in a myriad of different forms. Digiday has outlined how partnerships with non-publisher brands – such as financial and educational institutions – are being employed by The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Business Insider has also followed suit. In 2020 they offered holders of certain American Express cards a free 12-month subscription.
Tie-ins with other business and tech providers can also be seen. Major League Baseball has a long-standing partnership with T-Mobile, providing free subscriptions to MLB.TV (worth $149.99 a year) to T-Mobile subscribers. And in 2014, The Sun, a British tabloid, struck a deal with the UK mobile operator O2 to offer 02’s 4G customers content from soccer’s Premier League that gives them a glimpse of The Sun’s content which, in turn, might encourage some users to become subscribers.
It’s common for publishers to offer bundles with other titles in their stable. The Wall Street Journal offers a package featuring its Dow Jones stablemates Barron’s and MarketWatch. More interesting perhaps are partnerships with other content providers.
In the past, I’ve seen smaller outlets – like my local NPR affiliate KLCC –offer a free subscription to larger publications (like NYT and WaPo) as part of their membership model. For smaller players, this association may bring some extra cachet, or provide an additional incentive to nudge people over the line by taking out a membership or donating.
Even bigger players can successfully adopt this approach. The Weather Channel is a seldom talked about subscription behemoth, with over 1 million subscribers. It recently partnered with several organizations to offer bundles providing “companion subscriptions.” This trend may only become more prominent.
Looking ahead – where bundling might go from here?
And what of that future? Given the need for media companies to attract new audiences, as well as retain subscribers and maximize income from them, bundling will remain integral to reader revenue strategies. Here are two further ideas worth considering.
1. Explore different pricing models
In 2019, the advent of dynamic paywalls prompted Piano CEO Trevor Kaufman to ask, “Has AI brought an end to the metered paywall?”. New York Media and Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ, Switzerland) are some of the outlets that have used this model, harnessing variables – such as your location, device type and browsing history – to determine when users hit the paywall.
Taking this to the next level, The Atlantic recently started using this technology to shape the price of their bundles. Dynamic pricing can be used when signing people up and for retention. For the latter, prices for renewal are determined based on the probability of a subscriber’s subscription lapsing.
“It is a concept worth exploring,” suggests Subscription Insider, although they stress the “biggest risk is how consumers will feel if or when they find out about it.” How will consumers feel if they get different prices to sign-up (or stay), each time they click on the site?
2. Let consumers customize their bundle
At present, audiences are at the mercy of bundles offered to them by publishers. But what if it were possible to build your own bundle?
Let’s say I just want the newsletters and audio provided by The Economist? Or I want to bundle The New York Times’ Cooking and Games subscriptions, getting them for less than two individual subscriptions?
Similarly, if I have a $25 a year standalone subscription to Politics with Charles P. Pierce on Esquire, what If I could cherry-pick additional elements to bolt onto my politics subscription?
I cannot do that at present, and this type of choose-your-own-adventure model might be technically tricky. However, personalization could enable me to subscribe to content by topic, writer, location, beat, or sports team that matters to me.
Of course, it may risk cannibalizing the take-up of other more expensive bundles. However, it might also hold strong consumer appeal, especially those for whom existing packaged offers are not compelling enough.
Moving forward, bundling is here to stay, supporting subscription strategies by playing a role in consumer attraction and retention.
Fundamental to this is making your bundle attractive and distinctive from your competitors. Subsequently, adding value to the bundle may well shape acquisition strategies, be that for talent (and the newsletters and podcasts they may front) as well as other properties.
At the same time, consumers need to be attracted by price and value proposition, this includes access to content and services they may not currently consume, but might if it’s bundled in.
The use of free trials, as well as partnerships with other media companies and brands, can be a way to get a customer’s foot in the door. Meanwhile, dynamic pricing and opportunities for personalization could become key tools to keep them there.
By bundling multiple products or services together, publishers and media companies can offer greater value to customers and increase subscriptions. There’s no hard and fast way to do this, but these seven steps demonstrate how all publishers can potentially use bundling to drive revenues and improve customer loyalty.
