Accurate and impartial storytelling has long been considered an essential component of effective newsrooms. However, in recent years some news outlets have taken a far more partisan approach over the provision of objective news and information. With plenty of opinion-based commentary available, how significant is objective journalism to audiences?
The latest report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism questions the importance of impartial news reporting to audiences. The new study offers insight into whether objective news coverage, or point of view offerings, appeal to consumers. Reuters’ findings are based on survey results from close to 100,000 adults worldwide and in-depth interviews with 50 adults in Brazil, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.
Impartial vs. opinion-basedreporting
Overall, respondents say they want to hear different and impartial views on social and political issues. In fact, three quarter (74%) report that social and political news coverage should present a range of different views. Just 15% of respondents believe that news outlets should argue for the points of view that they think are best.
Importantly, respondents often recognize the difference between news reporting and opinion-based commentary. However, they also think newsrooms should be very clear and identify when they report opinion-based commentary.
Significantly, Reuters’ findings show that consumers are interested in understanding opinions that are not their own. The majority (72%) of consumers in all markets think that news publishers should give equal time to all sides. A mere 17% think news outlets should give less time to sides with weaker arguments. Respondents agree that there should be a fair balance of opinions in objective news reporting.
Neutrality is not always an option
Interestingly, 30% of people in the U.S. think that sometimes neutrality is not an option when reporting the news. Specifically, younger respondents, along with those who are left leaning, think there are some issues where it is impossible for newsrooms to be neutral. In fact, a minority think that there is ethical justification, in some cases, for a non-neutral approach. Importantly, respondents express discomfort with newsrooms excluding points of view entirely.
Reuters’ findings show the desire for truthful storytelling in news but also for the inclusion of different perspectives. Yes, consumers want the facts. However, the report also suggest news publishers should offer different perspectives and different points of views. This approach will assist in breaking echo chambers and offers opportunities for healthy news discussions about multiple points of views.
When it comes to media consumption, consumers have never had it so good. From streaming services to social media, movies to music and video games, to a variety of linear TV channels, options abound. With so much choice, comes inevitable competition for the providers, as they try to court the consumer. So how can media and entertainment brands form meaningful relationships with audiences? According to the latest Digital Media Trends survey it’s all about understanding generational trends – in particular Generation Z, who could cause the next wave of disruption.
The 2021 survey, which was conducted by Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunication practice, found that Gen Z demonstrate strikingly different preferences. Other research—and experts—back this up. Let’s take a closer look.
Boomers love streaming video while Gen Z is obsessed with gaming. The group, aged 14-24, place video games as their number one entertainment activity (26%). That’s followed by listening to music (14%), browsing the internet (12%), and using social media (11%). Only 10% of Gen Z said that watching TV or movies at home was their favorite form of entertainment.
“For the first time since we started this survey, Gen Z did not pick watching movies or TV shows as their favorite media. It was gaming,” says Kevin Westcott, Deloitte’s Vice Chairman and U.S. Technology, Media and Telecom Leader. “Obviously there was quite a bit of growth during the pandemic. Gaming is a social activity and a way to stay connected. However, video games were already significantly growing before Covid-19. It will be interesting to see if these preferences persist now that lockdown rules are relaxing in the U.S.”
With the dominance of video entertainment being challenged, media companies need to take a more diversified approach. Publishers should experiment with different storytelling techniques on social platforms, and gamification is a great place to start.
“If a media brand isn’t in the games business, they need to look at how they can make things more engaging,” says Westcott. “Gen Z are looking for more participation and this is where transmedia could help. By utilizing a range of platforms, the audience can interact with content and influence it, rather than just watching it.”
Beyond connecting with the world, social media is a common gateway for consuming a wide range of media content. Although all generations use social media, consumption varies depending on age. According to the Digital Media Trends survey, Gen Z and Millennials both rank listening to music as their main activity on social media. However, Gen X prefer to consume news. The second most popular activity on social media for Gen Z was gaming. For Millennials it’s watching TV shows and movies.
Interestingly, despite these social media usage trends for news, 50% of Gen Z still rank social media as their preferred way to get news, while only 12% select news from network or cable TV. Boomers are the opposite, with 58% getting their news from network or cable TV, and just 8% using social media.
According to a report by Flamingo, commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, younger audiences differ from older groups in terms of what they want from the news. Young people are largely driven by progress and enjoyment, which translates into what they look for in news. As such, they want news to feel easy and accessible. That means creating formats that are native to mobile and social platforms, as well as including these ideas on their own websites.
The report, entitled How Young People Consume News, also suggests that the news media need to change the way they report the news. This includes tackling issues such as stereotypes, diversity and negativity. It should also influence how news brands present themselves and their content on third party platforms.
A report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), called Making sense. The commercial media landscape, found similar disparities with the way different generations spend their time on commercial media. Ages 16 to 34 spend 53% on a smartphone or tablet and just 22% on a TV. Conversely, those aged 55 and above spend 53% of their commercial media time on TV and just 14% on a smart phone or tablet.
“The way to drive engagement in younger audiences on broadcast TV is to ensure content is available across multiple platforms,” explains Simon Frazier, Senior Research and Marketing Manager, IPA. “Younger audiences are always media multi-tasking, which is a challenge for media. But broadcasters that tie in with a variety of touch points and blur lines between entertainment and reality enjoy good engagement and a good commercial performance.”
According to a report from VICE Media, in partnership with Ontario Creates, Gen Z is redefining how content is being discovered, consumed, and shared. Three quarters of respondents (75%) report that original content is important to them. Music, video streaming and video games are the top paid services, while cable or satellite TV subscriptions don’t even make it into the top five for Gen Z.
This younger demographic also wants more diversity. Half say that there is a gap in gender diversity, sexual identity, and ethnic representation.
Along with good content, they want ease of discovery. Gen Z were born on social platforms so they play an important part of their content discovery. YouTube is their number one content source, with Instagram a close second, followed by Facebook, and Snapchat. TikTok is also gaining popularity. Gen Z tends to like content on social platforms that is transparent, with few barriers between the creator and the audience.
“With new voices and new platforms entering the media landscape by the minute, the competition for young people’s attention has never been greater,” said Julie Arbit, Global SVP of Insights, VICE. “Combine that with a young generation that has never been hungrier for content or savvier about how to access it and you have a whole new approach to content consumption. Understanding this new mindset is essential for anyone who is trying to reach this young audience.”
The VICE study also found a massive 90% of Gen Z are willing to pay for content if it offers better quality (61%), better experience (56%), and more convenience (50%). Only four in 10 said they wanted an ad-free environment. However, with consumers losing income due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Digital Media Trends noted an increase in churn rates, across all generations, in the past 12 months.
