The news business is changing fast — again. That’s because the ad business is changing fast — again. Or is it because Facebook FB -0.13% is changing the ad business, or because Twitter and Linkedin are changing the news business. Day by day, the big social sites look and act more like media companies, delivering all manner of content and advertising. Next up: with a combined audience of 1 billion, what role will Yahoo YHOO +0.54%, a portal, and Tumblr, a social blogging network, play in this media puzzle?
One thing is clear: news organizations and their journalists must jump into this free-for-all — or be hopelessly left behind. As someone who builds news experiences, I’m focused on people and products. Nearly 35% of our editorial and product team has joined us over the past three years, all with skills that never existed here before. What talent do we need now? Two years ago we launched a new kind of article page for a new kind of content model — and watched our audience surge to 48 million unique monthly users from 18 million (as measured by Omniture). How must that page and model evolve in the months ahead so we can keep pace?
Here are 9 key factors we’re constantly talking about as we adjust our product plans for the next six months:
1) Networks: Not those dying, one-way broadcast and cable news models. I am talking people networks offering an immersive social experience that generate a huge number of money-making page views. Facebook accounts for more than a trillion of them a month, or at least 25% of Internet traffic. With that kind of usage, who needs pay walls, the newspaper industry’s latest Hail Mary. The rise of programmatic buying of ad inventory, a scary challenge for any traditional media company, plays to the strength of Facebook’s scale, whether its desktop or mobile. Just as threatening, who needs editors when friends produce more relevant, if not more trustworthy, news digests. Social networks do need to keep consumer fickleness in mind. After the Yahoo-Tumblr news broke, Matt Mullenweg, WordPress’s founder, said 72,000 Tumblr users an hour weinventory to keep the lights on. There are only so many full-time journalists that any news organization can hire in a world of falling CPMs. It becomes increasingly necessary to build a platform experience by distributing easy-to-use publishing tools to a broader array of content creators, including freelancers, commenters and others.
3) Rivers and Streams: They are everywhere — Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and some news sites. FORBES introduced them a few years ago on our home and channel pages. Yahoo is in the game, too, implementing a river, or stream, of headlines on its home page that either link internally to Yahoo pages or externally to other sites, including Forbes.com (note: we’ve seen solid traffic from the Yahoo stream, more evidence that consumers scroll to find what interests them). They’ll soon become ubiquitous.
4) Mobile Summaries: Many believed the digital era would kill off long-form content. Not so. If it’s quality content, people will consume it no matter what the length — and even pay $1.99 and up for it, particularly on tablets. VC money continues to find its way into journalism, micro publishing and ebook startups focusing on creating and distributing professional content. Still, in a smartphone world, the summary is shaping up to be the next hot thing. Yahoo just bought Summly, which uses algorithms to summarize news on mobile devices, for a reported $30 million. Circa, from Cheezburger Network, does the same using human beings, then provides mobile updates without the traditional journalistic “write-through” of an article.
5) Shareable content: Lite fare travels at light speed across the social Web, way faster than the harder stuff. For many news organizations, it’s the new pixie dust. Three years ago, less expensive, search-driven, user-generated content was the rage (USA Today partnered with Demand Media DMD 0%, getting 4,000 keyword-rich travel tips). Last week, CNN joined forces withBuzzfeed, looking to that startup to turn its brand of cable news journalism into the more shareable kind.
6) Ad view-ability: For a decade if not longer, every marketer insisted that its display ads be at the top of the digital screen. Now they’ve determined that consumers can scroll faster than rich media ads can load on a page. The result: many are not seen and industrywide clickthrough performance is lower than ever (about 0.005%). So now it’s about viewability — making sure consumers can see a display ad for at least a second and maybe even click a bit more. That means as readers scroll down a page, some ads will move down the page, too. Other times, longer scrolls will mean more ads will come into view nestled next to text.
7) Programatic buying: Google’s consumer search engine is the #1 source of audience referrals for most publishers. Its acquisition of Doubleclick gave it the largest market position for publisher and advertiser ad serving, called DFP and DFA (DART for Publishers and DART for Advertisers). And it has the largest auction-based marketplace of buyers (called AdWords) from its dominance in Paid Search. This resulted in Google’s AdX exchange becoming the dominant advertising exchange for transaction processing of ad impressions. Supply + Supply Chain + Demand = more programmatic buying than ever at advertising rates far below premium display pricing.
8) Native advertising: FORBES helped lead the way nearly three years ago. Now it’s everywhere, from The Atlantic to The Washington Post. I’ve read reports that even The New York Times is considering ways to integrate branded content on its pages. The trend of brands as publishers is also giving new life to the decades-old business of custom content. Those marketers not yet ready for native or custom are pushing deeper in the sponsorships — editorial content created around topics of interest to marketers s but still controlled by the journalists producing it.
9) Video: Marketers can’t get enough of it and news sites love the high CPMs. The rub: building scale remains difficult for for any news site that’s not a broadcast or cable outlet, and building profitability in partnership with those that have scale (YouTube and Hulu) is equally challenging. In balancing the resources and effort against the return, lite-fare video may hold promise, particularly for organizations such as FORBES that can focus on curating their own content vs. aggregating the Web.
All of the above intersects in one way or another with the article page, like the one you’re reading right now. This version helped us win a Tribeca Disruptive Innovations award. No matter, the time has come to reinvent, to build a new screen that delivers quality content and provides inventory for new forms of advertising. Making adjustments so that every pixel delivers for our 1,000 content creators and are marketing partners will help us attain our ultimate goal: to build a sustainable model for advertising-supported journalism.
Inside Forbes: 9 Trends Journalists Must Know About To Keep Their Careers Going – Forbes.