Consumer trust in news is a complex and dynamic relationship that varies across countries, platforms, and audiences. Different audiences have different reasons to trust or distrust news organizations. However, misrepresentation and underrepresentation are two common drivers of distrust in news reporting.
Black and mixed-race audiences (people who identified as either preto or pardo) in Brazil
Marginalized castes or tribes and Muslim audiences in India
Working-class audiences in the U.K.
Black and rural audiences in the U.S.
The findings show that many respondents have doubts about the motives of news organizations. Many attribute their distrust to what they see as chronic bias in reporting: coverage that reinforces stereotypes and sensationalized news items.
Respondents feel that the news media does not reflect their realities or interests but serves the agendas of those in power. The research finds that most participants see the news media as biased and depressing. They feel the news media often treats them unfairly, perpetuates stereotypes, fails to cover them, or promotes divisiveness among groups.
Respondents have different expectations and requirements from news media depending on their backgrounds and experiences. They cite examples of the news media’s misrepresentation in story selection and story framing.
– Emphasizing negative news
– Unfairly treating groups
– Perpetuating stereotypes
– Failing to cover them altogether
– Promoting divisiveness between groups
As one respondent states, “Black and brown people are not just the focus of tragedies; there are successful people among us.”
Many Black participants in the U.S. and Brazil note that most news coverage about Black people only emphasizes negative dimensions such as poverty, crimes, and violence. Further, respondents state that news coverage about high-profile cases of police brutality adds to the complexities and experiences of racism and discrimination in their day-to-day lives. One respondent comments:
“We always knew this was happening throughout history to the lynchings and the Civil Rights era. These things were always known, but seeing it broadcast every day, week after week, month after month, year after year, it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting, and I just couldn’t keep up with it.”
Research participants want news coverage inclusive of more positive and constructive news stories. They request that news stories be diverse and offer representation, transparency, and accountability. They would also like coverage to offer personal and social relevance.
The report suggests that the news media must address these concerns to rebuild trust and engagement with disadvantaged communities. Recommendations for news media professionals:
Invest in more diverse and inclusive newsrooms and sources
Provide more contextual and explanatory journalism
Avoid sensationalism and negativity bias
Seek feedback and dialogue with audiences
Collaborate with community media and civil society organizations
Reuters Institute acknowledges the challenges and trade-offs the news media faces in serving different public segments. It argues that there is no single trust problem or solution but rather a need for more nuanced and tailored approaches that recognize the diversity and complexity of audiences.
Streaming video has seen explosive growth and isn’t yet showing any signs of slowing down. As audience habits change and evolve, are advertisers and media platforms prepared to take full advantage of the new paradigm? Whether it’s the shift from third to first-party data or ad formats designed uniquely for the streaming experience, there are plenty of cutting-edge trends and technologies that advertisers would do well to understand – and embrace.
Streaming audiences are booming
One of the biggest trends in streaming video is the rise of streaming-first networks. These networks, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, often produce their own content and offer it exclusively on their streaming platforms. This model has proven to be successful, with many streaming-first networks producing critically acclaimed shows and movies that have gained a loyal following.
Netflix, the world’s leading streaming service, for a long time publicly opposed advertising and relied on a subscription-only model. However, in 2022, CEO Reed Hastings announced that the company was opening the door to advertising, signaling a sea change. Hastings cited the success of Hulu and others in monetizing their streaming platforms through advertising. And, to back this up, a survey by MAGNA found that in 2021, U.S, linear TV ad spend is projected to decrease by 7.5%, while connected TV ad spend is projected to increase by 36.5%.
Self-serve advertising: targeted and brand-safe
Many streaming platforms, including Roku and Hulu, offer self-serve advertising options that allow brands to create and target their own ad campaigns. This gives advertisers more control over their campaigns and allows them to reach specific audiences in a brand-safe way. Self-serve is considered an effective compromise between the requirements of brand safety and scale; a system that is both automated and tightly controlled by the publisher.