“During the pandemic, churn across streaming more than doubled,” says Westcott. “We call it ‘hit and run’. So, they join for the hit show and then leave to join another service.”
“Instead of focusing on adding new subscriptions, media providers need to shift their focus to long term subscriptions. And the way to do that is to broaden their range of content, and offer exclusive, original, high demand TV series, plus games and music.”
Despite the growth of subscription-based services, IPA reports that 63% of 16 to 34-year olds spend their time using platforms that are commercially funded by advertising.
“This represents huge opportunities for reaching this audience through commercial media,” says Frazier.
In the same group, four out of the top five commercial media properties are socially driven. These findings were backed up by Digital Media Trends. They found that social media influencers and ads on social media are the two most persuasive channels influencing younger generations’ buying decisions. They also typically liked ads on social media more than ads in streaming video content and other channels. On social media platforms, 62% of Gen Z and 72% of Millennials would rather see ads personalized to their likes and activity than generic ones.
Despite these differences, there is a growing convergence of behavior across several generations of consumers, as younger age groups influence older audiences.
“Ten years ago, we did a study on Millennials,” says Westcott. “We thought, as they aged, they would become more like us. But that didn’t happen. Instead, they have influenced older generations, who are now behaving in similar ways. The only way they really differ is that 26% of Gen Z rate gaming as their favorite entertainment, verses just 10% of Gen Z and 3% of Boomers.”
It is this preference for gaming that could challenge video as the leading form of media consumption across all generations. However, according to the IPA report, there was a significant drop in the correlation between how younger and older generations consumed commercial media during lockdown 2020.
It found just an 8% similarity between 16-34-year-olds and 55+ during lockdown 2020. This was down from 21% before the Covid pandemic and 58% in 2015.
“What is clear is that the lockdown has undoubtedly reinforced the dominance of key media for the different audiences and exacerbated the differences,” says Frazier.
So, while media companies may still be video-first, it seems that younger generations are moving away from this platform. The question is, are media brands and advertisers prepared to follow suit?
We’ve all taken a trip down the YouTube rabbit hole. It starts off innocently enough as we view a video recommended by a friend. Then about 30 to 60 minutes later, after countless video views, your brain neurons set off an alarm. This alert registers and you realize you are watching a video that clearly violates YouTube’s standards and practices. But wait just a minute: this video was recommended by YouTube itself.
That’s right, the platform recommends videos that disregard their own standards. It is difficult to explain how this happens because YouTube provides little transparency into their recommendation algorithms (well, any of their algos, really). The rabbit hole turns out to be an algorithmic black box.
While there are penalties for video violations, the determination process for YouTube’s actions for prohibited content are often unknown. They range from demonetization to the removal of individual videos and suspension of an entire account — to nothing at all. Not much is known about the end results. Meanwhile, there is little the user can do on the platform to prevent the targeting and amplification of regrettable (if not deplorable) content.
Consequently, Mozilla, a non-profit creator of browsers, apps, and tools, stepped in to shed light on YouTube’s black box of algorithms. They created the RegretsReporter browser extension. It’s a crowdsourcing tool to help users identify their path to a “regrettable” YouTube video. The browser extension captures the user’s YouTube browsing behavior. The tracking will only occur up to 5 hours prior to initiating the report. Further, the data is shared with Mozilla only if the user actively agrees.
Mozilla’s newly released report, YouTube Regrets, is an analysis of shared browser data from over 37,000 YouTube users in 91 countries. In all, the pathways and content of 3,362 regrettable videos are explored in this study. It’s the largest-ever crowdsourced investigation into YouTube’s algorithms.
Regrettable videos, often recommended
This analysis finds that one in 10 of the reported videos (12.2%) “should not be on YouTube” or “should not be proactively recommended,” based on YouTube’s Community Guidelines. The most frequently reported videos include misinformation and violent or graphic content. Covid-19 misinformation is categorized separately from “general” misinformation because of the volume of videos. It comprises a third of all categorized video regrets.
Unfortunately, YouTube recommendations represent 71% of the regretted videos reported to Mozilla. And at least two-fifths (43%) of all regrettable videos are recommended by YouTube and are completely unrelated to videos the user is watching.
Mozilla and other researchers cannot confirm YouTube’s claims at progress in correcting algorithms. YouTube provides no insight into the design and operational practices of their recommendation systems. Therefore, Mozilla sees these recommendations as necessary next steps in YouTube’s accountability:
Allow independent audits of recommendation systems.
Provide information about how recommendation systems work.
Give users more control over which of their data is used to generate recommendations.
Implement risk assessment programs to identify and evaluate the possibility and magnitude of harm caused by the recommendation system.
Provide users with an option to opt-out of personalized recommendations in favor of receiving chronological, contextual, or search term-based recommendations.
Mozilla and other researchers believe there are significant consequences connected to YouTube’s algorithms. Further, many believe the algorithms are optimized in favor of YouTube’s business model – increasing users’ time spent to serve more advertising. The amplification of regrettable video content including pseudo-science, 9/11 conspiracy theories, mistreated animals or encouraging white supremacy cannot be a byproduct of YouTube’s business model. Clearly, transparency is a needed to identify and resolve the problems embedded in their recommendation ecosystem.
To conduct this research, Lia Bozarth and Ceren Budak at the University of Michigan used a web API tool to simulate peoples’ browsing behavior. Their research identified fake news sites as those filled with pseudoscience and false facts. They also found that low credibility publishers are often hyper-partisan. The API tool initiates a browser session, navigate to the site’s homepage, scrolls through the page, and focuses the mouse on each ad’s iframe. Bozarth and Budak then filtered the collected data by the top 50 ad serves. In all, 84% of their ad data was served by the top 50% ad servers.
This methodology allowed the authors to measure ad server usage of high-quality sites, fake, and low-quality news sites. Three-quarters (74%) of all publishers (high-quality, fake and low-quality) have one or more ad servers displaying ads and 26% of all publishers are ad-free. The findings also show that fake news publishers often have fewer ad servers on average compared to low-quality and traditional news sites. Further, the median number of ad servers for fake and traditional sites is six and eight ad servers, respectively.
Ad server quality
Consumers navigating to fake and low-quality news site are at potential privacy and security risks. Fake and low-quality news publishes have a higher tendency to serve more ads and to partner with riskier ad servers when compared to traditional news media with similar popularity and age skew. Importantly, while fake news publishers use riskier ad servers, they are also dependent on credible ones. According to the findings, the top credible ad servers play a substantial role in delivering ad revenue to fake news sites. For instance, 6.7% of all fake domains are dependent on top-10 ad servers.
Impact on ad server revenue
Bozarth and Budak also provide a weighted ad traffic analysis to illustrate the role top credible ad servers play in providing revenue to fake and low-quality news sites. They found that full 61% of fake news ad revenue is estimated to be supplied by the 10 credible ad servers.
