The Future of News in 2011 and Beyond discusses four ideas/trends that will help shape news and news revenues in the coming year: (1) Added value content and alternative consumption opportunities, (2) Social diversification and integration, (3) Sponsored/branded content, and (4) Virality.
Over the past 15 years news organizations have entered the digital space, cut staff, downsized their print publications, struggled to keep advertising dollars and scrambled to create new sustainable revenue models.
More recently, we have seen news organizations start to adapt to the digital landscape, embrace social media and expand their offerings through mobile. There has been a great deal of experimentation. From Rupert Murdoch to The New York Times, pay walls have been erected and taken down… and put back up. Creative news distribution models have emerged that promise the news consumer a more enhanced consumption experience, and for news organizations, a possible light at the end of the tunnel.
The industry has seen a lot. And now, the future of news is upon us.
Below are four ideas that will become even more powerful in shaping news and news revenues in the year to come.
Added Value Content and Alternative Consumption Opportunities
Consumers expect more from their news now than ever before. We are growing accustomed to getting news when we want, where we want and how we want. The written word is no longer enough to keep our increasingly interactive needs satisfied, nor are our expectations met when news is only provided through print and a basic website.
The idea of context, control and convenience should be at the heart of every news organization. If consumers are asked to pay for news, it must be delivered in ways that allow them to have full control over how, when and where they choose to consume. And furthermore, news needs to be more relevant, accessible and connected to the greater ecosystem of content and communication in today’s world.
In 2011, the successful digital news organization will provide every consumption opportunity that is relevant to its consumers to maximize revenue potential. Print, web, social, mobile, tablet, audio and video should all be on the table. By diversifying, the consumer is given a full spectrum of opportunity to consume news in ways that are most applicable to their lives. And, for those opportunities that provide above and beyond value, news organizations should charge a premium.
Added value content must also be considered in a creative way. In today’s always-connected world, news organizations can bring readers closer to the news that is created and reported. The new digital news organization must think about how to provide opportunities for its consumers to become more involved in the conversation. Opportunities should be offered for consumers to connect with journalists, participate in events, access limited edition information, suggest story ideas, access behind-the-scenes interviews and provide insights not available through regular reporting.
Social Diversification and Integration
Let’s make a grand assumption and say that every news organization that cares about actively communicating their content to the public is already using Facebook and Twitter. Both of these communities can provide massive value to news organizations and, vice-versa, can also provide massive value to news consumers. These social media tools help consumers filter news, keep up with stories, track virality and relevance and share in dialogue with their networks. And for news organizations, there is no doubt that Facebook and Twitter are the two most important social outlets for communicating with readers.
But, there is social life beyond Facebook and Twitter and, in 2011, this life beyond will become even more important. Tumblr came of age for the business world in 2010. News outlets like The Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Atlantic and The New Yorker are just a few of the news organizations that have created an alternative social news stream through Tumblr. The best of them understanding that Tumblr is not just another place to stream headlines, it is an opportunity to connect with a different group of people with a different type of content. Although it has a long way to go before being in the same league as Facebook or Twitter, Tumblr is a unique outlet that should be on the radar for news organizations across the board.
Regarding social integration, there is no question that news organizations that have integrated Facebook and Twitter social plugins into their websites have seen impressive traffic growth numbers. Despite the convincing statistics, however, many news organizations were still timid and experimental with their social integrations throughout 2010. There are still few news websites that have gone nearly as far as The Huffington Post.
In 2011 there is only one choice: integrate with social or be crushed. Facebook’s audience continues to climb well above the half-billion mark. Facebook is a part of consumers lives, and by not acknowledging this fact and letting people communicate socially with their news, organizations will be stranded on islands far away from the thriving viral ecosystem of the web.
For news to maintain a certain level of credibility, there must remain a line between editorial and advertising, but how that line is drawn will become even more abstract in the year to come. It is when we try to bring these two sides – editorial and advertising – together in a harmonious way that the new digital news organization is presented with both great challenges and opportunities. If done properly, the news consumer stands to benefit from the partnership.
Yahoo! has been a leader in the pack on branded content. They’ve built a number of content areas such as The Thread which are brought to the consumer – and paid for – by brands. The key to success: tasteful and subtle brand integration and editorial content that is not dictated or altered by the sponsor. International news website, GlobalPost, has also successfully explored this model. GlobalPost’s global education content section is sponsored by Intel. GlobalPost’s editorial team and correspondent staff conceptualize and write all of the articles presented within this section with no sacrifice of topics at hand or the quality of content. The same can be said for their series of powerful videos, Energy Entrepreneurs, sponsored by Shell.
The fact remains that when pure editorial content and tasteful brand messages coexist, there is tremendous opportunity for a news organization to profit, advertisers to connect with consumers in a more authentic manner and consumers to benefit from quality content on a brand’s dime.
Before the introduction of social media and Google, news was a one-way communication channel. A news organization would decide what was to be covered and with what the consumer would be presented. Now, consumers are flooded with media consumption opportunities. Every day, consumers are drowned in information overload, and are placed at the mercy of filtering tools like Twitter, Facebook, social news sites, aggregators and RSS feeds to identify the news that they want to consume. A single news organization is no longer the only go-to source. If an organization is lucky, they are one of several go-to sources. More likely, however, an organization is just a drop in the ever-growing ecosystem of digital news, and consumers will come and go to it as they please, when content becomes relevant.
With every challenge comes an opportunity, and in this case, the opportunity to news organizations is clear: cut through the clutter and reach more consumers than ever before. Of course, doing so requires that news organizations understand the viral habits of the Web, trending topics, evergreen Web wonders, and the best use of tools to bring content to the top, and to the right people with the right headlines.
Virality means traffic; traffic leads to more advertising money. Content that goes viral is more valuable in both the short term and long term than content that stays put. To play in this digital news environment, news organizations must study, respond to and create for viral, making viral an ongoing topic at the editorial table. Organizations must build resources that can track and respond to viral trends, competing to get through viral filters like Digg, Reddit and Twitter, while becoming prepared to adjust outdated journalistic principles for survival in the new viral landscape.
Earlier this year, Time Magazine launched NewsFeed, which directly addressed the need to readily showcase all that’s “vital and viral on the web, in real time.” Slate, The Daily Beast and The New York Post have all partnered with viral launchpad BuzzFeed to put their content into the hands of the viral elite. HuffingtonPost has been one of the leaders of embracing viral (and they have the web stats to show). Not only was HuffPo the first of major news websites to fully embrace integrated social plugins from Facebook, but they have also continued to showcase their viral know-how by increasing the volume of stories on topics like sex, pop culture, and meme culture, that compliment their political base.
All in, there’s much in store for news in 2011. Those that are adapting to these trends are charging ahead, creating viral waves, increasing their traffic numbers and, most importantly, coming closer to the financial light at the end of the tunnel.
What do you think? What other trends and ideas will help shape news and news revenues in the years to come.
Terry Lozoff is the President and CEO of Antler. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/terrylozoff.