Through self-serve advertising, brands can choose the ad format, ad placement, and target audience based on first-party data. Advertisers can also set their own budget and optimize their campaigns based on real-time performance data. Self-serve advertising platforms are built on the availability of first-party audience data.
First-party data: the key to targeting and personalization
Another trend in streaming video is the use of first-party data. Streaming platforms collect data on their users – including what they watch, when they watch it, and on what device. This data can be used to create more targeted and personalized ad campaigns. For example, if a streaming platform knows that a particular user is a fan of action movies, it can serve them ads for action movies or related products.
First-party data can also help advertisers understand their target audience better. By analyzing user behavior and preferences, advertisers can gain insights into what types of ads are most effective and adjust their campaigns accordingly. For example, if data shows that users are more likely to engage with ads that feature humor, advertisers can create ads that use humor to capture the viewer’s attention.
Trust builds strong relationships
In addition to self-serve advertising and first-party data, it’s important for advertisers to consider the relationship between viewers, streaming brands, and trusted advertisers. As streaming platforms have become more popular, they have also become an important source of trust for many viewers. This means that advertisers who partner with trusted streaming brands and create ads that align with their values and aesthetics are more likely to be successful.
Brands that are perceived as intrusive or irrelevant can quickly lose viewers’ trust and negatively impact the reputation of the streaming platform. To build and maintain trust with viewers, advertisers must focus on creating compelling, authentic, and relevant ad content that resonates with their audience.
One way to achieve this is through sponsored content. Streaming platforms increasingly offer sponsored content as a way for brands to reach audiences in a non-intrusive way. Sponsored content can take the form of branded entertainment, product placement, or native advertising. By partnering with streaming platforms and creating sponsored content that aligns with the platform’s values and aesthetics, advertisers can reach audiences in a more organic and engaging way.
Another important factor in building trust is transparency. Advertisers must be transparent about how they collect and use data, as well as how they target and deliver ads. By being transparent, advertisers can build trust with viewers and create a more positive advertising experience.
Connecting the dots with CTV
In addition to these trends, another important factor for advertisers to consider is the growing importance of connected TV (CTV). CTV refers to televisions that are connected to the internet, allowing viewers to access streaming content directly on their TVs. Already, a full 80% of U.S. households have access to a connected TV. With CTV viewership on the rise, advertisers have the opportunity to reach audiences on a larger screen and create more immersive and engaging ad experiences. Advertisers can also use CTV to target specific households and individuals, based on first-party data and other targeting methods.
As the streaming video and CTV landscape continues to evolve, advertisers must navigate new challenges, such as ad fraud. Ad fraud refers to the practice of generating false ad impressions or clicks to defraud advertisers. Advertisers can work with media platforms and ad tech partners to implement fraud prevention measures and ensure their ad spend is used effectively.
One simple saying appropriately describes the advertising impact of streaming video: the medium is the message. Streaming video isn’t just linear in a new, on-demand format. It’s a fundamental shift in the way that viewers experience media, create relationships with brands, and ultimately make decisions as consumers. There are a host of new challenges and opportunities, all of which will impact advertisers now and in the future.
The best way for advertisers and publishers to adapt to streaming video is to embrace it. And it will help to seek out expert partners to help navigate these new waters. In many ways, we will need to forget what we think we know about video media and open our minds to a new and exciting reality that is more audience-focused, personalized, and fast-changing than ever before.
The latest trust-in-media research is not pretty. But it’s not hopeless, either.
It was one of those random-but-when-you-think-of-it-not-entirely-coincidental accidents of timing, ideal for an article lede. The same day that Fox News settled its defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism unveiled the latest installment of research from its Trust in News Project. The Fox case showed just how little Fox journalists deserve their audience’s trust. And the Reuters survey showed just how little our audiences trust the rest of us, whether we deserve it or not.