In terms of revenue to the ad servers, Bozarth and Bodak estimate that the top-10 firms, in aggregate, generate $24,500 to $28,600 monthly through fake news sites. That’s an average of $985,700 to $1.15 million of revenue or approximately 0.1% to 1.0% of the top 10 ad servers’ their annual revenue.
While the authors support ad servers blacklisting fake and low-quality news sites, that may not be the best answer. Profit-driven fake news sites banned by top-tier ad servers will partner with less reputable ones without hesitation. Further, owners of blacklisted websites will also migrate to new domains. It becomes a game of “whack-a-mole” unless there is an ability to detect these sites before ads are served. Additional research is needed to clearly identify fake and low-quality news sites. Criteria like the type of advertisers on these sites and their CPM or CPC rates to identifying profit models by category sectors. Each additional factor identified as a predictor of fake and low-quality news site can help inform ad servers about the content qualify of news sites. And this, in turn, supports sites that provide better consumer experiences and higher quality information.
Audiences are spending more time than ever consuming content. Still, even an explosion in digital subscriptions couldn’t prevent massive job cuts across the nation’s newsrooms. Any argument that closures hit companies that churned out poor quality journalism or fake news falls flat when looking at the data. Of the 10 newspapers that have earned Pulitzer Prizes for local reporting in the past decade, all but one were impacted by cuts in the last year.
Why is online news in a crisis? There are lots of theories. Many point to the impact of the Google/Facebook duopoly. The two behemoth companies gobble the bulk of ad revenue, leaving scraps for news organizations. Others suggest that the digital media industry itself is to blame. Ethan Zuckerman points to the “original sin” of building the entire Internet around advertising, putting algorithms, not audiences, in control.
New research confirms that media organizations need to do a critical rethink, but not just of the business model. It appears that media organizations are relying on a faulty content-creation and evaluation formula. The good news is that there’s plenty they can do to rethink storytelling to better engage and monetize audiences.
The findings, part of the Clwstwr Policy Brief project, reveal that audiences prefer “inclusive and reflective” storytelling models that help them understand and navigate their world. This, the research says, “challenges the perceived – and long-established journalistic principle – that the inverted pyramid model of news storytelling is the most efficient way to deliver news.”
The traditional approach for news — arranging facts in descending order of importance — lacks creativity and flexibility. What’s more, the research says this style alienates younger audiences that crave a “more thoughtful, considered and purposeful approach” to online news. They want it to reflect the reality of their lives, rather than industry norms.
Media organizations have an opportunity to rethink the way that they report the news. And, with new formats, they can encourage consumers to engage more actively with content.
Continuing with our series of video interviews, I talk to the lead author of the report, Shirish Kulkarni, an award-winning journalist and researcher. He makes a case for a complete rethink of news storytelling models. He shares the “seven building blocks” that successful news stories have in common. These include a linear narrative, personal context, and transparency about where the information comes from in the first place.
Kulkarni also walks us through the “narrative accordion,” a prototype model that gets high ranks from readers because it allows them to sort and skim through the key elements of a story on their terms. Finally, he discusses how news organizations can drive meaningful engagement and revenues by harnessing AI to “individualize” content at scale.
WATCH OR LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW
Peggy Anne Salz, Founder and Lead Analyst of Mobile Groove interviews Shirish Kulkarni, a researcher focused on identifying and prototyping innovative forms of news storytelling.
Peggy Anne Salz: Mainstream journalism is in crisis. Now we may think it’s due to a lack of trust or a lack of interest, but new research suggests people aren’t consuming news because the wrong stories are being told in the wrong way, by the wrong people. Now, new storytelling models, provocative prototypes, new building blocks.
They may offer the answer and we get the inside track on this and more today on Digital Content Next. I’m your host as always Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst, content marketing consultant, and frequent contributor to DCN. My guest today is an award-winning journalist and researcher, who’s going to share eye-opening results of his latest research project that goes to the core of what is broken in online journalism and how to fix it. Shirish Kulkarni welcome to Digital Content Next. It’s great to have you.
Shirish Kulkarni: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
Salz: Now you’ve got our attention with these results, the wrong people, doing the wrong thing, in the wrong way. That is something pretty provocative. You spent the last two years asking these fundamental questions about journalism, and now you’ve come up with a construct for a model of what you call reflective journalism. Now it’s not just, you. It’s had global impact. You’ve presented it at Reuters Institute, World Association of News Publishers, and many more. Tell us what is reflective journalism.
Kulkarni: Yeah. So I think we have…well, I have two reasons really, for calling it reflective journalism. Firstly, I think it’s important that we, as journalists, reflect on what journalism is for, right? What the needs of audience is rather than our organizations. Because that’s something that’s really been missing a lot in journalism. And we need to take the time. We’re in a crisis, as you said, and we need to take the time to stop and think, what are we doing wrong? What could we do better?
The second reason is that it also is super important that our industry is much more genuinely reflective of society. So, largely, if we’re talking about Western Europe or the U.S., this is a very homogeneous industry. And frankly, it’s driven largely by white, middle class, Metropolitan men, for the most part. And actually, when you think about it, that is a really small proportion of the population. And they don’t reflect, or frankly, understand the experiences, the day to day lives of most people in society. And as journalists, I think it’s our job to reflect what’s going on in society. And I don’t think as an industry, we’re actually structurally prepared to do that. So, two reasons for calling it reflective journalism, because we need to reflect both on the industry and also reflect society.
Salz: And it’s interesting Shirish because you’re making this point that. We need to reflect, and we’ve done that in a way you could even say we’ve been forced to reflect. Let’s put it that way. So we do know what is broken in principle at the core you’re stating it’s all about new forms of narrative. We need new forms of narrative. This is actually very good news because we know what is broken. We know how to fix it. And this is where your policy brief, your news storytelling, storytelling research hits upon the answer. You propose linear narratives. Now, how does this differ from what we’ve been doing? Because what we’ve been doing is the inverted pyramid style. So what makes linear better?
Kulkarni: It helps to start by thinking, why do we do the inverted pyramid, right? And actually, the kind of prosaic reason for that is because of the telegraph, the original news wire. But actually, the telegraph, when it was used widely, was expensive and unreliable. So people thought, let’s put all the important stuff right at the top, because then it’s cheaper. And if it drops out, then we haven’t lost too much of the important stuff, we’ve lost some of the boring stuff, right? So, technology has clearly moved on by about six generations since the telegraph. But largely, we are using those same habits and formulas, which come from the telegraph era. So that is strange in and of itself. So that’s why we use the inverted pyramid now. And actually, there’s not really a reason for it anymore.
When I talk about why writing linear stories is better, or producing stories of whatever kind, whether that’s text or whatever, in a linear format is better, we just go back to what are stories for? And stories are there for a kind of evolutionary, anthropological, there’s a neuroscientific basis for storytelling. They help us navigate the world. If you wanted to bring in kind of modern day techniques, they’re like a virtual reality simulator for the world. That’s what stories teach us. And I’d really recommend a book by Jonathan Gottschall, called “The Storytelling Animal.” And in that, there’s a really beautiful quote, where he says, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
And so, we know that to be true, right? But those stories aren’t told in inverted pyramid style. They’re told as a linear narrative. Starting at the beginning and ending at the end. And that is what we’re hardwired for as human beings. But as journalists, if we’re writing in an inverted pyramid style, we’re essentially going against what we’re hardwired for. We’re putting up a barrier between the storytelling and the engagement with a story, from the get go. And that, again, is not logical. It’s not rational. It doesn’t make any sense.
So actually, just on that kind of linear storytelling, we built a bunch of prototypes. But actually, what I was really interested in testing, for exactly the reasons you’re interested is, what if it was just linear storytelling, there’s no other formatting, would people find that interesting? So we did a prototype, which we just called kind of a plain text, dramatic prototype. And that was literally plain text, writing a story, sort of casting it quite badly, in my own opinion, because I wrote it, in a kind of three act dramatic structure, like we were just talking about. And the results from that were absolutely startling.
We tested it with more than 1300 people, against options of news which were currently available to them. And what we got the people to do was essentially, say whether they thought that it was more engaging, more informative, and more useful. And we created, I guess, a net approval rating. So on the kind of engaging axis, people have found just a plain text narrative more engaging than a BBC story, or an ITV story, or Sky News story here in the UK. The rating for that was plus 57, not 57%, plus 57, of the positives against the negatives. On informative, it was plus 41. And on useful, plus 37. So those are big, big numbers. And in some ways, you’d say for news organizations, they’re a no brainer, right? If you can, tomorrow, do something which is more engaging, more informative, and useful by big margins, just by essentially changing the structure of your story, why wouldn’t you do that?
Salz: Now we’ve had some companies here on Digital Content Next, they have been sharing what they’re doing and they are already taking a more modular approach to news and to storytelling. So there are companies moving in this direction. They understand that just by encouraging readers to skim, they’re not really driving engagement. And they have to do it in a different way. They need to break down the stories. How can news organizations further improve what they do to draw their audiences in? What is it that you’re telling them?
Kulkarni: So the very first thing is clearly thinking about what the audience, what citizens want, right? So when I was writing my prototypes, really, the first thing was to blank my brain. I’d tried to forget all the conventions of journalism, and ask myself the question, what do I actually need to know about this story to help me understand this? Rather than, what would a journalist normally write here? Because those two things are actually surprisingly different. And I think it’s where I think the kind of practice of journalism has become quite disengaged from the purpose of journalism. And as you say, there’s lots of hand wringing over, you know, people in newsrooms looking at analytics, when they are looking at analytics, and probably not enough people are sort of hand wringing over, well, people only spend 10 seconds on our page. Well, kind of, of course, they only spend 10 seconds on your page if you write an inverted pyramid style, where you’ve put in the headline, and in the first paragraph, something that looks like everything you need to know about that story. And then people think, well, actually, it gets more boring, and less interesting as I go down.
Now, actually, the truth is, it’s not everything you need to know about the story, because we all know, headlines don’t represent a story. They’re largely used as a sales technique. And the first paragraph often is a kind of one side of the story or just a really quick summary. But actually what people are telling us they want routinely, and not just me, in lots of research, they want more context around a story. What we tend to do is drop people into an on the day story, just on the day. And not everyone consumes news in the same way as journalists, right? They don’t read the news necessarily every day or every hour. We need to explain to them what’s led up to this point, and actually to some extent, what’s going to follow from this point. And so, actually providing all those things as a service, because yeah, journalism is a service, again, something which we forget. Then all those things are going to help people engage.
Salz: News as a service, you’re absolutely right here. And you’re also talking about what news organizations need to do to embrace the linear approach. Fortunately, it’s something they don’t have to do on their own because your research also shows that it’s really about collaborating, co-creating whatever you want to call it with AI to keep reader attention, as the story unfolds. Even determine the best starting points in the news. Ways to draw the audience in. So how does this collaboration working with AI? Look, what is the role of AI to get people to come into the story and stay?
Kulkarni: Lots of journalism organizations are using AI very well now, already. And so this is going to be the future of journalism. The next stage of journalism will be driven by automation and AI. So we have to be in that space. And I think the starting point is, look, right now online news is largely just newspaper articles put online, right? We’re not using, we’re not taking advantage of all the digital and technical storytelling tools that are available to us.
And I think what we’re seeing is that we should be in a post-article world, right? We can’t provide, or we shouldn’t be providing exactly the same article to everyone, right? We can’t be all things to all people. And where that leads to is personalization, essentially. That actually, we can provide news, information, in a way that is personalized to meet individual user’s needs in a really efficient way. So that might be, for example, I’m based in Wales, where we have quite a big immigrant community as well. If I’m a Chinese person living in West Wales, accessing BBC Wales’s news, wouldn’t it be interesting if I could access that in my first language, even though it’s news about Wales? That’s going to be more accessible to me. Working in that modular way, where we’re taking out a lot of interstitial language, we’re building short modules of information, which we’re putting together in different ways for different people. That, for example, takes out a lot of translation problems. It actually takes out a lot of inherent bias that exists within us as journalists. So it’s more accessible and more inclusive in that way.
So providing fact-based modules of journalism, that can be put together in different ways, by AI, to match the personalization preferences of users, citizens, audiences, has to be one big part of the future of journalism, I think.
Salz: That’s fascinating Shirish because we did start with personalization in news. It was about the categories asking audiences to choose the categories they wanted. Now it’s about personalization taking that personalization to a next level, a new level. And we agree it’s about the audience. It’s also about context, transparency, diverse perspectives.
Now these are the guiding principals, but it also comes down to the experience and that’s where your research also offers some answers. You’ve come up with ways to allow a different experience for different readers. The linear story is the concept, but you have accordions, timelines, videos. What can you tell us about the best on-ramp right now for organizations listening in, they want to know what is the best way to make the biggest difference in their stories and their metrics?
Kulkarni: The narrative accordion is really my favorite prototype. And actually, the favorite generally, with users. And what we’ve done here, essentially I’ve gone back to the basics and asked myself the question, what do I need to know about the story? What’s going to help me understand it? And I put these kind of expandable and collapsible questions, which means that people can either read them from top to bottom, so they make a linear story from top to bottom. Or if you’re interested in a particular question, such as, is this a green solution? I can go straight to that and check out the answer to that first, and navigate around exactly how I want it. Because what audiences really told us they wanted was some agency in storytelling. They wanted to be able to decide how they navigated the story. And we all understand that, don’t we? Like, when we go to find something out ourselves, we remember it better. We understand it better, because we feel like we’ve been part of that investigation process.