That Americans have lost trust in news media is not exactly a stop-the-presses revelation. But the new Reuters report adds an emotional overlay to this sorry but well-reported fact by elevating the attitudes of marginalized populations ignored by previous surveys. Suffice it to say that adding emotion doesn’t make the data any less grim. We are losing hearts and minds at a dizzying pace.
Still, there are hints of hope. The research makes clear that even those who mistrust us value the work we do, when we do it well. People still need journalism, and they know it. Out of that fact arise some suggestions for how we might dig our way out. And we must dig our way out.
In case you haven’t been tracking surveys about trust in media—and I don’t blame you if you have been avoiding them—the data has been steadily getting worse for decades. According to a Knight Gallup poll last year, just 16% of Americans have a lot of faith in newspapers and 11% in TV news. Both figures are down about two thirds as compared to 30 years ago.
This time, it’s personal
What does the new research say that we didn’t already know? For one thing, because the Reuters researchers conducted focus groups, rather than taking surveys, the report gathers some arresting personal expression from audiences. In addition, Reuters sought out subjects from groups we journalists don’t often hear from, so the perspectives are sometimes revealingly different (or depressingly the same). In the UK, researchers interviewed working class people in Yorkshire and greater London. In the US, they drew on two separate audiences, Black and rural Americans, both from Iowa. (The research also targeted comparable marginalized groups in Brazil and India.)
Across all these groups, panelists repeatedly said that they felt unseen and unheard by media. In a conversation we had at conversation at the Virginia Local News Summit in April (separate from the survey), Tracie Powell, founder of the Pivot Fund, which invests in BIPOC owned media, offered a poignant example of how that inattention feels. Describing what happened when the big-city press parachuted in to cover a three-fatality traffic accident in rural Georgia, she noted that local Black residents felt that the metro reporters lavished attention on the two white victims and gave short shrift to the Black one. “The Journal-Constitution’s reporting was accurate,” she said. “Accurate—but not true. And everyone in the Black community knew it.”
When professional media do pay attention to marginalized populations, the focus group participants complained, we tend to highlight the negative—deprivation, crime and racism. “[W]eek after week, month after month, it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting,” said one Black participant. Others believe that we too easily resort to stereotypes. In the other Iowa focus group, for example, a participant told researchers that she felt that coverage of rural America quickly resorted to tropes of “corn fields and pig farms,” and depicting people like her as “a bunch of hicks.”
During a phone call, Benjamin Toff, a senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute and leader of the three-year-old Trust in News Project, said that this highly personal reaction to coverage was a key difference from previous Reuters trust studies. “When you see reporting on some remote issue as sensationalistic, it sparks one kind of judgment,” he told me in an interview. “When the hype involves someone you know and reinforces stereotypes that harm you and your children, the mistrust is a lot more visceral.”
What are we in the profession supposed to do about this? To some extent, we already know the solutions, even if we have not been universally successful at putting them into practice: bring more diverse representation into our newsrooms, develop more awareness of the biases that we unconsciously import when we write about groups less white or educated or liberal then the typical newsroom.
Make the connection
The report also hinted at some more hopeful paths back to trust. Audiences in marginalized groups told the Reuters researchers they want unbiased, fair and accurate coverage of matters relevant to their lives—the same desire other audiences have. Most trust surveys, including this one, show that audiences tend to be suspicious of our motives and shockingly unaware of how we operate. That suggests that we don’t need to abandon our most cherished values; we just need to get them across better.
Joy Mayer, founder of the Trusting News Project, responded to this aspect of the Reuters research in a Medium post, writing (among many other useful suggestions): “If you work hard to be fair, consider articulating what fairness looks like for your newsroom. Get on the record about it. (Take inspiration from the San Diego Union-Tribune’s fairness checklist.) Then draw attention to that commitment day to day.”
Personal connections between individual journalists and their audience can build trust in ways that aren’t necessarily available to media brands. “[The research suggested] that people are much more willing to give individual journalists leeway,” said Toff. “Many are suspicious of the commercial and political agendas they see media institutions pursuing. It’s easier for individual journalists to build trust personally.”