And as I say, the narrative accordion overall, in our testing, did really well. So basically, 75% and upwards, comparing the narrative accordion to options which are available to them in the general market, said it helped them understand the story better, and was more engaging.
Now, again, going back to the commercial needs or publishers, if you can do tomorrow, this doesn’t take a lot of kind of tooling or engineering, you could do tomorrow, something which more than 75% of people say helps them understand the story better, and is more engaging. Now, that, in a commercial sense, to me, is a no brainer, right? If you can do that tomorrow, why wouldn’t you?
Salz: That makes perfect sense. Absolutely. It’s a no-brainer and there’s no reason not to pursue that, but you’ve also found something else interesting in your research. You’ve found out that we are hard-wired, literally for the hero story or the heroine story. We want to have that arc of the story. Now, how can organizations apply that to journalism and still keep a credible balance? Because of course, drama can quickly become melodrama. It can become exaggeration very easily. So how do they approach this to give us the story? But again, also the engagement, because that’s the way of generating revenues.
Kulkarni: So, I see the tension, I’m all for kind of fact-based journalism, which sometimes, we get into kind of click bait stuff, which is about creating a particular kind of drama, right? When I’m talking about, this kind of hero, heroine story, it’s that fundamental evolutionary need for a particular kind of story, which you might describe as essentially, a fairy tale, is a great example of that. It’s why they’re so popular and successful. And that could be by just thinking about who are the characters in this. We don’t have to go off into kind of writing “non-objective,” but I’m going to put objective in quotation marks there, “non-objective” stories. What’s the sense of character, a resolution as well, because fairy stories always have a resolution. And new stories very rarely have a resolution. And actually, at that evolutionary level stories which don’t have a resolution leave us feeling uncomfortable.
So actually, that’s where we get into kind of news avoidance, because so much of our storytelling is inverted pyramid storytelling. Leaves us feeling uncomfortable and unresolved. So that’s a really important point as well.
Salz: So the answers here are context, narrative, linear narrative, AI, imagination, innovation, engagement, but achieving this, internalizing, this can take time, maybe even other talents. So what would you leave us with here? Give me a few steps news organizations can take right now to change the old habit.
Adopt the new model, adapt the new prototypes that you’re proposing such as the accordion, and also integrate AI more into this process. What can they do that they’re not already doing?
Kulkarni: When I started doing my research, I think people wanted me to come up with some kind of nonlinear gamified piece of storytelling, innovation, right? And I quickly realized that’s like putting a $100,000 kitchen in a house which doesn’t have a roof, right? We need to sort out the fundamentals. It’s journalism which is broken, and we need to fix that.
So, that comes down to understanding the user need, the audience need, remembering that journalism is for citizens, it’s for people. It’s not for journalists. So our audiences shouldn’t be other journalists. They should be what people really want from journalism. And so we need to listen to that research, not going with preconceived ideas of what we think journalism should be like in the future. We need to listen to what people actually want from journalism and then action that. And in terms of the storytelling, yeah, I think it’s using personalization, meeting people where they are, meeting their needs. And to do that, we need to leverage AI, essentially. Because to do that at scale, we need to use automation.
People want that information, they do want to understand the world, they do want to engage with it, but they’re feeling let down by journalism at the moment. So there’s repressed kind of need for that, which we can tap into. And actually, yeah, people are willing to pay for that if they get something which meets their needs. I talk about it in terms of, if you were working at Procter & Gamble or Unilever, and you never listened to your customers needs, you just carried on doing what you’ve always done without thinking about what you need to change, then you wouldn’t work at Procter & Gamble or Unilever for very long. But actually, in journalism, that’s what we do. We just carry on doing the same thing we always did, because we like doing it and we know how to do that. Regardless of the fact, we know people aren’t engaging with it or consuming it. So, there’s a really clear, hardnosed business model for doing storytelling better.
Salz: Shirish, I can’t thank you enough for sharing and, yes, for being exactly like your research, open, transparent, a bit provocative. It’s been great to have you.
Kulkarni: Thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure.
Salz: Thank you. And of course, thank you for tuning in taking the time.
Of course, more coming in the series around how media companies are taking charge of changing their business and also increasing revenues. And in the meantime, be sure to check out digitalcontentnext.org for great content and including a companion post to this interview. And of course, join the conversation on Twitter at DCNorg until next time I’m Peggy Anne Salz signing off for Digital Content Next.
Personalized advertising offers relevance. And algorithms that help target specific products and services towards interested consumers can be beneficial. However, collecting massive amounts of consumer data is highly problematic. Some digital advertising methods use large-scale data collection, profiling, and data sharing in order to micro target ads based on behavioral habits and search history. Unfortunately, these practices are all aspects of surveillance advertising models.
Real-time bidding (RTM) with algorithms and automation accelerated the usage and growth of data-intensive advertising. In fact, targeted advertising serves as the business model for two of the largest internet platforms, Facebook and Google. While many consumers are aware that they are being tracked, they are often not aware of the extent of that tracking.
The process of surveillance advertising:
When we click on a webpage, a site identifies the number of advertising slots for sale and begins a bid request.
To compile this bid request, the site assembles as much information about the user as possible. A standard bid request usually contains:
– A user ID set by the supply-side platforms (SSPs) – Full referral URL, the link to the site where the ad is supposed to appear – Birth date – Gender – Location – IP address – Interests or segments previously assigned to the user – Other information collected directly, from a data broker, or inferred
The information contained in the bid request is then used by demand-side platforms (DSPs), working for advertisers, to decide whether, and how much, to bid in an auction for the right to show the advertisement to the targeted audience.
The winning bidder gets to place the ad on the page and to keep a copy of the data in the bid request.
The New Economics Foundation estimates that bid requests on U.K. users containing personal information are sent out at a rate of approximately 10 billion a day. This translates to approximately 164 bid requests per person per day across all the ad exchanges. This information is seen by a multitude of ad tech companies. In fact, vast amounts of personal data are broadcasted across the digital advertising ecosystem.
Advocating for children
Children are protection under the Data Protection Act (DPA) in the U.K. and under Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the U.S. The two laws require parental consent prior to any data collection, usage, or disclosure of the personal information for children under the age of 13. Unfortunately, the more children spend time online, the that more digital platforms and ad tech platforms companies target them to gather data. The data collection process also employs algorithms to keep children online longer. This leads to an endless loop of data collection and advertising.
The New Economic Foundation recommends policymakers address surveillance advertising as follows:
Ensure platforms do not serve surveillance-based advertisements to children. And if data is collected, the child will be compensated, and their data will be deleted.
Platforms tracking and collecting data have a legal responsibility to handle all in a fiduciary manner.
Eventually prohibit the practice of surveillance advertising.
Extensive online tracking systems coupled with the use of online auction systems shifts the advertising paradigm from contextual to behavioral. Many marketers today prioritize targeting over ad environments that are safe for consumers and advertisers. . Unfortunately, data is now the holy grail, which allows fake news, clickbait, and user-generated content to easily be monetized.
Importantly, GDPR and CCPA legislation are critical steps to reset business strategies and their reliant on extensive third-party consumer data collection. However, enforcement has been uneven at best. And when it comes to kids, it is clear that much more needs to be done to curb these unethical, even illegal, practices.
The Covid-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for massive subscription growth, in part because consumers sought quality journalism to get accurate information about the virus. It also accelerated content consumption trends that were already happening. Let’s explore the main highlights across digital engagement, retention and conversion during a year of increased appetite for news content. We’ll also unpack how publishers can use this data to prepare for future shifts in consumer demand.
Paid trials convert to full price more often than free trials
According to our Subscription Performance Benchmark Report, approximately 17% of new monthly subscribers in January 2020 signed up using a free trial as the pandemic spread around the world. By December 2020, only 5% of new subscribers signed up on a free trial. This indicates that publishers became more confident with their pricing and smarter about promotional strategies as the pandemic raged on.
Free trials can attract a lot of new users upfront. However, they make less financial sense when there’s high demand for content. At the same time, there’s much lower lifetime value gained from users who subscribe on a free trial offer. On average, you’ll lose over a third of free trial subscribers to churn before those users are required to make their first payment. It generally makes more fiscal sense to use paid trials in acquisition campaigns since you earn a little money upfront and retain a higher volume of users over the long term compared to free trials.
Onboarding post-pandemic subscribers is crucial for retention
As many new users subscribed to online publications for the latest news about the pandemic, the strategic focus for media publishers had to shift from acquisition to customer engagement and retention. Convincing people to subscribe is only half the battle; encouraging them to continue subscribing is the other half.
If new subscribers don’t engage with your website early and often, they’re far more likely to cancel the subscription at the first given opportunity. There’s also the risk that they could become “sleepers,” which are subscribers who haven’t visited your site in the past 30 days. According to our benchmark research, an average of 40% of subscribers on media sites are sleepers.
To minimize the number of sleeping subscribers on your site, you need to act fast. Over half of your annual subscribers and nearly two-thirds of monthly subscribers will cancel in the first year if they become inactive. Your mission as a publisher is to incentivize those subscribers so they remain engaged. That’s why onboarding programs are so helpful to minimize churn and boost customer lifetime value. Use programs like guided tutorials and onsite benefits promotion to showcase all of the capabilities a new subscriber can access using their account. These programs not only drive user engagement, but they’ll also create habitual patterns that keep subscribers engaged on your site.
The Covid-19 retention bump endured thanks to annual subscriptions
Given the volume of new subscriptions early in the pandemic, many publishers expected lower retention rates and higher churn as the year went on. However, those fears never materialized. We found that users who became subscribers between March and July of 2020 retained at much higher rates than those who became subscribers prior to the declaration of the pandemic.
In an effort to maintain higher retention rates during the second wave of the pandemic, many media publishers made a concerted effort to increase annual subscription rates across their websites. Annual subscriptions retain much better than their monthly counterparts, and they subsequently carry much higher lifetime value for brands and publishers.
Throughout Q4 2020, many publishers used special promotions and smart pricing strategies to increase demand for annual subscriptions. Publishers used special events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday to create short-term offers for annual subscriptions that, in many cases, more than tripled conversion volume.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a prominent and dynamic world event. Publishers should use this time to assess how user behavior impacted their subscription models in 2020 to make more strategic business decisions for 2021 and 2022. It is critical to:
Determine when and how people were most likely to subscribe
Analyze conversion rates, churn rates, special offers and trials to understand more about audience behaviors
Optimize websites with targeted messaging and personalized content that incentivizes greater onsite engagement
Maximize revenue opportunities with paid templates designed to boost conversions
By understanding these patterns, your business can make strategic decisions that will boost retention rates and, by extension, lifetime value. This will help you improve growth and develop a sustainable subscription business beyond this last year of high consumer demand.
As digital publishers diversify revenue strategies and develop ecommerce businesses, it is important to understand the consumer purchase process. For many publishers, ecommerce is more than just affiliate links, branded content, and online stores. Publishers are exploring investments in online shops, unique product offerings, wellness programs, virtual learning, and events. With new ecommerce businesses and multiple digital touchpoints consumers, expect an efficient and personalized shopping experience.
BlueVenn, a provider of tools and analytics for marketers, explores consumer purchase behaviors and engagement in a new report, Digital Divide. They partnered with OnePoll to survey 4,000 consumers and 500 marketers in U.S. and U.K.
Key findings include:
Over half (55%) of all respondents in the U.S. report that having a personalized shopping experience with a brand is important to them. Interestingly, only 27% report that brands provide a similar and cohesive shopping experience across all channels.
While marketers report that their businesses collect a lot of consumer data, only four in 10 report using the information. Clearly, it’s important to analyze the data and incorporate the findings to improve the consumer experience.
Fifty-seven percent of U.S. consumer report that they prefer to share their data directly with a brand they trust. This offers a unique opportunity for publishers to grow their ecommerce businesses since they already have a direct and trusted relationship with consumers.
Mobile ecommerce is the new norm in the U.S. Six in 10 U.S. respondents (61%) agree (32% “strongly agree” and 29% “somewhat agree”) that they’ve increased the amount of time they shop on mobile compared to last year.
The top two digital channels that U.S. consumers use to interact with brands include email (61%) and desktop/laptop web browser (51%). Interestingly, Facebook placed fifth (39%).
Close to two-thirds (63% “very important/somewhat important”) of U.S. respondents report that they think it is important for a brand to create a personalized shopping experience.In fact, 58% of U.S. consumers report that they are likely (23% “very likely” and 35% “somewhat likely”) to stop buying a product/service online due to the lack of a personalized experience.
Less than half (43%) of U.S. respondents report that brands understand their shopping need.
Browsing and browsers
When shopping for specific goods and services, U.S. consumers prefer overwhelmingly their desktop/laptop browser. Ranking and ratings:
Clothing, homeware, and exercise equipment – desktop/laptop browser (#1, 48%)
Holiday or leisure – desktop/laptop browser (#1, 54%)
TV, movies, or entertainment – desktop/laptop browser (#1, 38%)
Diversifying product offerings and revenue streams is helping publishers deepen their audience relationship. As publishers continue to build their direct-to-consumer ecommerce portfolios, it’s important to monitor the consumer’s digital shopping experience. Understanding the process of multiple touchpoints and shifts in online shopping behavior provides insight into consumer needs and expectations. There is a growing opportunity for publishers to play an important role in offering consumers a cohesive digital shopping experience.