It’s impossible to read the Reuters’ report and not conclude that it will take anything less than a generation for media to rebuild trust, if we can rebuild it at all. But it would also be wrong to conclude that there’s nothing we can do. Even the audiences addressed by the Reuters study—who are not, generally speaking, active seekers of accountability stories—recognize the importance of our role.
To reach them, though, we need to be aware of how they see us and to be humble in our approach. Margaret Talev, the long-time White House correspondent and Axios political editor who recently joined Syracuse University’s Democracy, Journalism & Citizenship Institute as director. In a panel two days after the Reuters report Talev said “It’s not enough to tell people they should trust us because we’re good for them.” She said. “We need to meet people where they are and give them what they want.”
About the author
Eric Schurenberg is the founder of the Newsroom Trust Project, a research project seeking solutions to the erosion of trust in media, and the host of the podcast In Reality. Prior to that, Eric was the CEO of Mansueto Ventures, the owner of Inc. and Fast Company.
Most of today’s digital display advertising is sold programmatically. The process is automated from buying to displaying ads and determining which ads are shown to which users. Programmatic advertising uses behavioral ad targeting and relies on extensive online consumer tracking, which raises important privacy concerns.
The benefits are often the counterargument to privacy – asserting the strong economic value consumers derive from targeted ads. But is this really the case for consumers? Do the purported positives – such as oft-touted “better effectiveness” and “ad relevance” – outweigh or offset the impact on consumer welfare? Further, how is the product’s quality viewed in targeted ads compared to other vendors, and how do the prices compare?
New research, Behavioral advertising, and consumer welfare: An empirical investigation from Eduardo Abraham Schnadower Mustri, Idris Adjerid, and Alessandro Acquisti, answers these questions. The findings show little consumer benefit in seeing targeted ads. In fact, respondents are less aware of vendors displayed and perceive products of lower quality, and at a higher price.
The research encompasses two studies. Study 1 included 489 participants across two phases.Phase One asked participants to browse randomly across selected websites using a Chrome browser on their computers. If they clicked on an ad, URL of the ad was captured. The research team then used automated scripts and the Google search engine to find competitive products of the advertised brands. They collected several pieces of information for the competitive analysis; landing pages, the product image, price, description, brand, and name of the website that sells the product.
Approximately one week later, respondents return for Phase 2. The researchers show nine product photos randomly to participants.
Respondents assessed all nine products:
three products from the ads they viewed (ad condition),
three competitive products from the organic search results (search condition), and
three randomly selected products from ads served to other participants in the study (random condition).
Study 1 included objective metrics in the analysis, like price. The study also included self-reported metrics such as participants’ assessments of purchase intention, product quality, price fairness, relevance, and novelty of product type, brand, and vendor. This design captured participants’ perceptions and purchase intentions independent of their vendors’ perceptions.
The second study replicates the first. However, it includes third-party objective data vendor rankings from the Better Business Bureau and SiteJabber. The researchers share the vendor ratings with the respondents before asking about their purchase intent.
The research shows that participants’ intention to purchase products in targeted display advertisements is low but still higher than for random products. Notably, Study 2 finds that higher purchase intentions and higher relevance in the ad condition are driven by participants having previously searched for the advertised product.
The findings also state that, on average, products in targeted display advertisements are only somewhat relevant to respondents. However, while participants appear to benefit from the pricing of targeted products, search results can offer better prices and higher-rated vendors.
The researchers only find one major difference in the direction of the results between Study 1 and Study 2. Study 1, without vendor ratings, shows significantly lower purchase intention. Study 2, including vendor ratings, shows a higher purchase intention for higher-rated vendors. Therefore, vendor quality is a relevant factor in consumers’ purchase decisions.
The research results offer insight into understanding the complexities of measuring the impact of targeted ads on consumer welfare. These two studies take a new route and look beyond ad effectiveness and click-through. Using objective and self-reported metrics across three conditions – ads, search, and random, results in low awareness, low-quality, and high-priced vendors. This new empirical study further questions the benefits of behaviorally targeted advertising.