In business, sometimes incremental improvements are the right course of action. Small steps allow companies to maintain stability and balance while testing out new protocols and procedures. The advertising industry, however, can no longer take such an incremental approach. It’s time for a complete reimagining. After many years of gradual change, advertising is at a critical inflection point. It must enact a completely new and transformational strategy to restore the ecosystem and drive better business outcomes.
What will be the key to a successful reimagining? A clear vision that offers a view — not just of what could be — but of what should be. We must reframe past and pending changes from browsers, device manufacturers and regulators. They offer a massive opportunity to build a modern system that prioritizes consumer trust and transparency, gives publishers control, and delivers high performance for advertisers.
Remember: Consumers love transparent brands they can trust
First, we should recognize that a system that prioritizes people is one that reevaluates the whole experience, not just the moments when data and consent are collected. A study conducted by Microsoft Advertising, tells us 87% of consumers believe data privacy is a human right, not a privilege. Microsoft Advertising also conducted a series of research studies on the importance of trust to brand love and loyalty. The research showed that 85% of consumers will only consider a brand if they trust it. As trust in a brand increases, so does people’s expression of love for that brand, and their loyalty.
When consumers trust the intentions of advertisers and publishers, they are more willing to authenticate themselves. They will actively share their identity and provide other information, which can be used to deliver more value.
Building that trust requires a commitment to developing great customer experiences. This includes guiding language that clearly explains the value exchange. People must be allowed to signal both what they want and what they don’t want from a publisher or a brand. In the digital and mobile worlds, a strong CX capability that enables dynamic personalization serves as a more effective test for finding different ways to engage consumers and uncovering best practices for how and when to request authentication.
Avoid unsavory shortcuts when building new customer relationships
Consumers clearly want a say in how their data is collected and used. True innovators view consumer privacy as the foundation for building the future we all want. Publishers must embrace consumer control of their data and focus on delivering a trusted value exchange that delivers a great user experience. This way, we enable consumers to share their data and identity in exchange for valued content.
It’s time to debunk solutions that bypass direct consent. They are unlikely to stand the test of time. The practice of fingerprinting, for example, creates a synthetic ID in place of a cookie by aggregating signals not meant for creating identifiers. Yet again, such off-label data collection is not transparent to the consumer. Therefore, it can quickly erode consumer trust, resulting in serious reputational risk.
Take control of data to maximize revenue
Results don’t lie. Publishers that lean into the consumer value exchange authenticate more users. People who trust a publisher enough to provide an email or mobile number tend to be more engaged. The impact can be disproportionately valuable to publishers even with authentication rates as low as five, 10 or 30%.
Authenticated users consume more content on average. Therefore, they can deliver more page views. As just one example, the initial results of Microsoft Advertising and LiveRamp enabling brands to buy authenticated inventory show that Microsoft Advertising CPMs alone increased by over 40%.
This is not an either/or scenario. Even before cookies are officially deprecated, publishers can begin to attract more demand. They can also create multiple paths to stable revenue while still running traditional campaigns. This allows them to learn which strategies work best before they are forced to decide on one path or another. Publishers should layer in authentication capabilities now. This lets them use the next few months leading into this year’s holiday season to experiment with multiple, secure solutions that put them control. These experiments should be addressable, contextual, and cohort based. This will allow them to understand the value each approach can generate for their business.
Underscoring the importance of coalescing addressability and authentications, our collective goal should be to increase trust and accountability. We must first focus on authenticated experiences that deliver real value for consumers and marketers alike via permissioned data sets.
Publishers of all sizes need to be single-minded about maximizing their margins. The global ecosystem benefits when we have a diverse landscape of publishers who can cater to the broad and unique interests of individuals. They must also have flexibility and control over their revenue streams, without fear of pricing changes or other potential taxes.
With clarity of vision, our industry can ensure a win-win-win situation
Publishers must not become reliant on single solutions that come with additional expenses based on volume. They risk giving away yield they can’t invest back into their content or their user experience. The only way for advertising to thrive is when publishers have the power to alternate between effective monetization solutions. They must reduce dependence on any one, especially those with the power to squeeze those margins unpredictably. This is exemplified by the recent changes with IDFA. This seismic shift in inhibiting mobile in-app advertising will have far reaching implications, when 80% of app users may suddenly become unrecognizable to mobile publishers.
It is important to recognize the long-term, commercial impact of creating a more sustainable, healthy, and competitive web that works better for everyone. Prioritizing consumer trust and transparency is ethically the right thing to do. However, it turns out it helps the bottom line too —for publishers, advertisers, and their partners. And it’s impossible to overlook the tangible business impact and the halo effect this imparts on enhancing the holistic consumer experience. The fundamental shift toward a more trusted ecosystem is not an incremental approach, it’s a visionary one.
About the authors
Travis Clinger is the senior vice president of addressability and ecosystem at LiveRamp and serves as a IAB Tech Lab board member.
As senior director of global audience ads at Microsoft, Jeff Nienaber supports the native programmatic marketplace and video advertising business as well as data and identity assets.
ThinkPremiumDigital‘s new research, What’s so premium about premium digital?, further demonstrates the significant impact of content over ad perception. ThinkPremiumDigital partnered with MediaScience to conduct one of the biggest cross-platform ad effectiveness studies.
Their findings confirm that advertising in premium content is more effective than run of the internet and Facebook. The research includes two phases. Phase 1 examines advertising across 252 websites among 5,300 participants in Australia. Phase 2 will continue to explore ad effectiveness in social environments and include YouTube.
MediaScience’s research methodology is rooted in the fact that memory builds brands. It also confirms that memory pathways are more open to brand messages when people are consuming information and entertainment.
The analysis includes three stages of memory: encoding (recognition), storage (prompted recall) and retrieval (unprompted recall). Specifically, the research highlights premium digital’s ability to encode memories, which validates its power to build brands.
Encoding is processing incoming information so it can be entered in memory.
Storage is maintaining information in memory for a set amount of time.
Retrieval is accessing or recalling stored information from memory to use.
The brand lift metric represents a composite measure of:
awareness (of the brand, product, or offering);
attitude (opinion on quality, value and appeal);
recall (ability to remember);
favorability (likelihood to recommend); and
intent (likelihood to purchase).
Across display and short-form video content, premium environments deliver 2.4 times better recall. They deliver 1.6 times the brand lift of run-of-internet ads.
In terms of short-form video content, ads in premium environments offer 1.8 times better recall and 2.8 times the brand lift than short-form video on run of the internet.
They also deliver 1.8 times higher recall than Facebook video. It’s important to note that this research uses Facebook as a proxy for all social media. The research looks ad placement on the platform in aggregate, without any distinction of the content on Facebook, premium or not. Future research will include the impact of content brands on Facebook.
This study once again proves that advertising on high quality content sites drives higher brand attention and engagement for both display and video advertising. It recognizes the positive lift from the premium environments as a key driver of needed brand signals. The findings should be a loud wake-up call to marketers to place their advertise in quality and trusted media brands.
It has been frequently said, but it bears repeating: Consumer trust in media is alarmingly low. There is a great deal of speculation around why that might be the case. However, two new research studies — from Reuters Institute and The American Press Institute — dig into the topic. They explore dimensions of consumer trust, their impact on consumer engagement with digital news brands, and unexpected opportunities to engage.
Reuters Institute: What Trust in News Means to Users
The Reuters Institute study explores how consumers think about the attributes of trust for digital news brands. Reuters, spoke with 132 consumers in Brazil, India, the U.K., and the U.S. Focus groups were used to capture conversations and general impressions about trust in news brands.
The Reuters study identifies familiarity, reputation, and likeability as the top attributes driving the perceived trustworthiness of news brand. Interestingly, the findings suggest that familiarity with a given brand is closely linked to the consumer’s impression of a brand’s reputation.
Importantly, the researchers leveraged focus groups to provide insight into the context of each attribute. For example. a news brand’s reputation often develops over time. It can also be determined by a consumer’s historical relationship (i.e., “known in my youth” or “the brand my father respected”). However, consumers can mistakenly think longevity is the same as reputation. A brand’s standing over time does not necessarily equate to quality news reporting, however.
Additional values of trusted news brands include objectivity, impartiality, and balance. Significantly, Reuters’ analysis shows that “subjectivity” can also shape attributes of trust. Respondents note that personal differences frame how people interpret the news. They believe this can be true of journalists as well. Because they see a potential for bias, many consumers generally distrust news as a way to shield themselves from being misinformed.
Further, the research notes that consumers are confused by (or unfamiliar with) the news process. They do not fully understand the difference between hard news and editorial reporting, or (in some cases) even entertainment and opinion. This research reinforces the power of the brand. It also highlights an opportunity for news publishers to guide consumers in their content consumption and in understanding of the digital news process. Possibly, aligning these two in terms of marketing and messaging offers a way to increase understanding and build trust.
The American Press Institute: Studying Moral Values to Understand Trust in the News Media
The American Press Institute’s (API) study analyzes how consumers’ moral values align with journalism values to drive trust in digital news brands. API conducted this study across two surveys with over 5,000 U.S. consumers.
Journalism values represent ideas such as holding those in power accountable for their actions. The API research explores the relationship between consumers’ moral values and their views toward central principles of journalism. They found that not all Americans universally embrace many of the core values that guide journalistic inquiry.
Core journalism values:
Oversight: monitor powerful people and the public
Transparency: information is out in the open and the public knows what is happening
Factualism: facts bring us closer to the truth
Giving voice to the less powerful: amplify the voices of people who are not heard
Social criticism: placing a spotlight on a community’s problems
Among consumers, the two most popular values are factualism (67%) and giving a voice to the less powerful (50%). These are followed by oversight (46%), transparency (44%) and social criticism (29%). Interestingly, only one in 10 consumers (11%) support all five of the core values of journalism.
API found that stories resonate with individuals reflect moral values that align with their belief system. That said, API found that if a story is rewritten to include additional moral angles, it attracts a broader audience including those less trustful of news brands. Importantly, a broader appeal can help rebuild trust with skeptics.
Opportunities to rebuild trust
Both Reuters’ and API’s research add new dimensions to understanding attributes of trust in order to drive consumer engagement for digital news brands. Reuters’ qualitative assessment across several different countries and cultures (that share a reliance on digital media) adds additional scope to attribute definitions. The results are particularly telling in consumers’ subjective interpretation of accuracy. While most of those surveyed said information-accuracy was among the top factors determining whether an organization was worthy of trust, how they interpreted factual accuracy was highly subjective and variable.
API’s research makes it starkly clear that the things that journalism as a craft holds dear do not align with consumer priorities. This mismatch needs to be addressed in order to rebuild consumer trust. However, it is significant that the findings suggest potentially unexplored ways to garner broader public support without sacrificing core journalistic values.
The pandemic triggered further consumer reliance on media for entertainment, information, and social connections. As consumers reenter life outside the home, publishers are assessing how they will maintain strong post-Covid consumer relationships. Deloitte’s new report, Digital Media Trends, 15th Edition delves into this issue. The analysis identifies consumer attitudes and behaviors and how to best serve their needs to form a strong relationship. The research is based on the survey results of 2,009 US consumers in February 2021.
Consumers have multiple free and paid entertainment choices competing for their attention. Content and cost are key factors driving paid video subscriptions. Content, no cost, and ease of access are drivers for ad-supported video services. Consumers often assess subscription costs based upon their willingness to offset price by viewing advertising.
Nearly the same number of consumers prefer to pay for content as those that prefer ad-supported services. Interestingly, 40% of respondents prefer to pay $12 a month for a service with no ads versus 39% preferring a free service with 12 minutes of ads per hour. Understanding how ad-related preferences and expectations around personalization and privacy impact consumer choice is crucial to driving subscriptions, paid or not.
Consumer frustration and churn
The flip side of acquiring subscribers is retaining them. Listening to consumer frustrations is an important action step for all businesses.
Content they want to view is no longer available on the service: 66%.
They must subscribe to multiple services to access the content they want: 53%.
They find it difficult to access content across so many services: 52%.
A service fails to provide them with good recommendations: 49%.
Anchoring consumers in a customized user experiences with an ease of navigation builds audience engagement and prevents churn. The report states the churn rate for streaming video services remained constant at approximately 37% measuring from October 2020 to February 2021.
Impact of data economy
Consumers are wary of data collection. They want more oversight in the data economy and question the value they get from its collection. In fact, eight in 10 respondents (82%) believe they should be able to view and delete the data that companies collect about them. Further, 78% said providers are responsible for protecting consumers’ personal data. Looking to put controls in place, 77% say the government must do more to regulate data collection and its usage. Importantly, publishers should assess ad-related preferences and consumer expectations around personalization and privacy to inform their internal policies.
As media companies navigate their subscription practices, they must continue to keep consumer preferences in focus. An emphasis on data and analytics is key to create a personalized entertainment service for consumers. Further, a customized user experiences makes it easier for subscribers to find content they want to view. Improving the interface with personalization and ease of use strengthens the audience connection. As the competition for audience grows tighter, it’s necessary to take actions that support developing and maintain a strong relationship with the audience.